Sunday, August 17, 2014

Singing Hymns and Saying Prayers in Elementary School

I attended three elementary schools from 1953 to 1959, two in Ohio and one in Pennsylvania.

I remember my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Rossi, so well because we sang hymns when we handed in our papers. We finished our work, she stood in front of the class, called us to pass our papers to the end of the row and led us singing a hymn. Two of her favorites were "Come Thou Almighty King", and "All things bright and beautiful". Children's voices singing worshipful music replaced the noise of shuffling papers and talking.

Although no one in the class knew the words to each hymn when the school year started, as the year progressed we learned quickly. Singing hymns in school during the mid-fifties was perfectly acceptable. The door was always open and no parent, teacher or principal complained about the hymns or made comments about the separation of church and state or worried about violating anyone's religious freedom. 

Teachers in the fifties taught all subjects including music, and art. Mrs. Rossi often accompanied us on the piano which was next to her desk.

When I was in the fifth grade my family moved to a small town in Pennsylvania.  Each day we formed a line inside the classroom preparing for lunch.  Just before walking down the stairs in the creaky old building to the cafeteria, one of the children or the teacher prayed.  One student, Simone, was Jewish.  My teacher, Mrs. DeShong, was intentional to ask her to pray every other week. Simone prayed in Hebrew and then translated what she said.

Although my parents took me to church each Sunday, I became aware of God's presence early in life.  Even though my home life was stressful, I knew God was with me. Singing hymns at school brought God to me in another setting.  I listened carefully to the words of each hymn and gained strength to return home to the challenges I faced. 

Praying before lunch in Pennsylvania was another way my faith was nurtured.  Pausing each day, coming to God with gratitude, helped ground my faith as my home life continued to deteriorate. These simple ways of attending to God's presence at school, helped me realize God was everywhere not just in church on Sunday morning.

Considering the nature of my home life, these "spiritual practices", singing hymns and saying prayers before lunch, carried me through the week, until I could return Sunday and sink into the liturgy present in the Episcopal church. The liturgy too, which rarely varied from week to week, was like a familiar coat of comfort, which I looked forward to wearing when I entered the sanctuary.  These "religious experiences" at both school and church, reminded me in different ways that I was not alone, God was with me, and I could depend on God to help me when my mother and father were failing in their responsibility to a small child.

1 comment:

  1. Thank God for Mrs. Rossi and Mrs. DeShong! God could use that time in our history--where freedom to sing hymns and pray prayers was allowed--and their personality and experience to reach a lonely, lost girl and reassure her of God's love. So tender and beautiful, the Heavenly Father's love for you. Thank you for sharing this story, this insight into your child-heart and -soul that so needed to receive comfort and a sense of Holy Presence in her life.