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Rite of passage parenting: Responsive readings

I grew up in a small country church. When our family first started attending this church, it had one large room called the sanctuary. The seats were long wooden pews that bent like a horseshoe as they went from one side to the other.

Directly below the sanctuary was the basement. Most of our Sunday Schools, RAs, GAs, Training Union classes, Vacation Bible Schools and golden wedding anniversary celebrations took place in the basement. I don’t know why, but from my observations (which have been many), Baptists have some of the dampest, dankest-smelling basements of any denomination.

I should know. I went out with a girl who attended the Methodist church. She took me to their basement, and it was a lot nicer than ours. When I shared that with my parents, they mumbled something about how Baptists gave our money to the Cooperative Program.

I don’t remember when I started reading, but I do remembering reading out loud as our family drove down the road. I read billboards, gas station prices and exit signs. If it had words, I read them aloud. I’m not sure my parents always appreciated the parrot in the back seat.

I grew up in the old Baptist church, where prayer meeting was about as much praying for the lost by name as praying for the sick and Aunt Gertrude’s bunions.

Now, I enjoy this modern music about as much as anyone, but I grew up in a time where Scripture reading was as important a part of the worship service as singing. I remember in the back of The Baptist Hymnal there was a section called “Responsive Readings.” Nod with me if you remember those. Each reading presented a topic and a set of Scriptures strung together concerning that topic. The reading was printed with one set of verses in normal font and a bold font for the next set. The leader read first, and then the congregation and leader read the next set of scriptures in unison (that means out loud, together.)

Since I’m a dreamer, I thought responsive readings might be as close as I would ever get to experiencing Old Testament times. I pictured Moses standing in front of the throngs of Israelites, using his best reading voice to bellow out the Ten Commandments. The crowd responded with “Amen,” “Hallelujah,” “Oh, No” or whatever they said back then. And yes, Moses used notes when he read the Ten Commandments. They just happened to be written on stone.

We might have been from the old Baptist church, but it was one of those old Baptist Progressive Churches. Every once in a while, the pastor would ask one of the children, a teenager or even a woman to lead the church in reading the Word of God responsively.

Back when I was growing up, coming together for the reading of the Word of God was the norm. Each week meant a different topic: one Sunday, grace; another Sunday, love. I don’t ever remember having responsive readings when the pastor preached on tithing, though. And now that I think about it, we didn’t have responsive readings on “Thou shall not commit adultery” Sunday, either. But what I found incredible was how the Scriptures fit together when you removed the white spaces between the lines. From the Old Testament Prophets to the books of History or the Gospels, His truth came running across the page until you had the whole counsel of God.

I know I’m neither the prettiest, nor the sharpest crayon in the box, but it does seem like the placement of the Scriptures in our churches and families has shifted. The flocks are scattered, and the shepherds are running from farm to farm seeking answers. A little less running and a lot more reading of that Holy Book, and you might be amazed when the Holy Spirit begins to speak.

Many parents ask me to recommend a children’s devotional book they could read together at night. There are many, but the best thing families can read together is the Word of God. And if your children are old enough to read the highway signs from the back seat, how about getting yourself a Baptist Hymnal? At least one night a week, pick a theme and take turns going over the responsive reading Scriptures together.

What if you come to words nobody can pronounce? Take a page from my hymnal. When that happened to me, I performed what I call “unison lip synching.” Move your lips, make a mumbling sound and pick up with the next word as if you had a lump in your throat.

You can learn a lot in the basement of a Baptist church. And best of all, you can come to know … Him.

Walker Moore

Author: Walker Moore

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  • Judy Price

    When I have students read Scripture, and they come to a difficult to pronounce word, I say, “We can all see the word. Don’t lose track of the story just trying to get one word pronouced correctly. Take a stab at it and move on!” That helped them when they would get to a word like “sepulchre”, which I think means dank, damp, Baptist basement.

  • LaDonna Rogers

    Dear Walker: I am happy to report the reading of God’s Word during worship is still a practice today. Our ministers of music (as there have been several) have all been good about having someone from the praise team, or the congregation, all read scripture aloud from time to time that fit the theme of that Sunday. It is not just like what we had “back yonder” but it is good to hear it read aloud, in unison: with one voice, one spirit, one baptism. There is much to miss about the churches in which we grew up.

    In Christ,
    LaDonna Rogers

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