Dcn. Isaac Chavez, of Christ the King Anglican Church, graciously answered our questions for a two part series on Family Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer (found after the Catechism, on page 593 of the REC Prayer Book). Dcn. Isaac is married to Sarah and has four children. He was ordained as deacon in the Reformed Episcopal Church in June, 2015.
Read Part 1 of this series.
–How should families approach using the Book of Common Prayer for our daily prayers? Most families will not be able to observe both Morning and Evening prayers on a consistent basis. This is why there is even a provision in the Prayer Book which makes it clear that the Family Prayers are for times when it is convenient for the family to gather together for prayer. The English Church has more often than naught had a pastoral impulse at its heart, and the Church has consistently tried to leave freedom for family and lay persons to seek God in their lives outside of the Church. The Church is there for a help, guide, and nurturer, but it is up to the individual family to keep their own daily spiritual life vibrant and active.
So choose either Morning or Evening prayer, which ever time would best fit for your family to be together without being hurried, and without distraction. Time is important, since it teaches the child that the we are in God’s time. Thus, if you choose to do Evening Prayer, choose a specific time, such as 6:00 p.m. And once that time is chosen, try your best to have everyone seated and prepared to begin. It is important that the kids are made to be with the family but not forced to take part. Not making them be present is basically telling them that they don’t have to respond to God’s voice. Our duty is to present our bodies. Our minds and hearts may not always be present. But if we present ourselves to God, then we continue our baptismal vows of fighting “manfully” for the faith of Christ. But it is also important that a child is not forced to say the prayers. We do not want to give the child the impression that God forces himself on a person. Rather, he initiates, he calls us, we come, and then we respond to his actions. He is the one in charge. Thus, sometimes quietness is the best response. You never know that when your child is playing with their hair and seeming to not pay attention, you never know what is happening in their heart. So it is important that they are present, and are made to watch the parents, but allowed to pray and meet with God in the privacy of their heart.
For younger, or even bigger families, I would not make the session too long (aim for 10-15 minutes; older families can probably do more). There really is no exact way it has to be done. Some people simply do the Family Prayer office of Morning or Evening prayer word for word. Others will use it as a guide and incorporate other elements, such as the Psalm for the day, or the Collect for the Week, or a Hymn or Chant you particularly enjoy. Some families choose to pray during a meal, so that there is always the connection to Holy Communion, and our feast before God.
-How would you encourage Anglican families in terms of incorporating family prayer?
Number one, don’t feel bad for missing days, or even stopping altogether for periods of time. Life gets busy, the family might get tired or lazy, or simply life just distracts us. This is the nature of the Christian life. We are strong by Christ, but unable to keep from falling. This is why weekly we are continually cleansed and assured by him that he loves us as much as ever. The Scripture says the heart is deceitful, and our heart often guilts us into actually not trying or putting forth the effort to do something just because we failed before, or had a hard time getting it done. The best thing to do is simply examine what happened to distract the family from this time, and then try again, or make changes that will help the family to keep the time more consistently.
Secondly, and this is more of a general exhortation: Make your faith normal for your children. This is something I cannot give too much instruction on, since really it is going to be up to each parent to learn how do this in their context for their particular children. But what I would say is, bring up God, his actions, and his love in daily life as if it is normal and obvious. Do not make God something that is never mentioned or that is not actively a part of what is happening, but also don’t use God to scare the children into obedience. God is their loving father, who made them to worship, love and enjoy him. He has now sealed them, and calls them as his children. And he wants both: them to listen to him, but also to give their unique response. But if the children are not helped to make certain connections, God will be something we “do at church” instead of the living God who breathes life into us every day. Talk about God like he is there. When the child recovers from an illness, remind them of how the family had been praying and now they have been healed. This will help them make the connection that the medicine, doctor, and whatever else is being used to bring them healing, all these things are merely tools for God. This right away begins to train them to not be fooled by their senses. It tunes them to the larger reality we are taking part in, and it slightly open the veil of their eyes so that they can see “the angles of God camping around them as a host.” By making these metaphysical connections for them, they can begin to consciously experience the Active and Living God, and see how he is day to day the one truly loving, blessing, and providing for them.
I ask that God gives you all wisdom on how to respond to him, as you seek to lead your families down that “happy road that leads to his right hand.”