Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Cry rooms, Nurseries, and Children's Church. . .

Don't get me wrong.  Every church building needs to have a place where a mom can go occasionally when a baby needs nursing or changing or even a quick break when upset.  But the last thing a congregation needs to do is provide a place dedicated to moms and kids or to provide an alternative to "worship" in a children's church meant to entertain more than anything else. We not only should not provide places for children or parents to go in place of worship, we should openly welcome children into the pews and put on our grown up pants to deal with a few squirms or cries or fussy moments.

Large, comfortable cry rooms where children can go to continue to behave badly, nurseries designed to remove children from church and relieve their parents of their responsibilities to raise their children in the faith or one of the so-called children's "churches" are not appropriate substitutes for sitting with mom and dad in the pews.  They are not only dangerous for the children and their parents, they are dangerous to the congregation.  First of all, the problem of those children creating a disturbance hasn’t actually been solved by a cry room or a nursery, it has merely been moved to another place (out of sight and out of mind for the rest of the people in worship).  While this is often necessary for a brief period, it is never a good thing Sunday after Sunday.  Children need to learn that not only do they have a place on Sunday morning, they have a responsibility as part of the congregation as well as to the congregation gathered in worship.

Children are already segregated away from the general populace.  Now, more than at any other time in history, children are seen as intruders into the adult world.  We have little patience with the children and we have even less with their parents.  This is not a good thing.  It is surely a requirement of entertainment worship in which the people are spectators or an audience while others perform but it is not a requirement of liturgy.  In fact, by removing our children regularly from the worship space, we are teaching them that they do not belong there, they do not need to learn the behavior appropriate to the arena of worship, and they do not need to learn the liturgy itself (learned best by participating).  The Church does nothing good for moms, dads, and kids by encouraging their infants and toddlers to be absent from the congregation in the most important time we spend together.

Congregations dominated by older people or by adults without children are lonely places and it is not in keeping with the faith or the liturgy to segregate by age or marital status or preference.  Just the opposite, it is the place where all of these come together and we are served by the Lord with His gifts for all.  Sunday morning is the most integrated place of the Church -- all ages, races, singles, families, etc., as one people before the Lord, receiving His gifts, and responding with praise and thanksgiving.

I can understand why some kinds of churches prefer to eliminate children from worship but I cannot for the life of me understand why this would be appealing to Lutherans.  While there may be a few who cannot keep their eyes off a squirming child or stop themselves from condemning the faults and failings of their parents, the nature of liturgical worship is to integrate those children into the common life flowing from font to pulpit and altar.  To adults who complain, grow up and train yourself to focus on the Word of the Lord and the liturgy.  To families who feel conspicuous with their occasionally fussy or squirming or noisy children, calm down and be patient.  They are just kids being kids.  They will learn.  And to congregations planing for worship and planing for buildings, don't segregate the kids from the rest of us because it sends a bad message to the kids and it gives us a distorted message about what worship is.


David Gray said...


Anonymous said...

Divine Service, the Mass, the liturgy, preaching, sacraments, hymnody are all something that children grow into, not out of. Great piece and excellent points. There is no such thing as children's church. It is Christian's church. Having a respite room, cry room, is a great idea, but only for a moment. Jesus wants the little children, and so do we.

Anonymous said...

Little ones need the repetition of the Liturgy. They will pick up on it and remember it to the end of their days. Lutherans, we are not the ones who teach the “age of accountability” but firmly believe Jesus’ words, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” Mark 10:14. I remember occasionally taking my youngest out of the sanctuary for a scolding and time out. She is now a young woman and attends a confessional Lutheran church regularly. Praise God!
It is when we’re young and our brains are absorbing everything like a sponge. It’s when we’re young to learn new languages and all sorts of things that become indelible, not after we’ve matured and our brains are filled with crud and corruption. Expose the kids to the art and architecture, the hymnody and liturgy, the Latin prose and poetic verses of Holy Scripture. It will stick and it will serve them well. Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum (The Word of the Lord Endures Forever) so they might as well start getting used to it!

John Joseph Flanagan said...

I think that the situation of child behavior is different for each church. At an LCMS church we attended in Tucson, Arizona for 7 years, there was a separate nursing area, enclosed in glass and soundproof. As an usher, I counted the congregation attendees during the 9:30AM service, and the nursing area was usually occupied by up to 4 families with very energetic young toddlers and crying babies. On a practical level, had there been no nursing area, the services would have been disrupted by crying children and those running around. The older children and better behaved sat with their parents and the general congregation. Sometimes, we just have to use common sense and be practical and realistic. I am sure, absolutely sure, when Jesus went to the temple, they would not allow disruptive children to run amok either.