Sunday, October 10, 2010

Welcoming the child

Baby goat and I went to worship alone today.  Mr. Goat was singing in the choir and was sitting in the balcony above so we were on our own for the service.  Seeing as I came in from chatting with my Sunday School teachers we slipped into the end of a pew near the back, next to an elderly couple.

What proceeded was a very normal worship service with an active toddler.  He was happy but occasionally a little loud.  He liked to pull things from the pew racks.  He tried to engage with the people around him.  He occasionally fussed to be held, or to be put down.  He wasn't great I suppose, but being that it was just him and I for a full service he did fine.

I made sure to follow my own advice and as we were exiting I thanked the elderly couple for their patience with us as I'd seen a few of the "looks" from their direction.  Still I was unprepared for the woman to say to me, "He really ought to be in the nursery at this age."

I swallowed and replied that he'd spent the Sunday School hour in the nursery and that in order for him to learn it is important for him to be in worship.

She just gave me the look again and said, "We'll just be sure to sit elsewhere then."

Now I was fuming after this short exchange.  I am confident enough as both a parent and as a Children's Ministry Director to know that baby goat belongs in worship - despite the occasional distraction he may cause.  We are committed to regularly bring him to worship. Will we use the nursery sometimes?  Probably.  Will we take him out if he gets disruptive? Yes.

But I'm fuming not because of what was said to me about my child but that it could ahve been said to any parent trying to make worship work with a small child.  What if it was said to a single mother who was frazzled and trying to enjoy the service?  What if it was said to a visiting family checking out to see if the church was family friendly?

It is hard enough to parent without judgement and a church should welcome children.  Let parents feel good about their decision to bring their children to worship.  Children are the future of the church and if we fail to welcome and educate them the church and its traditions will fade.  Bringing baby goat to church now helps him learn that this is an important thing.  He learns the habits and the traditions.

I'm not easily swayed by the crabbiness of another but who knows who might turn away from what a church can offer because of a cruel word and a judging glare.


Amy said...

OK, I TOTALLY know how you feel. My mom has made the kids a "church bag" which hold crayons and coloring books for them to use at church and we also "bribe" them with Lucky Charms that are for church only. However, I want them to learn about the mass and am not a fan of using the nursery. This week was the first time they were there and I missed them both the entire time. Tell the lady to go sit somewhere else and take her intolerance with her. I'm sorry Liz, people like that just get me fuming.

How do they know what the reason might be for you wanting your child there? You are also so right on with the whole "children are the future of the church"

Great post. :)

Anonymous said...

Maybe this is an opportunity to create a new 'dedicated pew' for people with small children. That way people who don't want to be around children will know not to sit near the area, and people with small children will have others near them who understand and might help out instead of stare. People with kids win, people who don't want to be around kids win.

Challenge:1yearnorestaurants said...

The nerve of some people especially in church. You should have said that you will be praying for her to find tolerance in her heart like Jesus had to do with so many of his followers.

scrubmama said...

I would have been super mad! Maybe your pastors would want to take this on....maybe a gentle hint during the children's sermon or something? Our pastors are really good about that kind of stuff.

Sharon said...

Yeah, this would make a great sermon. And any pastor worth their salt could share this story without pointing out the older couple. Because if there's one couple thinking it, there's others. And sometimes people need to be reminded that even Jesus welcomed the children...

I'll add it to my preaching schedule sometime this winter as a reminder for our folks, but they seem to me to be pretty good with kids. You could always come run Children's Ministry for me... (the pay is pretty poor, though).

Valerie said...

So, it's October and the Libra in me is coming out in full force, so I'm sorry if this comment becomes a little more confusing.

1) To what the Anonymous person said: I like the idea of a separate pew or a "kids section" and it seems good on the surface, but I don't like the idea that our kids should be separated from the rest of the church. By separating them, they may be partaking in the service, but they're not really part of the community. Besides, that creates a community within a community, and isolates parents from other people in the church. That said, having a seating area for parents with children near a bathroom or nursery might also make it easier on the moms and dads. If their child does become fussy (or desperately needs a change) they could make a quiet escape without having to walk through the entire church. It definitely has its pluses and minuses.

2)That lady obviously has no fun in her life.

3)While I'm generally tolerant of most kids in church, there are some things that bug me. I don't like being poked in the head or back (even if it's on accident). I don't like tap, tap, tapping on knocking on the backs of pews (if it's not mine it doesn't bother me). And I really don't like screaming. Once or twice is fine, but two often I'll hear a kid cry 3,4, or 5 times throughout Mass, and I wonder why the parents don't take him/her out. Keep in mind this is not a child near me but one that I can't even see (I can only hear). All that said, a little jibber-jabber, playing with toys, or coloring can be awfully cute. If Baby Goat disturbed one or two people around him then they need to suck it up. As long as he wasn't physically disturbing them or disturbing the whole church then they can just get over it.

