Today I had my first overtly negative, specifically addressed to me, response to my kids being in worship at church.
Congregations say they want kids in worship. That we need more families in the pews because they are the future of the church. Right? That’s the line I continually hear, especially from older parishioners. But when kids are actually present in a Sunday morning worship service are they actually welcomed? Are the parents?
As the pastor’s family, my kids feel like the church – the building and the people who come together as Christ’s Family – belongs to them. They are quintessential pastor’s kids (PKs) who have tons of energy and love for the church.
They’ve been known to run laps around the altar and play hide-and-seek in the pews (usually after worship, but not always).
My almost 5-year-old has been especially inquisitive lately about Jesus – specifically how he lived (“tell me more about the cave and the big stone”) and why he gets to live forever when everyone else just dies.
My almost 2-year-old invaded the Palm Sunday processional because he heard his jam begin on the piano (“All Glory Laud and Honor”) and he needed to get closer to where the music is happening so he can get down. A loving choir member took his hand to help.
They love the teens (and have already attended more youth group meetings than I can count) and get so excited to see their friends both in worship and at Faithworks (our version of Sunday School).
They hug and high five their honorary grandparents each week during the passing of the peace (when we make it to that point in the service without fleeing to the nursery for a break).
They dip their fingers in the baptismal font and then do crosses on their foreheads (mine, too) on their way up to communion, which they aren’t quite old enough to take.
They are usually the last ones out of the building on a Sunday afternoon, and are there multiple times during the week to see their Daddy. And his office’s toys – because he always has some scattered throughout his office.
We three are there together, practically every week, to hear the Good News and worship with our chosen faith community. The majority of my time is spent wrangling the littles – trying to keep them in a pew, or sitting quietly on the ground near the pew, eating all the snacks and coloring all the pictures. But they are little. And like to run. And play with their friends. So it can be rowdy. When it gets to be too much, we head down to the nursery (the area, as Henry calls it), and play there until Communion or for the remainder of the service. It’s a nice break for all of us.
Even on the Sundays where I am frustrated or overwhelmed, generous people in our congregation come up to me and thank me for bringing the boys to church. They tell me tales of how they raised boys and totally understand my life, and that it will get easier. They tell me I’m doing it right.And I take comfort in their kind words.
After service, a woman decided it was important to tell me that my children were rude and distracting from the reverent atmosphere that is church on a Sunday morning. She told me that she had kids, so she knows all about that, but that I needed to do something about my kids’ behavior in worship. She mentioned that she was a visitor, and that she couldn’t hear my soft-spoken husband over my kids. I said some kind of apology I didn’t really feel about how I was sorry they bothered her worship today, and she cut me off to say that it happens every week. It seemed like she was going to continue indefinitely, so I turned around and walked away.
What. The. Shit.
Never mind her emotional baggage that made her feel it was her duty to inform me about my kids’ behavior, which I already knew about. In fact, I thought they were mostly fine at church this morning (there was some airplane throwing and palm frond sword fighting that got quickly shut down). Better than a lot of Sundays, that’s for sure. Keith only noticed when Elliot grabbed a maraca and shook it like a salt shaker, so I’ll take it.
I cried in the Sacristy. I cried outside Keith’s office while talking to one of my favorite people. I cried inside Keith’s office. My tears came from a place of embarrassment, exhaustion, and anger because each week I already internally feel all those words she said to me. I’m doing my best, but it’s just so damn hard. But I don’t give up. I continue to bring my boys to worship because it matters to me that they are worshiping with their community. Not separate from it.
As I calmed down, I read the comforting words Pope Francis spoke as his Palm Sunday sermon. Children should shout out loud and be like those who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem instead of those who yelled to crucify him.
I find my sons’ joy in the Lord and for their family and friends to be an all-encompassing love, and I refuse to silence it. Their presence at church matters. So does mine.
A couple of readings for today seem especially on point (even though I’m only reading and reflecting on them now, since I was a bit preoccupied when they were first read); here they are, in part:
- Isaiah 50: 7-9a. The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty?
- Psalm 31: 14 and 16. But as for me, I have trusted in you, O LORD. I have said, “You are my God.” Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.
The Word comforts, but I remain incensed. My kids will not be invisible at church. They continue to be a vital part of the community. I love them, and trust in God as I seek peace over the whole thing.