Friday, February 13, 2009

Do not hinder them

children coming to church"People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.'" (Mark 10:13-14, NIV)

I've written before about our experiences with a baby at church. We, with our oftentimes vampirish schedule, preferred the evening service. Since it had no childcare, our only choice had been to sit with Mikko in the cry room when he got too noisy for the sanctuary, which was generally right after the songs ended and the prayer began.

For various reasons, including feeling completely disconnected from our church due to our isolation in the evening service, we've lately been seeking out one of the morning services instead. (Yes, it's the later of the two.) But, because it offers full child care, I'm feeling pressure to succumb to the norm of dropping our child off downstairs and taking myself alone into the service (with a pager should he scream for more than 10 minutes). I'm feeling very conflicted.

On the one hand, Mikko doesn't seem to mind the toddler room. He doesn't interact with any of the other kids or the volunteers. He mostly plays with a truck that's just like the truck he has at home, and he might eat a bite or two of the snack. He doesn't do the art project or listen to the story. At least he hasn't been knocking littler kids over, as has happened in the cry room. (Ahem.) Despite making him sound autistic the way I've presented it, I think he's just not yet used to being around other little kids, but he does all right with it. He's calm being dropped off and being picked up, and we haven't yet been paged. I hope this is some sort of testament to his trust in us, that we got him nice and attached as a little baby so he feels confident in going to other people we trust.

OK, but herein lies one of my multitude of problems with child care at church. I don't know these people he's going off with. I mean, I trust that they've been screened and trained and that they love kids. But it's beyond weird to have my 20-month-old making friends that I don't know! I'd feel much more comfortable if the volunteers were adults that Mikko, Sam, and I were already friends with, so that there was a natural continuum of care. Mikko would recognize them and know that we were connected. This objection I could solve by getting to know the volunteers, which I am trying to do.

My next issue is more theological or philosophical or some sort of -ical. I just plain don't believe children and adults should be separated as they worship. I don't know why the modern church segregates everyone. In the Sunday service, the adults and the children are separated, and then even the children are separated. I know that one-room schoolhouses are seen today as at best quaint and at worst (and usually) as chaotic inefficiency, but I would actually like children's church better if all ages of kids were together. How fun for Mikko to witness littler babies, perhaps some being breastfed by their mothers, and to be coddled by some pre-teens, and to screw up the courage to participate in some elementary schoolers' roughhousing. But, of course, each age is with its own. And outside the Sunday service, we segregate even more. There are college groups, and moms groups, men's prayer breakfasts and family outings. I love getting to know people who are unlike me. Well, no, I'll try to be more honest -- sometimes it makes me uncomfortable. But that's a good thing. I need to rub up against people who are other, who are at different stages in their lives, so that I can grow. How do I change if I see only people who are just like me?

To continue the philosophizing, it just doesn't seem helpful to separate out the children. The whole point of raising children in the faith is that they see what their parents do at church, that they have a place with us before God. I was a Communion server the other week, and my favorite moment was when a young girl and her mother approached together. I bent down so that the 5-year-old or whatever she was could rip off a hunk of bread, and I was able to say to her, "The body of Christ, broken for you." Because she was my sister, and we were eating at the table together.

I don't want to over-Bible verse you, but you probably got the idea that this is a post about churchiness and signed off long ago if you don't feel like reading it. That's cool. I do think it's relevant to include this quote, though, since it's from the text our faith purports to follow.

"And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up." (Deuteronomy 6:6-7, NLT)

How do I talk about God again and again with my child if the church separates us at the door?

I'm not the only one thinking of this, since Kate Wicker recently posted similar thoughts on Momopoly. But I do feel like I'm in the minority. I was talking to a friend without children last night, and she was talking about how nice it must be to drop Mikko off and be able to enjoy the service for once. And I think that's the general impression, that coming to God is primarily personal and emotive and needs to be done in solitude. But the whole point of a church service, of a body coming together, is to be messy and noisy and all sharing together. The Western church is so very much quieter than I think synagogue services were in days gone by. We're so very intolerant now of whatever disrupts us from our own connection with God, even if it's a fellow congregant singing off key or a rustling of a mint wrapper. But we're missing the point if we think it's all about us as individuals.

