Picture this: You have found your pew. The church has reached a point of stillness and quiet and peace that is so rare in your life that you begin to smile. Today, the Holy Spirit is HERE and you are feeling it. You have GOT this church thing going and it is good. Without warning, there is a shriek, cry, giggle, laugh, whine, piercing scream that splits this spiritual silence and makes the hairs stand up on your head.
If it’s your child, you are a) Looking for the nearest door to escape with your little monster; b) searching for something to hide behind; c) wondering if you will ever find your spirituality again during the child-rearing years; d) wondering if the child is really as loud as he/she seems (ever notice how the vaulted ceilings of a church space really carry those little voices?); e) desperately searching through the diaper bag for toy/crayons/snacks to get through the longest hour of your life.
If it’s not your child you: a) Smile—every little voice is a song unto the Lord; b) Smile—remembering fondly when you were in those shoes and praying that parent doesn’t worry so much, this too shall pass; c) Smile and wonder if that parent needs a little help; d) Frown: children belong in the nursery; or e) Ignore.
If it’s your child, BREATHE. This too shall pass. I am a firm believer that it is better to have the child in church and have a racket, than not bring your kids to church because of the lone parishioner who thinks kids belong in a nursery or at home. We have family services for this very reason: To encourage families to let their kid’s screams be a joyful noise unto the Lord. If it’s your child, look at the responses from the rest of the congregation: the majority is not bothered AT ALL by your little one and most would agree that they would rather have you there in the pew with them than not show up at all. This is family. Church is family. Church can be YOUR family if you let them. Church will take you and your family as they come: shrieks, cries, screaming and all. They will take you with un-brushed hair; shoes slapped on and mismatched socks. It may be that you come to church in jeans and a sweatshirt instead of a dress or slacks, but at least you are there. At least you are making a commitment to raise your kids in a church environment. The church would rather you come, than not come during the child rearing years.
Finally, while you contemplate taking on the resolution to raise your kids in a church family, I will pass on a little secret I picked up from another savvy church mamma: Park your kids and family in the front of the church.
Have you ever noticed that most families with small children tend to choose the back of the church? They choose the pew closest to the rear door for a quick escape. Families think that if you are in the back, the shuffle and noise from the little critters won’t be as noticed (I have news for you—see the comment about vaulted ceilings above—it doesn’t matter where you sit, kids can be heard and will be heard in church—just embrace it). We used to do this as well with our two. And then my savvy church mamma friend said to me, “No, move your family to the front of the church.” And I said, “Are you kidding? Have you seen my two? Won’t they be distracting?” And she said, “Nope, three things happen: 1) The kids can see what is going on, hear what’s going on, and so they pay attention better (you can’t see squat from the back of a church. 2) You can whisper that Father Joe/Preacher Jim/Pastor John is going to give them the stink eye if they don’t be quiet and kids usually pay attention to pleasing the minister, so it’s not YOU they are trying to please. 3) Everyone is behind you. You can’t see if anyone turns to look at you, so it doesn’t bother you as much.”
Believe it or not, but I took this advice. When I had a two year old and a 6 month old, my husband and I parked ourselves in the first two pews of our church. Our congregation continuously reassured us that our kids were not excessively distracted and that they were louder to our ears than anyone else’s. And slowly, the kids began to settle down. My son especially liked sitting up front where he could see and hear better. My daughter, while fidgeting and usually drawing on something, would often stop and listen and then ask questions later (as she grew up). Six years later and many churches on our vagabond path, we still choose the front of the church to park our family. I encourage you to do the same. Don’t just take your kids to church, participate in it as well so that they know this church is not just a weekly obligation, but it’s also a place where THEY have a place and a part in the congregation.
And if they scream from the front of the church, it’s ok. We have all been there, done that. It really is just another joyful noise unto the Lord.