19 Sep 2011

Being a 'Shorter Catechism Girl'

Jemimah's up to Question 85 in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. 22 left to go. What a phenomenal achievement!

She first started memorising Scripture when she was two years old. True. We started the catechism when she turned four. Kids of that age have absolutely phenomenal memories, and while they don't understand what they're learning, at least they're doing the ground work for later on. I know this isn't particularly Charlotte Mason in its pedagogological approach, but when it comes to hiding God's word in our hearts, I believe the earlier we begin the better.

Now that we have so many past questions to revise each week, Jemimah's progress on new questions is getting slower. It's still steady though. We revise five past questions each day, and if we get stuck on a particular answer we revise it over the next day - and the next - until it goes back into the memory where is belongs. We always have a new question on the go. At first I just read the question and answer aloud. When she feels she can, Jemimah inserts the words she know until she can say the whole lot. Once a question is learned we practise it every second day for a while before it is added to the 'learned question' rotation.

It requires constant effort to commit the entire Shorter Catechism to memory. I tried as a kid, but I only got part of the way through. Even now, learning them along side Jemimah, her recall of them is far, far better than mine. I don't think there are even very many tricks - excepting hard work and commitment. She does have the Westminster Confession Flashcard App on her iPod touch, which we use occasionally to vary the lesson, but mostly we just practise, practise, practise.

Sometimes I wonder whether all the hard work and concomitant angst is worth it, but when I do, I like to read the little piece by Princeton's Professor Benjamin Warfield called Is the Shorter Catechism Worthwhile?, which is found in the back of our catechism book. It's all inspirational reading, but this little story is worth quoting in full:
What is ‘the indelible mark of the Shorter Catechism’? We have the following bit of personal experience from a general officer of the United States army. He was in a great western city at a time of intense excitement and violent rioting. The streets were over-run daily by a dangerous crowd. One day he observed approaching him a man of singularly combined calmness and firmness of mien, whose very demeanor inspired confidence. So impressed was he with his bearing amid the surrounding uproar that when he had passed he turned to look back at him, only to find that the stranger had done the same. On observing his turning the stranger at once came back to him, and touching his chest with his forefinger, demanded without preface: ‘What is the chief end of man?’ On receiving the countersign, ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever’ — ‘Ah!’ said he, ‘I knew you were a Shorter Catechism boy by your looks!’ ‘Why, that was just what I was thinking of you,’ was the rejoinder.

It is worth while to be a Shorter Catechism boy. They grow to be men. And better than that, they are exceedingly apt to grow to be men of God. So apt, that we cannot afford to have them miss the chance of it. ‘Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from it.’
One day Jemimah will grow to be a woman. My greatest hope is that she will grow up to be a woman of God. If learning the catechism helps her to achieve this then all the angst and hard work will all have been worthwhile.


  1. Awesome job, Jemimah! I wish I had learned the catechism when I was a child.

  2. Hi Jeanne, I have added your blog to my blogroll of Aussie Christian Bloggers... could you please add mine? Morning Cuppas With Glenys...

    Many blessings from a fellow Victorian... Glenys

  3. I was looking on Amazon for a copy of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Do you have a version that you recommend?

  4. Oh yes, my dear! That is what it is all about really in the end. If my children grow up to be faithful servants of God then I have done my job well, academics or not. Good job, Jemimah & mum!

  5. Keep up the good work!
    I'm just about to start a bible study on the westminster confession with my older ones.


I'd love you to leave me a message. Tell me what you like - and what you don't. Just remember that this is what we do in our family - it doesn't have to be what you do in yours...