Here's a quote from Kate's post: "[K]eep in mind the words of a wise priest who told his congregation that construction can be noisy and that children are Christians under construction."

I've been thinking about this topic a lot lately in terms of Mikko's burgeoning skills and independence. I remember the wise parenting counsel not to do anything for your child that he can do himself, whether that's putting on socks or eating soup. It means slowing down and letting mistakes happen. If I'm washing the dishes, I get Mikko up on a stool with me, take off his clothes and my socks, and lay down towels all along the floor beneath us. And then we get to it. It takes longer. He'll pull clean dishes out of the drying rack and put them back into the dirty water. I have to spirit away sharp knives and glass to save for later. It hurts my back to lean over him, and he hogs the water spout and steals my sponge, even though I give him his own. But the fact is that he doesn't learn how to do dishes by hearing me talk about it offhandedly every once in awhile. He doesn't learn how to do dishes by having a good fairy (that would be me) finish them up while he's asleep. He learns to do dishes by doing dishes.

Children learn your faith by being present with you as you practice it.

Another, perhaps more selfish, qualm I have about sending Mikko to Sunday school and children's church is that I don't know what he's learning down there in the church basement. Probably something simplistic and potentially something theologically questionable. I wish I could be part of the learning process with him, so that we could discuss it together as he grows, but what he learns and what we learn up in the sanctuary above are two completely different things.

All right, so what am I going to do? I really don't know. The cry room is stuffed full at the morning services, and there's no one in there over a few months old. I'd like to spend some time in the toddler room with Mikko to get a feel for how it works, but I'm not allowed in. (Seriously.) I feel reenergized about church in general, though, for the first time in months and months, and I think the energy of the earlier service is one reason, as is the fact that many of our friends attend that one, so I don't want to switch back to evening.

My tentative plan is to keep Mikko in the service with us through at least the opening worship songs, where things are necessarily noisy. Then we could bring him down late to the toddler room if he starts making a scene. That's a half-hearted way to protest, but it's the best I've come up with for now, short of reconfiguring the whole church culture to suit what I think is best for everybody. Wouldn't that be cool!

We're in the midst of planning Mikko's baptism. Yes, we're a little slow. Sam and I come from a tradition of infant dedication over baptism, but our denomination leaves the choice to the parent, so we had some decisions to make. I won't go into why we chose one over the other right now. I do imagine that we'll have the oldest "baby" being baptized. We put it off for so long because we felt distanced from this church, and pledging our baby to God within a congregation that felt unwelcoming just didn't sit right. We're trying to start again, and be more charitable and accepting, with hope that others will extend the same grace back to us. As we in faith give our child over to God (not as if he was ours to begin with!), and affirm God's ongoing relationship with Mikko, as we formally welcome Mikko into our congregation as a (little) brother, it makes me long even more to share our communal faith journey with him, side by side.

Here's another translation of the first passage that I enjoy:

"The people brought children to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: 'Don't push these children away. Don't ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom. Mark this: Unless you accept God's kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you'll never get in.' Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them." (Mark 10:13-16, The Message)

Jesus sounds fierce and protective, and those disciples knew they had been put in their place. And their place was with these children.

Photo of Spanish children flocking to church courtesy of Josep Patau Bellart on stock.xchng

14 comments:

Jenny said...

