Clothesline Collects

Children working on clothesline collects

All Saints’ Children’s Choir isn’t a very large group—typically eight to ten participants each semester ranging in age from Kindergarten to sixth grade. The size and the age range of this group present me with the challenge of finding repertoire and activities that are suitable for younger singers, yet engaging for older singers.

Because I wanted to foster the spirituality of this group, and make our rehearsals little liturgies of their own, I searched for collects suitable for use with children, thematically related to making music. I couldn’t find exactly what I wanted, so I set out to write a few of my own. I had hoped for the collects to be led by choristers, but realized that the entire block of text might be imposing for our earlier readers.

Inspired by the inherent structure of the collect and a miscellaneous clothespin on my desk, I had the idea to print each section of the collects on a different piece of paper, and hang them on an improvised “clothesline” on the dry-erase board of the Children’s Choir room. Over the past year, we’ve rotated through a set of four collects, since the repetition fosters their confidence in leading. Each is color coded, and the sections within each are numbered. Each week, a chorister (typically an early reader) is assigned the task of putting the sections in order and pinning them to the clothesline, and another chorister (typically a more confident reader) leads the prayer. Earlier readers will sometimes lead the prayer with a little help from an older friend.

Here’s an example:

Address (1) Attribution (2) Petition (3) Purpose (4) Closing (5)
What do we call God? What has God done? What would we like God to do? Why would we like God to do this? How do we end our prayer?
Creative God, who sang creation into being: bless our offerings of music and prayer, so that we might magnify your Name forever; through Jesus Christ, your only Son our Lord. Amen.

Soon, Children’s Choir will write their OWN collect for the group. We’ll take a few minutes out of our weekly 45-minute long rehearsal to talk about each section and after five weeks, hopefully we’ll have cobbled together a prayer that we can add to our rotation.

Collect-writing is an appropriate activity for other groups, as well—youth groups, vestries, choirs, etc. It can be tailored to various ages and is an excellent creative activity for helping a group distill its mission. It’s been a joy to watch our choristers grow more confident in leading the group in prayer, beginning with gathering the group near the board with a (sometimes extremely) loud, “THE LORD BE WITH YOU!” It’s also been a delight to see them negotiate words like “magnify” and “beacon,” knowing that while their meanings may be a bit abstract for now, they’ll become more concrete in the future.

Here are some great resources for getting started:

Let the Whole Church Say Amen!: A Guide for Those Who Pray in Public, Laurence Hull Stookey (Abingdon Press, 2001)

Finding Words for Worship: A Guide for Leaders, Ruth C. Duck (Westminster John Knox, 1995)

 

Jessica Nelson is Organist and Choirmaster at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Tupelo, MS. Last fall, she was a participant in the Center for Liturgy and Music’s Raising the Song Symposium and will return to the Virginia Theological Seminary campus for this October’s symposium.

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