“I have found profound personal benefit in preparing Scripture passages to recite in worship services, and in Sunday School classes.”
As a member of Friends of the Groom theater company, I have the pleasure of helping present workshops at churches all over the country, on how to use drama in worship and Christian education. One of the most frequently asked questions is, “Where can we get good material?”
While we’re more than happy to pedal our scripts and others we like, we are always quick to point out that Scripture itself is the most powerful script you can come up with, and always available!
I have found profound personal benefit in preparing Scripture passages to recite in worship services, and in Sunday School classes. Once I recited the beginning of Isaiah 61, waiting for a sign language interpreter after each verse, and in those silent pauses the mission of Jesus was nailed into my heart for good. Not until rereading the temptation of Christ in Matthew 4 many times did I begin to appreciate the depth of the evil and deception He was up against, and the chill of it was felt by others during the recitation.
Memorization of a passage forces me to ponder, to meditate, to imagine, to question, to wonder about context – in short, to do all the things we aim for with Bible study. Preparing to recite what I memorize further deepens my experience of the passage as I look for which words to stress in sentences, where to speak loudly, softly, slowly or quickly. By the time I’m ready to recite to the congregation, the passage is part of me and that profoundly impacts how it’s delivered.
Working with others to help them recite can really enrich a congregation. Not only do more voices add interest; it can be an ideal way to involve people who do not normally participate in the leadership of worship services. Once, a 91 year old Irish man recited Psalm 91 at the end of a worship service. He had been repeating it daily for years, and his utter conviction that God was his refuge shook in his voice and glowed in his eyes. People held their breath.
I aim for diversity among those I ask to recite; making sure the congregation sees a mix of age and race. I get young people involved whenever possible, since they are under- represented in so many worship services. The process they go through to prepare – studying, memorizing, planning delivery, rehearsing over and over – plants that passage deep in their hearts, and serves as a model for mastering more.
Best of all, a well prepared recitation makes the Bible jump out at people in a way that reading can never do. Some passages lend themselves to stillness, others benefit with movement and characterization. Whether it is acted out with passion by several people, or simply recited from one spot by one person, listeners will glean things from familiar passages they have never noticed before. The reality that the passage now means more to the reciter because of all the time spent with it, is somehow transmitted as the words are spoken, and Scripture is given the weight it deserves. Recitation communicates a high view of the Bible, and the enthusiasm is contagious.
At so many levels, Scripture recitation is a vehicle for spiritual growth – for those who direct it, those who prepare it, and those who hear it.
Colleen Scheid is a member of “Friends of the Groom” theater company, and a freelance writer of drama, articles and fiction.