It was once said that "A noisy Church is a growing Church!" There is some truth to that. Friendly conversation and the presence of children gives a positive signal. Once when our family was visiting a congregation on Sunday morning, we noticed that ours were the only children in the nave. On top of that, we noticed that there was no real word of welcome or friendship extended. The congregation was cool, perhaps even cold. There were plenty of people but the people who were there seemed to have nothing to connect them except that they were there in the same place at the same time. Perhaps I read too much into it but it is hard to imagine a heavenly fellowship that does not include an earthly dimension.
When we came to the congregation I have served now for 30 years, some complained that it was too much like a social club. My family and I did not experience it that way. We came from a parish that was a family, filled with people of all ages and plenty of children. Here the social connection depended upon who you were. It was something I was determined to change. Over the course of years the welcoming spirit was born in this congregation. We became known as a welcoming church. The visitors began to stay. The congregation grew. It remains one of our signature characteristics -- we are a welcoming congregation. Of course, none of this replaces or even comes close to matching solid Biblical preaching and teaching and faithful and reverent worship. But it is not meant to compete with the content -- it is meant to reflect it!
We sing Blest be the ties that bind but those ties need to encouraged and fostered by an intentional and deliberate effort. Children need to know that they are welcome in the Lord's House and that means figuring out a way to deal with their voices and wiggles. The folks who sit together in the pew are meant to be more than shares of a seat; they are meant to be a family of faith, bound not by common interest but the blood of Christ which cleanses them and the waters of baptism where they find new birth. It is also true that the welcome needs to be ever directed to the newest faces and visitors so that it does not end up becoming a closed fellowship circle.
I still try to encourage at least a few minutes of quiet before the bell rings and we turn our attention to worship. I still believe that the time we spend in prayer before we begin the liturgy but I have learned the value of seeing children in the pew and people manifesting the marks of friendship. They must coexist for the benefit of each other and for the good of the whole.
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