Anne said...

I really wish I couldn't relate to this post :-) This boils my blood like nothing else. Old farts who are too ancient to remember what it was like to have young children. Screw 'em! (Nice Christian attitude that I have, eh?) Isn't church the place where we should ALL feel welcomed?? Would Jesus tell the kids to go to the nursery because they were being too loud?? I think not. I think that people forget (especially Lutherans, and I can say this because I am one) that church is not for sitting and being quiet--it's for WORSHIPPING GOD. And it's for EVERYONE. I have a kid that is super, duper bad in church but we bring him anyway. If he is being really loud and distracting of course we take him out or go to the cry room. But for goodness sake--church should be a safe place for families. If someone ever told me to put him in the nursery I think I would have a hard time being as nice as you were!!!

Anonymous said...

Growing up we wouldn't have dared to make a peep in church, even at a very very young age. We just didn't. We also didn't get toys or snacks. We were taught and expected to do as the elders of the church did.
I get the point of the older couple. They are there to listen, to hear the sermon, to reflect, to pray. Having a child near them being disruptive ruins the experience for them.
The polite thing to do is exit and return when your child can sit quietly whether that is in five minutes or five weeks.

fritzfacts said...

My parents always ALWAYS brought us to service. I remember my mom saying that very rarely did they use the nursery. It was so important for her that we be there, taking part. My mom also tells the story about when my sister was little. She was fussing, and my mom got up to take her out, and the Priest made her sit down, crabby baby and all.

"Everyone worships together, even the unhappy ones. Would you discard a man who was unhappy during service? No, you would encourage him and include him. Children are always matter what mood they are in".

She said the next weekend there were TONS of children in service.

I would be fuming too. It is so important for a family to be able to worship together. I think that Edward did great considering you were solo. He didn't disrupt service in my mind.

Wendy said...

Ugh. I'm so sorry. I think having children in worship is a newer phenomenon. The older people expect to be able to sit without distraction. Evidently one of the changes our paster made when she came to the church was to invite the children in. The former pastor (who was there for 35 years) would actually tell people from the pulpit to take their children out. I'm glad we didn't check the church out then. Maybe it is time for the pastor to remind people of why the church includes everyone in worship.

The first time we spoke with our pastor, we were slow leaving the sanctuary because we were dealing with our 18-month-old. She chatted with us and assured us of how much the church loved children and how much she enjoyed seeing them in worship.

The day we joined, we had our 6-month-old and 2 1/2-year-old. The baby was not fussy, but he was being a little noisy. The woman behind us leaned forward and whispered "They have a really good nursery." I nodded and smiled or something. She actually spoke a second time, seeming to suggest I take him out right then. If that had happened 6 months before, we probably wouldn't have been back.

Hyacynth said...

I cannot even put into words how strongly I agree with you about this -- that could have been someone desperately seeking a community, a Church, and that could have really just made someone feel terrible and turned off completely.

Anti-Supermom said...

That woman completed missed that fact that having young children in a church means having a youthful church, one that will remain strong and prosperous.

When we were searching for a church, we always looked to see if there were children, if there wasn't - we just knew that it wasn't a thriving church.

Vosberg View said...

Liz, I have a few things to throw for thought...without the calories. ;)

1. I am disheartened to read harsh reactions to this older couple in the other comments. To flip it around, just as much as kids need to be learning and worshiping, how do you know that this couple wasn't facing into something tragic in their own lives and truly needed to hear and learn from the sermon without interruption? Maybe their marriage was failing, they were facing a tragic illness, death or issues with children?

2. Maybe the issue isn't should they be in or out of worship, but WHY you don't want to bring them in the nursery? Is it because it is just a room full of chaos and toys? No real purpose? As an associate director of an early childhood ministry for 2 years in a church that puts HIGH value on kids growing in their relationship with God and others, we highly encourage from Birth-5th grade that kids get to learn about Jesus, The truth of the Bible and relationship with other believers. What are kids really learning through a "church bag", cheerios being shoved in ther mouths and constant ssshhhhs? I would put a stake and say not much and I don't blame them. And also, realistically, how much are the parents taking in? We do not expect our kids to learn their ABC's, numbers, science, physical education in environments that are not age appropriate, so why would we expect them to soak it up in a grown up church worship experience? Look at any children's museum, science museum or K classroom...they are colorful, experiential and attention grabbing ways of teaching and it WORKS! Why do we insist that they have to be in grown up church to be learning?