Our daughter is 20 months old, and we are having the same issues. Our nursery is not in the church building. It's in the annex, which is across the churchyard. I hate taking Suzi there for several reasons. First, our church is near a busy road and on Sunday mornings there are sometimes questionable characters roaming around. One time a woman came into the annex feeling ill--no one knows why--and our pastor's wife offered to help her in some way. She ended up vomiting in the bathroom and left. I was watching the children at the time (before Suzi was born) and didn't see what happened, but we were concerned she may have had an illness and spread it to the small children. Other people have turned up there as well, asking for money and whatnot. Because the annex is totally separated from the church, it presents a safety issue. Someone could come in with a gun, or in a drunken stupor, etc, and the one or two adults present would be trapped with no way to get help. I don't feel God intended for our children to be placed in an outbuilding like they are a third or fourth priority. I feel the babies at LEAST need to be in one of the main Sunday School rooms! They have talked about moving the nursery, but are dragging their feet. Also, Sunday is one of the few times my husband and I both get to spend time with Suzi. We don't want to drop her off in the nursery for church. We want her to worship with us. We have brought her into church before; however, she gets disruptive and I'm not sure what to do about it. No one has said anything about it so far--except one man who told us she was entertaining him and he was sorry when we took her out... :-) Also, she still likes to breastfeed at odd times and that's fine with me, but I'd rather if she didn't let everyone in the church know by shouting "BOOBIE!" The church is so small and echo-y that if a paper rumples, every single person hears, and there is no cry room. As a result, we just haven't been going to church :-( This is the church I've belonged to my entire life, so I don't feel like moving is an option. Perhaps when Suzi is a bit older things will be different. Let me know if you come up with a solution!

Hobo Mama said...

Wow, Jenny, that sounds like an untenable situation! Our church is in a somewhat shady neighborhood as well, so I know a little about how delicate it is to balance being safe and being welcoming. But when the babies are in a completely different building with so few adults, safety has to be a priority. Yipes.

Thanks for bringing up breastfeeding. I was going to mention breastfeeding in my post, but it had already gotten so long ;) -- but we have the same situation. One reason I don't like dropping our son off downstairs is that I know no one will recognize his signs for wanting to nurse, or think it's a big deal at his age. I know he can go several hours without, but I don't want him to have to if he wants to feed. At the same time, I'm aware that it's unusual to breastfeed a toddler, so I can't help but wonder what people think when I feed him in church, considering I got some strange looks breastfeeding him in church when he was a newborn.

If you've been going to your church your whole life, maybe everyone secretly loves getting to see and hear Suzi? Maybe you could pretend, anyway... We also had been doing the not-going thing, which was the best solution we could come up with at the time. But we've started leading a new Bible study so need to be present on Sundays, so we'll see how it all goes. Tomorrow's our next chance to try something out. I think I'm going to see how long I can keep him in the service with us before all holy heck breaks loose. :) If I think of anything better, I'll let you know, and you do the same for me.

Cindy said...

I've had a problem with most modern day churches as well. One of the biggest things I love about the church we recently joined is that they actually closed down the nursery so that families would worship together, and the pastor and his wife both have told me that noise does not bother him while he is preaching. I love it and really appreciate what they are doing. So there are churches out there who have are more family oriented. That 2nd verse from Deuteronomy is on the header of my blog! I totally agree with you on this. It's a shame that so many people look at it differently. So many are eager to get rid of their kids so they can have a couple of hours of silence or adult time or whatever. What a totally wrong perspective!

Rachel said...

I remember sitting on my mom's lap and hearing her sing. I remember feeling part of a community when I went to church. When faith was hard, it was community that kept me going to church. If we segregate our children, it's just another social occasion for them.

I don't think they need to try to site and understand a sermon. Child level "sermons" are appropriate. Dismissing kids for their own sermon is a good idea if you ask me. Keeps church interesting for the kids.

Susana la Banana said...

I LOVED this post! I have been struggling with The Church Dilemma for a long while, and you said just about everything I've been thinking. Including the part about not having baptized the baby yet because you don't feel so connected to the church as a community.

Also, my dad was a minister when I was a kid, and in pretty small towns, so I was always at the big people service, ALWAYS. And there were times when it was boring but now I definitely wonder how the heck the kids are supposed to know what church is all about if they don't come. And I HATE when people give you the evil eye for opening a snack for your kid in church.

