When it comes to parenting, my role model is Mr Banks at the beginning of the film Mary Poppins. He arrives home from work and sings:
I’m the lord of my castle, the sovereign, the liege,
I treat my subjects, servants, children, wife,
With a firm but gentle hand: noblesse oblige.
Unfortunately, when it comes to parenting I feel more like Mr Banks towards the end of Mary Poppins. Remember him arriving home from work with his tie cut off short and a hole punched in his hat, while his children cavorted around on the rooftops with chimney sweeps?
Look, I’m not a complete parenting failure – my three boys can bowl a cricket ball, ride a bike and they only support a football team in red when Wales play at home – but when it comes to family worship I’ve spent years feeling like I’ve failed.
Not that things are a disaster. The boys are in church with me without complaint every week. They have beibl.net on the bedside and Jesus Storybook Bible on their iPods; they’ve spent their Easters at Llanw, Summers in Aber and Autumns at Coleg Y Bala; their auntie bought them The Action Bible, their grandparents model Christian living and their mother prays with them. They are very blessed and I’m thankful to God for that.
But I’m their dad and when all is said and done, it’s my job to lead my family in worship and I’ve never found a satisfactory way to do it. For the first twelve years, it was dreadfully stop-start and we could never seem to find a method or a rhythm that suited us. It seemed forced and uncomfortable and even if we managed a few days, we never developed a habit. So I was resigned to defeat, a casualty of the parenting worship wars. I read the blogs and Facebook posts, I could see other men had succeeded, but for whatever reason, it hadn’t happened for me.
Then two years ago, I went away on an Air Training Corps Padre’s residential retreat. I wasn’t hugely excited to go but out of politeness I dutifully filed into the chapel and took my seat. We sat quietly for twenty minutes and heard the psalm, the call and response prayer, the Bible reading and the blessing and filed out again. It wasn’t anything special but I was intrigued. What had we read? Just the modern version of the compline. Where could I get a copy? Simply download the Church of England’s Daily Prayer app. And so I did. And when I got home I told the children to assemble in the lounge and sit quietly. After the usual chaos that ensues whenever five people try to do anything at bedtime, I read through the set readings and prayers for the day.
The next day we did it again. Two years on we’re still doing it. We don’t do it every night and we don’t read it all every night, but for at least four nights out of every seven, we finish the day with a psalm, a prayer, a chapter from the Bible and a blessing. Sometimes it feels repetitive, sometimes it starts as a chore but every time we end the day having spent some time with God. It no longer feels like an uncomfortable gear change, and it has prompted conversations at other times of the day and provided answers to those questions kids sometimes ask.
So what’s my point? It’s not to recommend this to you (although I do). It’s really to encourage the Mr Banks’ who are reading this to have another go. I had just about given up hope of establishing any rhythm of worship into our family, but by pure happenstance and the grace of God, I found a way to worship with my family that’s become part of the rhythm of our life.
And now, by the happenstance of a random article in this magazine and the grace of God, maybe this is a little push for you to try again. It won’t be my way, but like Mr Banks sings at the end of Mary Poppins, ‘With a tuppence for paper and string you can make your own set of wings.’ Get a Bible, a reading plan, an app, a prayer book and whatever else you need and do it your way, soli deo gloria.
If you want to read more about the biblical pattern for family worship click here.