I am sorry to read that I am a solitary voice, but I must then write: I am that mother who strongly believes in keeping my children with me in church. It has not been an easy road, but I have never believed that easy meant right. My husband being the priest, I have been a single parent in the pew, with more scrutiny than the average parent. However, Jesus was clear that children were welcome with him, and I have held onto the belief that they belong in the Church as much as the adults do. They need to know and feel that. It needs to be a home, a “native language”, for them to be in church, not a language learned with great difficulty once the time for establishing who they are has passed.
I learned early on that keeping my children at the back was harder than keeping them near the front, where they could see the liturgical actions, not just the backs of adults taller than them. In the front, they notice and ask and become at home in the service. Even very young, my children have noticed and repeated things that they heard in church. Special words would grab their attention, and they would become opportunities for reflection. At one-and-a-half, the Holy Week liturgies filled James’s head with such treasures as “Hosanna” and “covenant”, and the words often sung in the liturgy become part of the daily reality of home.
Needless to say, it took preparation and packing to keep two small children occupied (a little easier when it was only one small one) and to train them to be quiet in church, and I wasn’t always successful. But I collected Bible or prayer-oriented books, brought pipe cleaners to shape and soft puzzles to make, and usually a snack to pull out when everything else was failing. When they were little, I walked; even when they were toddlers and would have been happier running, I would pick them up and walk around, drawing their attention to things in the windows and on the walls. I tried to make sure the activities also fed their life in Christ. There were days I wondered why I was putting myself through this… but then the little pearls of response would come, and I knew this was a gift for them for their whole lifetimes.
Our family recently visited another church and was greeted by these cards in the pews:
TO THE PARENTS OF OUR YOUNG CHILDREN, MAY WE SUGGEST…
- Relax! God put the wiggle in children; don’t feel you have to suppress it in God’s house. All are welcome!
- Sit toward the front where it is easier for your little ones to see and hear what’s going on at the altar. They tire of seeing the backs of others’ heads.
- Quietly explain the parts of the liturgy and actions of the pastor, elders, acolytes, choir, etc.
- Sing the hymns, pray, and voice the responses. Children learn liturgical behaviour by copying you.
- If you have to leave the service with your child, feel free to do so, but please come back. As Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me.”
- Remember that the way we welcome children in church directly affects the way they respond to the Church, to God, and to one another. Let them know that they are at home in this house of worship.
- Please let your child use the reverse side of this card to draw and doodle.
TO THE MEMBERS OF THIS CHURCH:
- The presence of children is a gift to the Church and they remind us that our church is growing.
- Please welcome our children and give a smile of encouragement to their parents.
- Children, feel free to do your artwork or words on the back of this page!
As a parent who has “fought this fight”, and also as a catechist who has studied the religious needs of children, I say, “Thank God! Someone, finally, understands!”
Heather Skublics Lampman is a teacher and mother.