Instructing children in church liturgy

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.


  1. Love these excerpts. Very fun.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    Kind of reminds me of the old Junior Sunday School.

  3. Thanks. Kevin, I’m not exactly clear, but I believe that this is an antecedent to Junior Sunday School, so that would make sense.

  4. J. does the above mentioned pattern of prayer correlate with prayer circles happening in meetinghouse in the early 20th century? If so, how and when did it disappear from Sunday School instruction?

  5. *meetinghouses


  6. Tod, the idea of prayer being voiced communally was not isolated in any one particular liturgical expression (you see it in other places as well), and I don’t think that the people that participated in the Primaries and Religion Classes viewed what they were doing as an extension of anything that was associated with the temple. As you note, prayer circle meetings were still common outside of the temple at this time, and while that lasted to the late seventies, this instruction for teaching is among the latest I have seen regarding children.

  7. Got it. So do we know whether communally voiced prayer was incorporated from regular meetings into the temple expressions? Or were the prayer circle patterns carried out into the general meetings following their standardization in temple liturgy? I guess I’m not that familiar with that aspect (communally voiced prayer among members) of liturgical expression. Cheers.

  8. I grew up Catholic, and it took me several months to get used to non-communal prayer, and a full year+ to resist the urge to genuflect when entering the meetinghouse.

  9. I want to know how you get your child…let’s just hypothetically say a 2yo, to STOP praying with everyone. It’s darling…and loud. Every time she does it I think? Literally every time she does it I wonder… should I be teaching her not to or am I supposed to become like a child and start with an amen?

    One interesting aspect of having a group repeat the prayer is that it may teach the child praying that they ARE praying for everyone. To hear the other children say their words…it may help them understand what it means to pray in a group environment.

  10. Tod, those are difficult questions, ones which I don’t think I am prepared to answered (sorry). This is of course sensitive material, and I don’t know when (or if) I will get to analyzing the various sources in a way that will answer them specifically. I do have an open research file, if you come across sources, though (grin).

    EOR, and lNO, I appreciate your perspectives.

  11. Right, and prayer is a topic to be treated with regard, though I definitely will pass along anything I find for the open research file. :D

  12. As a sometimes frustrated parent and youth teacher it’s good to know that kids 100 years ago were also more or less diffident.

  13. It also occurs to me that this is an interesting way to promote reverence…not sitting still and quiet…but thinking about Heavenly Father. I imagine repeating the words of the prayer would promote more reverence than telling the children to sit still, then dealing with all of the “her eyes were open” “she poked me” etc.

    just a thought

  14. I’ve never heard of the “class repeats each group of words” part of prayer before in church or in primary. Very interesting.

    I’m just happy if I can get my kids to pay attention enough to say “Amen” in unison with others.

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