Kevin’s recent post about children bearing testimony reminded me of the instructions to the children’s Religion Class teachers for a number of years in the second decade of the twentieth century. Each class was to include a regular schedule (in order) of singing, prayer, a memory exercise, a lesson, testimony bearing, and a closing song and benediction.
Regarding prayer, the 1917 instructions state:
The child who volunteers, comes before the class, utters the prayer in his own simple words, phrase by phrase, and the class repeats each group of words in concert. If the instructor cannot get any one to volunteer to pray, he opens the class with prayer himself. But this is only at first, when the children are more or less diffident. In case the teacher offers the prayer he makes it short and simple so as not to discourage the efforts of the class.
This pattern of prayer might surprise those unfamiliar with historical practice; however, this pattern of repeating the prayer of the voice was common in primary and other settings for decades before these instructions were offered. The Lord’s Prayer was even recited in Primary classes. I find it a very interesting method of teaching children how to pray and to help them build the confidence they might need to do it on their own. Beyond young children, I have been in situations where the language of the meeting was not the first language of some participants and consequently there was a hesitance to pray in public. I’m certain that I could have used such help as a missionary in France.
In discussing the bearing of testimonies, I thought the instruction was very helpful:
Of course, the children are not expected to testify that they know personally of the existence of God or the divine mission of the Prophet Joseph, though there have been very young children that have done this from personal knowledge. Whatever the class have themselves experienced, however remarkable or unusual, is legitimate material for testimony. The child has done something for his parents—made a sacrifice of personal interest for them; —this has resulted in a certain uplift of his feelings; accordingly, he may tell the class what that was and how well he felt about the action—a good testimony.
Source: Lesson Book for the Religion Classes in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: First and Second Grades (n.d.: General Board of the Religion Classes, 1917), 4-5.