So thanks! Thanks for saying just what I was thinking. =) If enough parents just start incorporating the kids into the services, maybe the crankies will have to adjust? ;)

Hobo Mama said...

cindy: I'm jealous! Everything's still as a (church) mouse in our service, so any little noise stands out. We knew a couple pastors in the Midwest who started churches that were like you described, but now we don't live anywhere near them. We actually thought about starting a similar home church, but we weren't up for it yet.

rachel: I also have memories of singing in church with my parents. We didn't have a family-friendly church then, either, but I was very quiet as a child and would draw on the bulletin or read the hymnal if I didn't want to go to children's church. I agree that sermons are boring for kids, but I have issues with sermons for adults as well! I'm not sure how the modern church service became so regimented and centered around the sermon, which is so detached from what people are doing during the week. It's just a random lecture, no follow-up. In a class, if you had a lecture, at least there'd be a quiz to see if you'd been paying attention. But there's no relevance connecting the average sermon to the churchgoers' daily spiritual lives. Those pastors I was talking about in the Midwest use a church model where everyone reads the same Bible chapters during the week with their families, and then the sermon time is half teaching, half communal sharing about what they've all been reading -- it's relevant to everyone, adult and child alike, and it's only boring if you haven't been doing the reading, so there's accountability there. Sorry, that was my sermon just then!! :)

susana la banana: Yes! Last Sunday, our kid's thing was scratching his nails down the backs of the chairs. (The church took out the pews, and now we have these textured churchy chairs.) He thought it was excellent -- the people in the row ahead were not as amused. And my husband was getting antsier and antsier about being judged, so down Mikko went into the nursery again, to play with his favorite truck there. I felt really sad, almost sick to my stomach. I don't know what to do. Maybe recruit some more families to keep their kids in the service, and we could all sit in one section? Like a smoking section, only it would be a Noisy Section. Actually, before they remodeled (and took out the pews), the cry room was huge, and all the parents would sit in there and hear the sermon piped in and could chat and stretch out. Now the wall's been taken out and it's been replaced with seating space, so the new cry room is closet-sized and just for newborns basically. But the old cry room had that vibe of a Noisy Section. I miss it.

J. Baughman said...

First, I have to say that I LOVE your blog! You have wonderful information and resources--I came across it looking for information on Mei Tai carriers and ended up getting a lot more out of it than I was expecting.

I really appreciate your insights as a mother. I believe that you are spot on in your feelings for how you should care for your son. Do not let anyone allow you to question your personal inspiration as a mother.

I really enjoyed the Bible verses you shared, and the quote from "Kate." I would add this bit from Joseph Marie DeMaistre: "A child is an angel dependent on man."

Your post regarding children and church services brought this quote to mind. I believe, as you do, that children should worship with their parents both in home and church settings. My personal conviction of this belief was fortified further when one of the upper clergymen at our church stood to address the congregation (probably 25+ of whom were babies and toddlers) and noted the hum that filled the chapel. He had us pay particular attention to the children's noises(which made some of the parents a bit anxious as to what his point was going to be). After a thoughtful moment, this leader thanked the parents for bringing their children to church with them because all children should participate with their families in worship services. He made the specific point that children are the most pure beings in the whole congregation, and it touched his heart to hear their sweet sounds. He went on to explain that we can learn many valuable lessons from children about what it means to be true followers of Christ.

It is heartening to know that there are people who understand this often unspoken truth. As mothers this knowledge seems almost innate. We understand that our children have much more to teach us, than we will ever teach them. They are an unspeakable blessing in this world--so simple, so meek, so submissive, so forgiving, so full of unconditional love--so divine. They are angels in our midst. I believe they should be celebrated every day--and yes, even at church!

Thanks again for keeping a wonderful blog. I have enjoyed your thoughts and the information you have presented. I'll probably check back in the future!

