A member of my parish dropped off a clipping from the Nashville (TN) paper reporting that one of the larger non-denominational congregations there has decided to exclude children from worship. Children instead go to children's church of the appropriate age category.
It goes without saying that everyone of us has been in worship when a child's cries interrupted the service. It has often gone without saying but needs to be said here that the issue lies more with the parent than the child. I have had lots of folks tell me that children don't belong in worship because they detract from what is going on. I do not agree. Sure, there are parents who don't know when taking a child out is the better part of valor but for the most part, I want children in the pews on Sunday morning.
We have a cry room, with speaker from the Sanctuary, with a one way window to view what happens in worship, but this is an emergency place -- for a diaper change, nursing, calming a fussy child... it is not the place where kids are supposed to be during worship.
We have a nursery with a paid staff. It is well equipped with cribs, toys, restroom, tables, activity books, etc. It is a place for children having a bad day when parents have gotten to the end of their ropes. It is not the place where kids are supposed to be during worship.
The Divine Service is for all the people of God. Every age group needs to be there -- together, around the Word and Table of the Lord, in the Lord's House, on the Lord's day. In fact, I often find children to be the most attentive to what is happening. If given the chance, they watch and pay careful attention to every movement, action, and ceremony. They often get it when adults are focused elsewhere. When they come to the rail, they watch my every move. Many of them can repeat every word of the liturgy by heart and often sing the songs of the ordinary with great gusto. That is one of the great things about the liturgy -- it teaches simply by being there, paying attention, and participating.
I often wonder, however, why parents choose the back pews. If you are a small child, what do you see from the back pew -- you see several hundred rear ends. If you have seen one, you have seen them all. It is no wonder children in the back of the nave are bored and easily distracted. They see nothing. Move them up front.
We have quiet bags with books on the liturgy to help children pay attention when they are distracted. These are great teaching tools -- not just coloring books or the like but the kind of things that pull them back into what is happening -- not distract them from what is happening.
And if they cry... well then they cry. Who are the adults here? If adults cannot focus out on an occasional outburst by a child, then something bigger is wrong than a teary eyed child. Besides, every time a child cries, we are reminded that the whole family of God is present - complete with all our foibles. That is a good thing to remember.
So parents....WELCOME to the Lord's House! Move up front. Point out things to your children. Help them to be part of the whole community. Encourage them to sing by singing yourselves. If they get too much to handle, head to the cry room for a time out. If they are having a bad day (and we all have them), use the nursery that Sunday. But bring your children with you to worship.
We don't need to baby talk them through the liturgy or even talk down to them. They learn by doing, by repeating, by exploring... just like we do. So give them something that encourages them in their lifelong learning... that begins even as a child in a parent's arm... in the pew... in the Divine Service...