If You Don’t Hear Crying, the Church is Dying
People were bringing little children to Christ to have Him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Mark 10:13-16
I have young kids – ages 5 and 3 to be specific. They’re great kids, my wife and I love them incredibly and thank God each day for the blessings He gave us. These two little blessings though can be quite active, and loud and usually at times when we wanted nothing more than for them to be still and quiet – especially when they were babies. Taking them to church was always a challenge – when one was a toddler and one was an infant, it didn’t take long for them to become bored – who needs Christ when all you really want is to run around and explore, right?
Each Sunday my wife and I would undergo the same ritual – get up, take care of the kids, go to church with our bag of tricks in tow and keep them occupied and quiet, distract them (which would work until about the Great Entrance) and end up in the cry room with a bunch of other bleary-eyed parents annoyed that they are again technically at church but not really at church. Our saving grace is now that both kids started Sunday school this year and for the first time in the five years we have been parents, we are now taking in services ‘childless.’ For periods of time before this though, it was tough.
The reason we did all of that was for the benefit of other parishioners. When our youngest was really young, we had all intention of staying the full service with her. We figured it was easy – feed her, distract her, next thing we’d know the parish council president would be giving the weekly announcements at the end of the liturgy and off to the hall we’d go for coffee and fellowship. Great success! We (I) figured that if the baby cried a bit, we’d handle it and besides, it was a small baby, who would mind a couple of small cries from a temporarily fussy baby?
Apparently, a lot of people did. The amount of dirty looks we would get, hushed voices that felt like they were condemning us to a parental purgatory, sighs and pursed lips with eyes of indignation from little old ladies was too much to bear – at least for my wife. I didn’t care – the way I saw it, we had as much a right to pray as everyone else did. Just because we had young kids we should be banished from church? Well, my family and I pretty much were – as are many families in my situation each and every Sunday by people that feel they need monastery standards of quiet to be able to pray.
The cry room is not a place where one can pray – it a place where cheerios are flying every which way, where kids are wrestling for the same ball and where people catch up and chit chat. It’s a place where little kids maneuver to get what they need; toys, space, another kids snack; plotting their next moves to become King of the room – all while the parents are trying to keep some sort of futile order. It’s like a well-dressed version of Lord of the Flies set to the soundtrack of sniffles. No cavalry to save the day shows up to save the say. Ever. A lot of stuff goes on in the cry room, none of it is praying though.
A couple of weeks of this was all it took before my wife and I figured there was no point in even coming to church anymore. We could do what we were doing in the cry room at home without the early morning mustering and getting out the door. Why expose our kids to germs? Why get dressed up only to spend two hours in the church building trying to balance on toddler sized chairs, making labored small-talk with other parents that don’t want to be in this little jail any more than you do? Yeah, no thanks.
Where I take solace in this story is that for all the people that don’t want children in church for fear of being disturbed, just as many do but those people are just more coy about it. A church is not a monastery. A church is filled with families that want to pray. It’s filled with parents that want to put their kids on the right path. It is these young families that, believe it or not, are the future of the church. Of the faith itself. By pushing away families with young children, you are condemning the church to a slow and quiet death. There are many parishes across this country that are facing that right now. When parishioners age and pass on to the next life, with no one coming up behind them, who is going to support this church?
My family’s story ended differently than that, thankfully. After spending a couple of Sunday’s at home, we resolved not to be chased away from prayer because our kids are full of life. If the church wasn’t going to change to adjust to young families, we would help it change. My wife began a group for mothers of infants and toddlers – one that was very well received and it still running strong even though my kids (and wife) graduated out of it. I became an usher (mostly) to give courage (and some advocacy) for other young parents that wanted to take part in the service. We grew a resolve because we were not going to let some parishioners dictate our praying… and out faith. Not all parents do that. They just don’t come back.
What’s worse still is that I know priests that discourage young families; that ask families with kids that make any sound to leave – one priest in particular would actually stop the liturgy and ask the parent to take their child outside. Needless to say that this church became a church of senior citizens and only now is beginning to change with a new priest at the helm.
As Orthodox Christians, we need to be mindful of young families. As it is, they are exhausted and nervous about their children misbehaving and wanting to do the right thing. The last thing they need is judgment from other Christians when all they want to do is pray and put their kids on the right path. When you see a parent struggling with a fussy child at church, instead of scowling at them, how about you offer them a hand, like the Christian you purport to be. Instead of chasing them out of the sanctuary with your looks and sneers, help them come closer to God. Realize that this young family is the future of your church and your faith and pushing them out the door to satisfy your need to complete silence helps no one, not even you.
Christ said ‘bring the children unto me.’ Help parents do that so that everyone can reap the reward.