Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Children and Woodland Creatures at Church

On Sunday, I was that mom.  I was that mom sitting in the church pew, second from the front, with her two small children. You know the kids wearing mouse and bunny ears and tails?  And I'm sure you woudn't forget the puppets on their hands.   Yep, that mom with those children.  But I was also that mom who braved the super cold morning, resisted the urge to call it a pajama day, and got her children and herself dressed and out the door in time for worship.  It was no small feat, and if it meant that they arrived there dressed as small woodland creatures, that was going to have to be okay.

The view of church from our front porch.
 We live next door to church.  It's great, except when the temperatures are in the single digits, there is six inches of snow on the ground, and I feel dumb driving next door to church.  On Sunday morning, I piled on the snow boots, the snow pants, the hats, and gloves, and we trudged across the snow and over the five foot mountain made by the plowing of the parking lot so all those smart people could park the cars they drove to church.  Once in the building, I quickly discovered I hadn't brought regular shoes for the kids so my children took off down the hall in their socks. (Yes, I'm sure you're imaging how much everyone loves when the pastor's wife and his children arrive. Maybe we amuse them. Maybe we horrify them. But they smile and greet us nicely regardless. For that I am grateful.)

The baptism of our younger son.
I like to talk about children in church.  I am passionate that children belong in worship both because the community needs them there (whether they know it or not) and because they need to be there for their own faith development.  I am committed to the promises we make at baptism as parents and as a congregation. But on your average Sunday, I find myself kicking myself for these beliefs because goshdarnit it'd be so nice to send them to the church nursery for an hour and because goshdarnit this whole worshiping with young children is so. much. work.

This Sunday was no different as I sat next to the small woodland creatures with puppets on their hands.  It started with Elijah, who is not quite 2 years old, crying screaming for no apparent reason.  He wanted a snack.  I gave him a snack.  It was not the snack he wanted.  I stood up, and he wanted me to sit.  We sang, and he wanted it quiet.  No matter what we were doing, it was clearly not to his liking.  So I began the juggling act of keeping Ben, at 4 years old, in the pew, while I took Elijah into the narthex to figure out what he needed.  When the kids simply can't sit, we don't play or run around.  We simply go stand in the narthex and keep it as boring as possible.  Their choices are worship or stand in the narthex and be bored.

I somehow managed to get Elijah sitting in a pew with a bag of pretzels.  Seconds later, Ben proclaims that he has to go potty.  Really?  No, seriously?  Okay.  After mumbling some words inappropriate for chuch to myself, I beg the person behind me to watch Elijah and hope he stays quiet while running Ben to the bathroom.  Finally, we are all sitting together in a pew with the help of the family behind me and the church organist who kindly sits with us during the sermon.  Yes, it took somewhere between three and four adults and about thirty minutes to wrangle my kids into a pew.  What was I thinking?!

I took a deep breath and I watched.  I watched a boy in mouse ears dance a jig in our pew exuberantly celebrating as we sang.  I watched a toddler who says only twenty words frantically sign "Jesus" while saying "Geegus" as he watched communion being prepared on the altar.  I laughed out loud as a boy insisted on passing the peace with a moose puppet, outright refusing when anyone tried to shake his bare hand instead.  I knelt at the communion rail with two children so excited to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus that I almost cried, and yes one of them had mouse ears on (that he had turned around backwards specifically for the occasion so that everyone sitting in the pews could see the front of his ears as knelt).  I heard two little voices echo every 'Amen' and 'Lord, hear our prayer' just a few seconds after the rest of the community.

I knew why I took on this crazy, exhausting task of worshiping with my children.  And, I can only hope that some of the community gathered was blessed to see a little bit of why I did this as well.  If not, there's always next Sunday when I'm sitting next to two superheros.


  1. Jamie,

    I loved reading this because we go through the same situation every Sunday at church with Maddy and Benny. The sad part is that Rob is able to help me and we still have difficulty keeping both kids happy and quiet while trying to listen to one or two words said by the priest.

  2. That was awesome and so cute and sweet. Stay strong in what you believe is best for your family. Maybe it will help you to know that DS and I don't even wear shoes when it's warm out.
    We go to a fairly relaxed service and I'm always thankful for those who keep an eye out for my little runner while I do the powerpoint for dh.

  3. After being in the pulpit while my kids were 0-3 (and 0-1), and now sitting with them in the pew while ages 4 and 6, I can TOTALLY appreciate the effort it takes to just BE there. Mine are finally not exhausting to sit with in worship, although, to be fair, they get to leave for the middle portion of the service, anyway. After nearly every crazy service, some nice older members sitting nearby would pat me on the shoulder and say, "We remember what that was like, and we're just glad you're here." God's people are gracious...MOST of the time!

  4. It is a challenge with just one toddler and one parent when Mr. Goat is in the choir. I know just what you mean but the signs that they really "get" worship make me smile every time! Good job mama! Keep up the good work.

  5. I like your blog :-)
    I agree that kids belong in church. I don't know about where you live, or your church, but here they have a couple of Sundays every year with focus on children and they invite families and chose hymns and songs and texts that appeal to children etc.

  6. I mean, children are welcome every Sunday, but those days I mentioned the focus is on the children. (Sorry my English isn't fluent :) )

  7. I can relate to this so well, although my children are older now, really grown men.

    We have a number of immigrants in our church, nearly all women working night jobs to support their children. Getting up Sunday morning is really hard for them, but they try to make it, but long for some quiet time.

    Fortunately the rest of the parish has learned to step up and help with the children. Those that somehow don't understand your message have voted with their feet and left...

  8. Just rediscovered your blog having read the very popular letter to parents of children in church a while back. I've sent it to some friends who need the encouragement to come to worship.
    But then I discovered this post! I love it! I am a pastor's wife too, with a 2 1/2 year old daughter and a 12 week old son. Last week my daughter attended church in her swimming costume (the one with legs and sleeves) - it was that or nothing, and nothing wasn't an option! And then she sang oh so very loudly, but she sang truth - our God reigns!
    Thank you again. X


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