by Rebekah Curtis
We all love having kids in church! Their bright faces and sweet voices show us how beautifully the family of God grows. And then the crying starts.
Suddenly, a mom is embarrassed. The people in the next pew are annoyed. The ushers in back get antsy. The pastor can’t very well stop mid-Collect to help. What’s a congregation to do? Here are some ideas for everyone involved.
Church requires planning just like any other family activity. If you have a baby or very young children, come equipped with special, quiet church toys to hold your little ones’ attention during the months when the service itself won’t. Make arrangements with a church friend beforehand for care of older children left in the pew if you have to take out a baby or toddler.
If your child becomes noisy and cannot be quieted quickly and sufficiently, take her out. Remember that people with hearing loss cannot distinguish between background noise and your pastor’s voice, so it’s important that there be as little “noise pollution” as possible in church.
If you have to leave with your child and miss Confession and Absolution, the sermon, or Holy Communion, ask your pastor to catch you up after the service or sometime during the week.
Give your ushers clear instructions on how to assist a parent with a noisy child. Tell them when to approach parents who do not take out a noisy child, and where they should be directed. Remind them to be polite and patient, even though noisy children aren’t.
Put a regular announcement in your bulletin letting parents know that you don’t want them to miss anything. Tell them you will be glad to meet with them at another time if they are gone during Absolution or Communion, and where copies or recordings of your sermon are available.
If you notice a parent leaving with a child during the service, seek her out afterward to schedule a make-up session for whatever she missed.
Offer temporary shut-in status to new mothers until they are able to attend services again. This is especially helpful if a mother has had a Cesarean section, for parents of multiples, or if a baby is born during cold and flu season and has a doctor’s order against public appearances.
Encourage parents to bring children of all ages to the Divine Service and demonstrate to parishioners how infants and children are to be welcomed there (Mark 10:13–16).
Ask your pastor how he wants you to assist families with noisy children in church.
If your church has a nursery, be available to help parents who want to use it find their way there.
Not all parents want to take children to toy-filled nurseries because they can serve as incentives for toddlers and preschoolers to misbehave. If parents of a noisy child do not want to use the nursery, direct them to whatever other space is available.
Exercise discretion as to which children are truly disruptive and which are making a joyful noise unto the Lord. Crying bothers everyone, but most people don’t mind a baby who does some quiet chirping in church.
For Parishioners without Children
When you see a parent in trouble, offer to help with older children, carry a diaper bag, clean up a mess, or do whatever needs to be done.
If you’re so inclined, offer to assist more formally by sitting with or near a large or single-parent family regularly.
If you are a church assistant for a family, you will help most by teaching children how to behave well in church: Help them stand, kneel, look up hymns, fold their hands, make the sign of the cross, sing, and generally learn the congregation’s part. The more children are actively involved in the service, the more they understand that the gift of forgiveness we receive in church is for them too (and the fewer tricks parents have to bring along!).
Ask the parents before offering a snack, toy, or other diversion to a child.
Demonstrate good behavior in church. That two-year-old who likes to turn around and watch you will learn to sing if she sees you and everyone else singing just like her dad is. Make silly faces with her after the benediction, when it’s fine for her to laugh as loudly as she wants!
Keep in mind that parents work extra hard to get every-one to church on Sunday. No one is more unhappy about a noisy kid in church than the parent responsible for him. When a noisy child isn’t being removed promptly enough for your tastes, take the opportunity to exercise Christian charity by remembering how very much those parents want to be there, as indicated by the fact that they’re there with kids at all. The children will sing their praises, the simplest and the best, if we teach them how together.