Dear Church, This Parent Needs A Push

Benjamin Kane —  February 6, 2014

Photo Sep 27, 11 19 23 AM

(This is part of our Children in Worship series.)

My seventeen-month old daughter is stretching my social customs—and my faith.  Each week we arrive for our 8:30 service, diaper bag packed to the brim with snacks, “Baby” (her favorite stuffed toy), books, milk, and more milk.  We worship in the parlor—the room right outside the sanctuary.  Here she can move, play and talk openly; speakers pipe in the prayers, hymns and sermon so I’m able to follow along with worship.  This set-up worked well until Margot decided that what was going on behind the doors to the sanctuary was more exciting than anything in the parlor.

She insisted upon entering.  We walked into the sanctuary and sat with the other children gathered at the chancel steps.  Much to my amazement, I didn’t need to use any of my distracting techniques—she sat with amazement, listening to the pastors’ words, watching the other kids pay attention and then waving as the newly-baptized baby walked past us.

Since that Sunday we’ve worshipped in the parlor.  I want to bring her back in, but my social propriety inhibits me.  Each Sunday I’m reminded of five reasons why I–the parent–need a push to bring Margot into the sanctuary and I’m fairly certain I’m not the only parent with these thoughts:

1.  Silence the Voices in My Head

You can’t hear them, but the voices in my head are saying the same thing you are thinking: “Why is that child making noise?”  “How can anyone pay attention with her moving around?”  “Do you think her dad notices she is distracting?”  All of these questions flood my mind when I’m sitting with her.  A smile and possibly a welcoming word will do wonders to silence those voices. Bringing a child into worship is like walking down the hallway with your first major pimple of freshman year–it’s all you can think about and you are pretty sure it is the topic of all other conversations.  You can alleviate that stress by reminding us how wonderful it is that we’ve decided to bring our children into the worshipping space–even if our kid annoyed you for an entire hour.

2.  Acknowledge My Daughter, and Me

This is a simple thing, but often overlooked–like my child.  She is going to move around; she will command your attention; she will try to get you to smile.  Acknowledging her efforts goes a long way–usually she will focus her efforts on something else.  But that smile, wink or wave will reinforce that she is welcome in this space to join others as we all worship God.  A smile, wink or wave directed at me reminds me that you care that I’m here with my daughter in the sanctuary.  It will also help slow my heartbeat as I watch her walking down the pew towards a friendly face.

3. “Aisle Seat, Please”

I’m under no illusions that my seventeen-month old daughter will make it through an hour long service.  Having a clear exit strategy relieves anxiety.  When I know that I have a unencumbered pathway to the parlor I can relax a bit and focus on helping Margot worship.

4.  If You Don’t Have Anything Good to Say…  

You know how the sentence ends–heed its wisdom.  I’m aware that I’m not the first parent to bring his child into worship, but hearing about your child’s horrible antics during worship doesn’t relieve my stress–it makes me nervous.  I have enough anxious thoughts and I’m not looking for more.   I also don’t want my daughter to overhear your story and get any ideas.

5. Will They Offer a P.G.A.?

My dad offered P.G.A.’s–post game analysis–after every game, highlighting the good, the bad and the ugly.  The most memorable ones were when he would say, “I enjoyed watching you play tonight–seeing you do something you love.”  Sometimes after worship I feel more worn out than when I played college basketball.  What I’d love is an encouraging word–not a P.G.A. (I’m pretty sure my dad will provide that!)

Churches are communities, made up of people attempting to figure out what it means to follow God.  None of us does this perfectly–that’s why we gather together to bolster each other as we worship together.   As I parent I need a push, a reminder that my daughter and I are welcomed, invited and encouraged to join you all.  It is my sincere belief that churches–the one I serve in particular–are moving towards a more inclusivity with children, but areas of improvement still exist.

If you are a parent, are their other thoughts you’d add to the list?  What does your church do to encourage children and parents to worship in the sanctuary?  What could your church do better to welcome young families?

(This is part of our Children in Worship series.)

Benjamin Kane

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Ben is a husband, father, son, brother, and a PC(USA) minister. These identities provide him myriad glimpses of God's unconditional love and grace. He is a Duke basketball fan, NPR listener, reader of almost anything, occasional writer & runner, hopeful New Yorker cartoon creator, and discerner as to who God is. He is the Pastor at Howard Memorial Presbyterian Church in Tarboro, NC--"the crossroads of western civilization."