3. Coming from a Catholic/Lutheran background I know all to well what it was like having to be "a part of the church." Let's be honest, at most churches, the kids are in the room, but that doesn't mean they are a part of it. Why is it looked at that the kids are "not a part of the church" if they are in a different room creating relationships with other Christian adults (B-3 yr old) or in a room singing kid appropriate songs praising God or learning all about Daniel, the lion and how we can pray to God ANYTIME!

4. Almost NOTHING makes my heart burst more than seeing my 4 1/2 year old run up to his 1 year old classroom volunteers with open arms full of hugs and love. They showed him Christ's love every Saturday night at 6 for almost two years. They helped set up a foundation that I know without a doubt would never have been accomplished through bringing him into an adult based service.

I am totally open to having a continued conversation about ministry, Liz. I loved LOVED my time working in ec ministry and seeing littles learning and growing to love Jesus. NOTHING better than getting a front seat view of this every weekend. :)

Monkeymama said...

That whole exchange would have mortified me. I hate to think that my kids distract people from the service and it would have put a damper on my day for sure. Especially the comment about not sitting near you next time. If they need to be away from small kids to concentrate than they should sit away from young kids - but telling the parents doesn't seem very nice at all!

Three of the last four places we lived did not have nurseries, so that adds another level of worry as parents who want church to be a family celebration and also want to be considerate to others.

But, I can see both sides of this issue - our new parish has so many young families and I'm often shocked at how loud kids are allowed to be. It's a celebration, but a holy solemn one.

EDH said...

Oh, NOTHING makes my blood boil like this topic!!

Vosberg View, I respectfully disagree. I hear from some people that kids shouldn't be in worship till they're ready to be there - but I believe that if you banish them to the nursery till they're 8, by then it's too late. Children need to be in worship from day 1 so that worship can seep into their bones. They are part of the congregation too. Worship is not a consumer experience like going to a concert or sporting event. People aren't entitled to sit there and listen without distraction. Rather, worship is participatory and because it is full of human beings, it is not a perfectly silent experience, nor should it be. Even the very youngest children can experience it fully, but they need to be taught how to do it. I have a 20-month-old that has been to church nearly every week of her life. She doesn't sit perfectly still but she loves it and is very good. I don't believe she needs to be perfectly quiet, either - we are all singing, responding, moving, etc. Why should she be any different?

Now, perhaps the couple WAS having a bad day (we never know what is going on in others' lives) but I believe wholeheartedly that parents need not use the nursery and need support if they choose not to. I have gotten a lot of flack for not using the nursery with my daughter, yet my child folds her hands during prayers, says "Amen" and is starting to talk along with liturgical responses, "sings" during hymns, and I think it's wonderful. She wouldn't know any of this stuff if I sent her down to the nursery to play with toys. (My husband is also in the choir so I'm on my own!)

Liz, I hear ya and would have been absolutely fuming. In fact I probably would have asked that couple if they participate in the congregational responses during baptism - you know, the part where the congregation makes promises to support the child and his parents in the life of faith. That means being patient with little ones and encouraging them to worship.

EDH said...

(By the way, my belief that children should be in worship doesn't mean that they should be as loud as they want. Parents have a responsibility to teach their children the proper way to behave. I haven't listened to a sermon in 20 months because I am always busy with my daughter - which is fine with me because, at this season in my life, I am teaching her and raising her in the life of faith.)

Vosberg View said...

Thanks for responding, it has sparked such good conversation to put this out there. One of which I am thankful we can have without fears of oppression for sharing our beliefs.

I completely agree with you that they need to be worshiping from day 1! I think the major difference is if the early childhood ministry is or is not providing an opportunity for worship/teaching/small group/learning. If it is not, I can understand the desire to bring them into church with you for them to engage on some level even if it is not the most age appropriate. I agree that it should not be a consumer experience, but the purpose of worship is to focus on our Lord and hear what he is saying to us.

To respond to this being a season of life...I agree that it is my duty to teach my kids in all things faith, but strongly disagree that our worship/learning/relationship with God should intentionally take 2nd place because of a season. If I am NOT growing in my own faith where does that leave me to be able to educate my kids? I also see that Biblical families worshiped together, but it doesn't mean exclusively only as family. I think it is important for my kids to worship with their peers as well. Plenty of worship and teaching happens on a daily basis in our home (and car as we belt out Solid Rock over and over and over...)and thankfully much of it stems from the foundation provided in the age appropriate learnings they experience every week at church.

