Saturday, October 10, 2009

Children in Church

I wrote this for, and it was originally published in August, on my friend Gunfighter's blog. It created a bit of conversation there, so I thought I'd post it here and see what kind of dialogue it would create here.

We are sort of a cold-weather church-going family. When the mercury rises (as it is supposed to do in the summertime but has not really happened these last few years here in Minnesota) we make ourselves scarce from the church. It’s not that we think church is less important in the summertime, but as with most things, a little break from routine is helpful to rejuvenate the desire.

Come September we are back in the routine of our church life. Wednesday afternoon choir practice for the two big kids, Sunday school on Sunday, attending church services mainly when the two big kids sing with choir during the service.

We don’t attend the service every week. We’re Presbyterian, and Presbyterians are sort of laid-back in general so we’re on the very laid back end of the spectrum. I don’t think I need to attend church every single week in order for God to love me or for Him to hear me.

Ironically, it’s our kids that want to go to church every week. They enjoy seeing their friends and learning about the Bible. They are a vital part of our church community. The congregation knows them because they are active and visible in the church. I was too, up until last year when the baby was born. I just couldn’t continue as a Sunday School teacher when I had a nursing infant with me. I actually have really enjoyed the break. (see above, about breaks being helpful to rejuvenate) I don’t know when, or if, I’ll return to teaching, but I did enjoy feeling a part of the community.

I also enjoyed the surprised looks I would get from people when I mentioned I was a Sunday School teacher. I don’t wear my religion on my sleeve and I rarely talk about it, even with my own family. I believe what I believe and you can believe what you believe. I don’t need to debate about this aspect of my life. In fact, I’d rather not talk about it (and so naturally I’m writing a blog post about it!).

Our church is dying. It is old, and beautiful and old. We have had encounters with less-than-Christian fellow members, that made us feel less-than-Christian toward them. Honestly I still see these people and feel stabs of hate. I am fairly certain that our encounter with these people led to a new pamphlet at our church that informs the older members that children are welcome in worship and that the parents should be encouraged rather than maligned for bringing their children to worship. I worry for these people who are so filled with negativity that they would attack a young family with words of hate.

Churches, in order to survive, need to adapt to the modern lives of families. If young people and young families are not welcomed, even courted, then the church will die.

I know my husband and I are not the only parents to feel unwelcome in worship because we have a noisy baby or preschooler. There is no “cry room” in our church. There is a nursery, but I am unwilling to leave my children in settings like this when they can’t communicate any issues with me. Our associate pastor’s wife had even had older members reprimand her for her noisy children (did these people know who they were talking to?).

I believe the sounds of a baby playing happily during a church service add to the joy of being together, alive. If my baby was crying uncontrollably I would definitely leave the service until she quieted, but a few fussing sounds should not be a big deal, in my opinion.

What do you think?

Is your church of the antiquated idea that children should be seen and not heard? Should children be welcome in worship?

7 people like me!:

Jules said...

Indeed, children are welcome and encouraged to join our services. We also have a cry room, a nursing room, and a fully staffed nursery - we try to make all people welcome. The last two rows in the sanctuary are reserved for families with small children.

We are the same way - worship God's creation by being in the creation during the summer months :)

Leisa Hammett said...

I'll be sharg. this post, found on Twitter, on a social media site 4 which I'm a moderator. This has been a popular discussion topic. Thanks for addressing.

I'd like to add that living in the buckle of the Bible Belt, here in the South, specifically, in Nashville, where many, many denominations have "headquarters," that not all Presbyterians are laid back by any means. From what you state, you are a PCUSA one of the split denominations and the more liberal -- unlike PCA, the more conservative. No sides here. I am not a Presbyterian. I just find religion fascinating and grew up amongst the dogma and for 11 years was a magazine and wire service reporter about it. (PCUSA: Presbyterian Church USA & PCA: Presbyterian Church of America). Pardon me if you know this. It read as if the assumption were all Presbys were laid back. Oh, not so in my experience here. But! To each his own!

And, one more comment while I'm at it. I'm well aware, having a child with a disAbility--autism--of the UNwelcome mat at churches, too often, regarding sometimes ALL children. However, I believe that though it feels pretty icky when it happens to one, that we are all responsible for our feelings AND our actions. I determine how I'm going to feel about things and I choose not to put off my feelings onto someone else as in saying they made me feel such and such. To some this is a radical belief, but it is one I embraced nearly 20 years back. Believe me from the perspective of having a differently abled child, I know there will always be crabby old people, unkind children, staring adults, ignorant commenters. But, I get to decide how I choose to feel about it and then take responsibility for my feelings. Sometimes the responsibility is many things: private salve rubbing and inward looking to see if there's some nugget of truth or if I also embrace the remark. Or, going public as someone or some church official wisely did--or was tipped off by another parent to do so. Just my two cents.

May your family have many happy winter days in your laid back church and may it be more welcoming to Her little ones. ;-). AND: good for you volunteering to teach Sunday School! thanks again for writing this post!

Awesome Mom said...

I would not attend a church that did not welcome my kids in the main worship session. Church is very much a family thing and families should be able to worship together. Yeah it is frustrating to have to spend most of the session out in the foyer with a crying baby but we are still there every week. Eventually they learn and are able to sit mostly reverently, possibly even learning something while they are there. My church has later instruction that is designed for different age groups so the sermon part is only a component of the day.

louann said...

Although our church is not that "child friendly" in the sense that we only have 1 room for Sunday school, children are very, very welcome in church. A lot of running, laughing, crying and screaming during our pastors sermon.
I would be very appreciative if we did have a feeding / changing room and a play room.

chelle said...

We are in the process of building a new church for our parish and I am praying it will be more family and child friendly.

mayberry said...

I did comment on this over at Gunfighter's but it bears repeating. I am very grateful that our church is kid-friendly. At least at the service we typically go to, there is a family with kids in nearly every pew. In general, people are very tolerant of kid antics --but also, parents are respectful and do their best to make sure kids are not actually disruptive. I think there is a happy medium that church communities need to strive for.

Tanyetta said...

Funny you should bring this up. My baby girl is 7 months old and she was making cooing noises, etc..I thought it as an interruption to the service and took her out and we sat in the lobby for a bit.

A woman approached us and said she noticed I brought the baby out and wanted to come and find me. She said, it's a delight to hear the baby cooing and it's perfectly normal and invited me back in. I was stunned and very happy.

Needless to say I feel less self conscious about the baby cooing and such. Thanks for writing this.

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