Kindest Regards,
Taryn--Bellevue, WA

Hobo Mama said...

taryn: What a wonderful experience you had -- I'm laughing thinking about those worried parents when the noise of their children was pointed out. :) But that's perfect. I'm glad you found your way here -- thanks for sharing your story and that lovely quote!

Lisa C said...

I really enjoyed reading this post. I belong to a church that is pretty much the same all over the world...whether you attend a service in Spain or California, you know what to expect.

I have visited churches of other denominations (being invited by a friend--I'm definitely not looking for a change!). I found it strange that there weren't children in the chapel. At my church, families sit together in the chapel during the main meeting. Yes, we all worship together. If a child gets too loud, the parent will take them out till they calm down...not to segregate...just to be courteous. I do think it is important to take a child out when they are too loud (and that is something the Yequana do!). One time I was irked with my BIL because his 18mo daughter started crying during the closing song. He didn't take her out. She continued to cry during the closing prayer. I am certain that no one in the entire congregation heard that prayer. So there are definitely times to take them out. But families should definitely worship together!

We have separate classes after the main meeting: Primary for ages 3-11 meeting all together for 45 min then in age-specific classes for 45min. Age 12-17 have Sunday school in their own classes then split for young men and young women. Their is adult Sunday school and then Priesthood for men, and Relief Society for women. I like that we are together for some, separate for others, because let's face it, we have different needs. Nursery starts at age 18 months, and you can stay in there if you like--they like the extra help! No one has a problem if you keep your child with you throughout the different meetings. In fact, I saw a mom with her sleeping 4 year old in Sunday school and thought it was sweet.

As far as church activities go, they have some for children, some for women, some for everyone, etc. We end up all getting to know each other and feel like a big family.

Does it sound like I'm trying to "sell" my church? Sorry! I just love that we are so family-oriented. In fact, we are taught: first, God; second, family; third, church. Church does not come before family. I think your heart is definitely in the right place.

Nichole said...

Great post. I recently found your blog and am enjoying it. I just became a mom in Sept. 09. I am also on staff at our church. My husband is a pastor and my FIL is also a pastor. Before becoming a mom I was very pro-kids church. I thought that it was great to provide an environment where kids can learn on their level and give parents an opportunity to enjoy service by themselves. I would even inwardly dislike when parents kept their kids in the service. But NOW, that has all changed. Afterall, what did I know, I didn't have kids and I wasn't a mom. Now, that I am my hubby and I are asking ourselves the same questions. We both have responsibilities during service but we have been keeping our son with us during worship and even during some of the message. If he gets loud (and he is very verbal :) we'll take him out either to the nursery (if need be) or one of us will stay with him. We both feel that we want to experience God together as a family. God loves my son and his normal noises are delightful to Him. I find it so funny how God has so changed our views now that we are parents - He's showing us what really matters to Him - family! For some they enjoy the kids church availability but for other they want to stay together and I now think each needs to be respected. Thanks for sharing.

Hobo Mama said...

lisa c: Your church sounds like such a great culture for family. Thanks for sharing how it works, so I can get some ideas for what could be done differently. (P.S. I don't why it took me from March to respond to your comment.)

nichole: It's so interesting to hear the perspective of a pastor's family. It's fascinating how having kids changes your mind about what's best for families! And thanks for the reminder that kids church works for some people; at the same time that I want my wishes to be respected, I have to remember that what I prefer isn't necessarily ideal for everyone else. I hope there's a way to combine the two, similar to what Lisa was describing. I just wonder if the change (to allowing families to worship together as they wish) is so fundamental that an established church can't make the shift? I hate to be pessimistic, though. Maybe with you and your husband and FIL in a position of authority, it would be more possible for you to make such a huge change in the culture of your church. I feel like when I talk with the authorities in our church that it falls on deaf ears — not that they're disrespecting me, but that they just don't see the need the way I do, and how can I change that?

