Thursday, December 21, 2006

Children in Services

Well, Christmas is near. So even though I could be ranting about the many and recent enormities of the Episcopal Church, such as this arrogant missive from the Bishop of East Tennessee (and some of my thoughts are in comment 11), I think it better to turn to more Christmasy subjects.

One such issue that has come to mind is that of small children in services. I say “issue” because at this time of year it is indeed an issue for many congregations. They wrestle with just how to include children in their holiday services.

One approach is to just allow a service to become a romper room. I’ve been to one such service. I couldn’t hear a thing for all the noisy children – not one of my warmest Christmas memories. Another approach is to have “family” services more geared to children. But often the only members of the family that enjoy such services are . . . no members of the family.

At the other extreme is to discourage families from bringing small children to services. King’s College for their famous Christmas Eve Nine Lessons and Carols service discreetly warns, “We advise that this service is not suitable for young children.” And, considering the service, wisely so methinks. But for churches that share Jesus’ priority of letting children come to Him, that policy must be an exception not the rule.

Over at the Ship of Fools, there are two interesting threads on this issue here and here. (Note that those links may not work after a few weeks.)

There’s no one right approach, but I have some thoughts.

1. Children must be included in the church as much as possible. AND

2. Everyone must be allowed to worship with a minimum of distractions.

Not either/or, both. These are not negotiable. And you will drive people away if you don’t do both.

3. Church should be fun for children.

4. Children (beyond an extremely young age, of course) can live up to high expectations better than we think.

Now, some of you may think, “HA! I wonder who doesn’t have children.” But hold on. My parish demonstrates well all four points.

Small children (and my parish, though small, has a lot of children) are included in every service. And we have acolytes as young as eight. As I’ve noted before, one of the glories of Anglicanism is children join the whole church in participating in worship.

Yet very rarely do children significantly distract from worship. When that does happen (or is about to happen) family takes them outside until they calm down.

And, yes, that is common courtesy parents should exercise. There is the option of a nursery as well. But even newborns are usually brought in for communion.

By the way, it’s interesting to see how very young children enjoy coming to the communion rail. Do they sense something many adults do not?

The children, having experienced traditional worship, soon grow to understand that respectful quiet is part of it. And for the most part, they are indeed quiet for the services. Compare that with “family” services where children are almost expected to be noisy. Guess what? They are then noisy. Good luck having an edifying time then.

But coming to church is fun for our children. For one thing, after the service they are free to run around and be kids. They aren’t expected to be little adults while parents bore them to death with their endless boring conversations with boring adult friends. I’ve heard it said it’s a sin to bore a kid. And for the most part, I agree.

So can children be included in church worship and it be a positive experience for them while others can worship without undue distraction? Yes, it can be done – and it must be done. And I’m glad to say my parish does it all the time.

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