I am a pastor's wife and my kid's are not sitting by side. They are experiencing cuddles, reading stories and early learnings of Christ's love. They are jumping up and down singing their hearts out for the Lord. They come out of that environment ON FIRE FOR GOD! I am soaking up my one hour in a church setting for the week. Sometimes sitting next to my husband, sometimes it is next to a friend that has just experienced a miscarriage holding hands or a family member that is at church for the first time in many years. We as a family are filled up and ready to take on a new week and all we might face.

Lastly, having grown up in an environment where memorization/going through the motions was the priority and not making my faith my own and having a relationship with Jesus (vs. what I was supposed to do because the priest said so or because my parents said so) was why I walked away for so many years. There was not a safe place to ask questions that I think we all wrestle with questions on our faith journey. I strongly desire for a place my boys can ask about the tough stuff and for them to have strong relationships with OTHER Christian adults that they know they can turn to. I also desire to lay a foundation for my kids to be rooted in Jesus Christ, but for them to not feel they believe in God because that is what I want and out of obligation, but because it is something they have learned about and decide on their own. If I am the one and only always feeding my kids, from my experience, I feel like this very important decision may not happen for the right reasons and heart.

EDH said...

Very interesting and thanks for your thoughtful response! I'd just respond with the following:

- I believe there is absolutely a place for quality early childhood ministry, but that shouldn't take the place of worshiping with the whole community. The entire congregation should be worshiping together as one body. Faith formation certainly takes place for all ages and there is no substitute for good-quality faith formation programs, but I don't believe it is a substitute for experiencing worship with the entire congregation.

- Admittedly, I don't know much about other denominations (and it strikes me from your comment that we probably aren't the same denomination) but in the Lutheran church where I have always been, we promise as a congregation to support the newly baptized child and his/her parents... which to me means being patient/welcoming of children and being role models for that child. I grew up with many, many adults who were role models for me in my faith, and I was fortunate to feel loved, accepted, and free to ask all the questions I wanted. So, no, I don't believe it is my & my husband's duty alone to raise our children in faith - it is a communal effort that our entire church has pledged to walk with us.

- Certainly, my own faith should not remain dormant in this season of being my child's teacher, and it has not! Just because I am often more focused on helping her learn how to "do church" rather than listening attentively to the sermon does not mean my faith has suffered. I participate just as fully, just in different ways, and I have gotten a new perspective on God and what it means to worship as I help my young child experience church and worship herself. I find myself filled up in new and different ways - and my experience, of course, is not limited to one hour on Sunday morning but also in the rest of my week as well.

LutherLiz said...

I should add that in our congregation there is an Education hour between services and people of all ages take the time to grow in faith during that hour - my son included by both the nursery program and toddler Sunday School. I am a big proponent of Christian Education, it is (literally) my job to be!

Melinda said...

First of all, I think that the reaction from the older couple was uncalled for, pure and simple.

I'm a fan of a nursery during the service--for my child. I've just learned that it is a far more positive experience all around if she has that time in the nursery. However, I really think it is up to the parents to decide what is best for their family. It sounds as if having Baby Goat with you during the service is what works for you, then that is what you should go with.

As for finding "someplace else" to sit in church--well, I would recommend that so that you won't have to put up with such behavior from other congregants! :-D

Tiffany said...

I whole heartedly agree with Vosberg View. I am Lutheran, I have grown up Lutheran and I have 3 children. My youngest is 3 years old. I have the unique perspective that I recently changed churches because of a move. My last church did worship incredibly well and I must say, I miss it every Sunday.
My last church was the best of both worlds. The children were in church worshiping with their parents until after the children's sermon. Then they went as a group to their Sunday School classes. I loved this. They were able to feel part of the church and learn how to behave but it was for an age appropriate amount of time. You all may disagree with me on this one. This part of the service was appropriate for them, there was singing and praying and readings and gospel. And they received the sermon, in an age appropriate words. They went together to Sunday School where the children's sermon and gospel was immediately reinforced for them in real ways that they could relate and put into use in their daily lives. Sunday School during the service was for 3 year olds to 3rd grade. After that, you were expected in church with your families.
I have to be honest. I need the to hear the sermon, I need the quiet (without my children whom I dearly love) to reflect on my spiritual life and relationship. I need to be able to pray in church and be able to think about how I can be better and worship with my whole heart. And maybe I am not as good as others, but I can't do that when I am shushing my 3 year old and praying that service will get out on time before a meltdown.
I have always used church as a reset button if you will. I let go of my sins and mistakes from the week and God gives me a new week to start over and try to do better. I need that. As a mother, a daughter, a wife and a friend, I need that.
I realize that this may seem selfish. But at this time, I know my children are receiving god's words in ways they can understand. They are learning about God's love and enjoying it!
The new church has Sunday School between services. And granted, while we have not been attending there long, we have never gotten out of church in under 1 1/2 hours. I don't enjoy church anymore, I feel terrible for the people around us and while my 3 year old can go to the nursery, my two other antsy children who have been sitting for 1 1/2 hours after an hour of Sunday School, are too old for the nursery.
So I guess after this long, long post, while I disagree with how the older couple in church handled the situation, I can understand how they might feel. I feel that way and they are my own children! :)

