One of my challenges as a priest has been how to encourage parents who are worshiping with their children in church. I want them to stay in church, but I also want to honor the occasional discomfort of their experience. Of course, my opinion on this matter has changed dramatically since I became a parent, but what was once distracting noise by children in church has now become the sound of life to me. A fellow blogger expressed this reality for me quite beautifully here.
But me telling a parent that they are welcome to stay in church does not solve much. I cannot control the glares or the shh-es from other parishioners. I cannot control the wave of panic that crashes over a parent when it feels like your child’s noises are as loud as a parade in a library. I cannot even set an example because I am rarely actually in the pews with my fellow parents. But I have experienced some of the grace that can happen when people are open to a child in church. Back in December, I took my three-year old daughter to an ordination at the Cathedral. She lasted relatively well for the first hour, but then became antsy. I asked her if we should go after the peace, but she insisted she wanted to stay. We made it back to the pew, and midway through the bishop’s praying of the Eucharistic prayer, my daughter impatiently asked, quite loudly, “Can I have the body of Christ now?!?” Everyone around me giggled and I did too. She broke the tension I had been feeling about her noise. She probably voiced the fatigue that fellow worshipers around me felt too. And she showed me that she fully understood what was happening, and was eager to receive the sacrament. It doesn’t get more awesome than that.
I can’t force parents to stay in church with their kids. I can’t force parishioners to always be sympathetic or even helpful. What I can do is continue to hold all parents and children in prayer, thanking God for their presence, and the ways in which they keep me humble. Thank you, parents, for all that you do to raise our children in the church. We are blessed by you more than you know and always happy to have you in church.