Monday, May 11, 2009

The Presence of Children During Worship

Last weekend I took George with me on a trip to Comanche to help my best friend, Melisa, and her family get settled into their new home. Melisa's husband, Fr. Tim, is the new vicar of the parishes in Comanche and Dublin. We were both a bit nervous about the reaction to having an infant and a toddler would be to these tiny parishes that have no young children.

I think Melisa was as pleasantly shocked as I was when we received numerous compliments on our children. The most common phrase I heard was "It's so nice to have babies here again, when are you coming back?" Maybe shocked isn't a strong enough word. I was floored. When George started fussing, I got a few sympathetic smiles before he calmed down.

What a difference to my home parish! I found it rather ironic that although St. Alban's has many children, the attitude towards children in church is nearly the opposite. During most of the service the older kids are in Children's Chapel, a separate room where they learn watered-down versions of the day's Gospel. The younger children, toddlers and preschoolers, are in the nursery during most if not all of the service.

For a while, I had tried to keep George in the sanctuary during the whole service so that he would begin to understand the importance of Mass at the earliest age possible. Unfortunately, that was not what he had in mind. He's a toddler, and acted like any normal toddler would when someone tries to get them to sit still for a long period of time. He wouldn't throw a screaming tantrum, but would fuss loudly for a few seconds at a time.

I don't want to sound uncharitable towards my fellow parishioners so I will not go into details of the reactions towards my son in the past couple of months. Suffice it to say that I have felt most unwelcome in the last few weeks for being the mother of a normal toddler.

I think some parishes have gotten so used to children that the tolerance level for normal baby noises is extremely low, while parishes that don't have many children around are so grateful for the presence of babies that they welcome the noise.

If you have thoughts or opinions about this, please share them.

1 comment:

Hope T. said...

I think that congregations that either subtly or overtly discourage children from participating in the service are taking themselves just a tad too seriously. I have known churches where children were not even allowed in the sanctuary but rather had to be taken to the nursery. Whatever happened to "let the little children come and hinder them not"?!