Vosberg View said...


Again I am thankful for your perspective as through discussions I am realizing I was naive at not recognizing the denomination/religion factor because you are right...we are walking into different churches. Mine is not of a denomination or religion, but straight up personal relationship with Jesus Bible teaching church. Ultimately, my sole purpose/desire with denominations/religions aside is that my boys grow in their relationship with God and others. From my own experiences it seems that the level of learning/worship I desire for my boys does not happen while listening to our Sr. Pastor. It just doesn't.

I love how you wrote about your church view on the kids...truly, I think ultimately we desire the same outcomes.

I admittedly struggle with not being overly critical or jaded when it comes to denominational churches due to my own childhood upbringing. In my experience growing up we did many things because that was the way it was done, not because it was the best or most impactful way. I need to keep myself in check and recognize that not all Catholic/Lutheran upbringings or current churches reflect my own experience.

Monkeymama said...

As a mom who has been bringing her kids to Mass every week since they were out of the hospital, I'm kind of biased in this discussion. And kind of long winded!

But, we don't shove food in their mouths, we don't bring toys, and we try not to shhh them in frustration.

For our family our birth to 3 year olds don't need to be learning about the love of Christ from anyone but their own family. The family structure is the perfect teaching tool for that age.

I am not trying to offend - each family will find what is right for them and that is fine. But I don't like the idea of my kids going to school for anything at that age.

My goal is to treat Mass as the highlight of my week. I want my kids to grow up knowing that it is a homebase for them and that we love them so much that we share it with them. They do not need to think of church as super fun time, they do need to have a deep understanding from birth that this is where they belong.

The great thing about a church service is that it can work for so many levels. The sights, smells, and sounds are exciting for a baby. A small child, when treated lovingly in church each week from birth, takes pride in learning the response songs and routines. My 4 year old asked for a bible she could read at her own level. Now, at 5, she follows along - saying the prayers, reading along in the adult missal, singing the songs. She's teaching her brother what she knows.

My heart bursts with joy when she asks a question that shows she's been thinking about what is going on around her. I witness the joy we should all take from service when my 2 year old joyously sings hallelujah with the chorus.

It's not all roses. We have probably distracted people, but we try very hard to pull the kids out instead of treating them roughly in the pew or letting them distract others. It's frustrating at times and perhaps I've missed sermons here or there, but that does not mean my faith has taken a back seat or that I'm not able to concentrate on what is going on up front. In many ways I find myself more focused because I'm looking for things to talk with the kids about later or looking for that seed that will plant in my soul and nourish me for the week ahead.

We're called to serve the Lord in many ways. One of those ways is sacrifice. It is a sacrifice to be irritated by misbehaving children around me when I want to worship (it's also irritating to be distracted by misbehaving adults or teens), but it also reminds me to pray for them and mind my own path. It reminds me to be thankful for the blessings that children bring and the blessing it is that we can gather each week as we are in celebration of what matters.

Monkeymama said...

I want to temper my previous comment by saying that while I think kids should be welcome in church it has to be balanced with what is good for the whole family at the time.

I don't think kids have to be there, just that they should be welcome there.

There have been seasons where things are more difficult and I take a week to go alone to remember what our goal is. I can certainly see how a single parent or parents in other situations need that time on their own with the Lord to be better parents the rest of the week.

I just don't like the idea that children can't benefit from being invited along.

Andrea said...

Yikes! We have twins that are 3 1/2. They have been worshipping since they were in my belly! We have a kid area in the back where kids can sit at a table and play, etc. They have never been the nursery, except once... I am sorry you had that experience. I think that older couple could have sat more near the front for goodness sake. Right now, my kids are in Sunday School, and I signed up to help teach a class. We are stuggling to get to both church and Sunday School, but think both are important. Take Care!!! You and your family are important to that congregation!