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Little children belong in church

Two reflections. The first, by Adam Bond, diobeth missioner for communication, parishioner at Church of the Mediator in Allentown. The second, by Canon Laura Howell, rector of Trinity Bethlehem. Both were posted by the writers on Tuesday, August 19 on our diocesan interactive list, Bakery.

By Adam Bond
As a father of a three-and-half year old and an eighteen month old, I’ve noticed a few things. Now, let it be known, that my wife, Jennifer, and I tend toward more traditional forms of worship — I don’t think we have ever attended the contemporary family service offered once a month at our parish. It is of especial note that both of my sons felt and heard the organ every Sunday in utero and responded to it prepartum and postpartum, calming down and even falling asleep to what is not necessarily the most tranquility-inducing instrument in creation… I can imagine less intense music. ;-)

Regardless, as both infants and toddlers they have responded to the best in our art, architecture, music, and prosodic traditions in a seemingly unnaturally positive way. Both Charles and Oliver are entranced by our Episcopal hymnody. When Clint Miller plays the often elaborate postlude on Sunday’s, I have never seen anyone so rapt as Ollie, who stares him down like he wants to sell him Watkin’s products out of a briefcase. Charlie recognizes church architecture on the street, he recognizes persons of the cloth, religious symbols and artl and even certain sounds spark his imagination, such as when we heard bells ringing the other day and he asked whether we would go see Jesus at the church. Sunday morning’s he is wholly aware that we should be in church and especially reminds us when we are slogging along and taking to long to leave.

Perhaps, I have taken an unorthodox approach to exposing my children to the church… I have tried to allow for immersion, even when people scowl and glare and hush my admittedly rambunctious children, rather than gradual introduction and otherwise deliberate segregation. I have many times worried that Charlie’s tendency to compete with the homily or loudly, openly disagree with a particular theological point in said homily would set a priest on edge.

When we attended the “Of Heaven and Earth” exhibit at the Allentown Art Museum — I recommend it, it runs until early September, and the museum is free every day for the rest of summer, Charles was pointing out Jesus in all of the pictures. At one medieval madonna and child he said, “Look, Mama, it’s a baby Jesus… Him’s so cute. Him’s loves his mama, right, Mama?” These things yield to children in ways that our jaded, jaundiced senses can no longer experience without a concerted effort and it is a grave injustice, in my opinion, to try and condescendingly tailor things to children in ways that disrespect their native openness to all of the wonder and complexity of creation, just because it hardly impresses our tired, world-weary sensibilities. I am always surprised for some reason when Charlie repeats back to me some complicated prayer or theological idea, because I have refused to dumb these things down and speak of them as if I respect him enough to understand it in his own time.

If I regret anything in how I have handled my children’s experience of church, it was unwisely taking advantage of the nursery program at our new parish when we transitioned from one parish to another. From the time that they were born, they sat through the entire sung service with us, but for whatever reason, we thought that they might enjoy the nursery during the lessons and then we bring them up during the offertory. I wish we hadn’t done this and we are now trying to transition them back upstairs, because immersion in the mysteries of god seems tantamount to my only real responsibility as a parent.

By Mother Laura Howell
I am not a birth-parent.  Instead, I'm one of those priests that Adam worries about disturbing.  

My extremely strong feeling (rabid, passionate, uncontrolled, you might even say) is that kids belong in church. That is where our whole family in Christ gathers.  

Nursery definitely has its place on the cranky days or the sleeping days or the parents-at-wits'-end days (and a smart parish will have the equivalent of nursery for adults, too, like coffee and tea in the parish hall well before coffee hour).  Kids squirm.  Kids respond to rhetorical questions (adults, too).  Kids yell out.  And sing out (some of them in tune, too).  So?  

My experience is that when kids say something during a sermon, it's often a great underliner of a point, or allows the crafty preacher to add an informal comment.  If they are not part of church when they are small, why would we think they would enjoy the music, liturgy, beauty when they get older?  And, we find, that kids seeing other kids carrying the torches or reading or crucifering often want to do it themselves.

If someone (child or adult--not joking--it happens) is shrieking and having a meltdown, then a timeout is a great idea. But they shouldn't be kept out of church because they *might* bother someone.  Where would this end?  X should not be in church because they talk to themselves.  Y shouldn't be in church because they have allergies and sneeze.  Z shouldn't be in church because they cry at the beautiful music.  I could paraphrase a quote from Kazantsakis: "Life is unexpected and messy, only death is not."

My opinion. YMMV, of course.


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