Just as a follow-up, my husband's thinking that it might be best for us at some point to move to a smaller church, so small that it doesn't have a children's ministry yet and therefore has no choice but to allow children into the service. I hate switching around churches, though. Bleh.

Lately, we've been going to church only every few weeks, and I've been spending most or all of the service in the nursery with Mikko, because the usual leader of the toddler nursery doesn't follow the rules and kick me out! At least it means I get to see what's going on down there. It's not too bad, but it's very regimented (kids needing to sit still for certain times, not allowed to play with toys during story or craft time — and we're talking 1-3-year-olds), which surprised me; it's stricter than Mikko's regular preschool, which is much more laid back. Mikko doesn't like it if I try to leave him in the nursery alone, so it's either stay there or sit with him in the lobby upstairs during the service and help him get water from the water jug the whole time (he finds it very tempting!), because the cry room in the morning service is full of actual little babies. All in all, it's still not ideal, but we're just kind of putting in our face time occasionally and considering our two small group Bible studies during the week our real "church." And Mikko gets to go to those!

Laura said...

I'm just now reading this almost a year (yikes!) after you posted it, and you've probably already made up your mind about what how you will worship with Mikko, but I wanted to let you know that you aren't alone in your theological and philosophical reasonings about worship and children. My husband and I attend a very small church, but our little munchkin stays with us during the service. He nurses when he needs to, and we feed him cheerios or have quiet toys for him if he gets antsy (which is common for a one year old.) We have never taken him to the nursery for an entire worship service, only if he is very upset and crying. No one seems to mind that he's in there. In fact, we get comments on how well-behaved he is and how cute he is. Along with what you wrote, another reason for us keeping him with us is that he needs to know and learn how to sit still in worship. He needs to see how you act in a setting like that. By keeping him out with us now, he'll never know what it's like to not be with us, and we'll never have to "unlearn" that worship is about arts, crafts, and snacks.

Michelle said...

I've had all these same thoughts. It's very isolating, being the only mom with the noisy toddler in church. THankfully, I went to a church that didn't mind noisy babies. But just the fact that they HIRED a lady to come in for Sunday School (all 4 or 5 of them - small church) made me feel like a rebel and awkward when I'd deny the service, knowing full well Ella would not appreciate being stranded to the back of the church without us, mainly without the boobie :)

We just moved and are back the at church my husband and I were married in. It's the same denom, Anglican and they are far more accepting than even my previous church was. They have a nursery, but it "closes" at communion, encouraging all the children to be in the church for communion until the end of the service. THe pastor and a few others in the church have Eastern (orthodox) leanings, and one unique thing about that denom's particular beliefs is that children should always be in the service. So there's a little cry room with a window looking into the service, couches and a bathroom, but all are encouraged to be in the sanctuary. And they STAND for their service instead of sitting (though have chairs available). The one time we went to a service I was awestruck by the ease of it and Ella loved it. I felt free to let her be a baby, to crawl around (reasonably). Judgement free.

My husband's family, on the other hand, are all baptists, fil is the pastor. In a big church of 600 (I think?) they of course have a lot of childcare, and Ella is the ONLY toddler in the service. In that kind of environment it's very awkward being offered the childcare multiple times upon just arriving. Why would I let my child stay with people I have never met in my life?

I'm raising the next generation of Faith and she's not going to learn as much about living that faith from anyone but her daddy and myself. Who cares if the service is over-their-heads? I fully appreciate that each Sunday she necessarily hears readings from 4 huge chunks of scripture. In three year's time at our Anglican church she will have heard 90% of the Bible read to her. She's learning and taking Him in by hearing. We pray together, we kneel together, we commune together; she's learning by DOING. We smell incense, we watch baptisms, we see annointings with oil; she's learning by experiencing. I love it.

Um. Book anyone? :) Thanks for letting me rant. I wonder how your adjustments have gone over the years and now with another little one. I've been trying to put together little quiet church activities. Books get her pretty far...for now.

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