What To Do About Those Crying Kids?
June 16, 2017
By The Rt. Rev. Kirk S. Smith, Bishop of Arizona
One question I often get asked when I visit vestries and bishop’s committees around the diocese is this — “We want younger families in our church, but our older members complain about the noise that the little ones make. What can we do about crying kids? People are complaining that they can’t hear the sermon or say their prayers.”
As someone who was a parish priest for many years before I was a bishop, I can assure you that there are no simple answers to this dilemma, except for those congregations who have a “crying room” built into their sanctuary!
But I can tell you that it is essential that children are included — and their parents put at ease — if your church is going to grow. I also think that perhaps we are looking at the question from the wrong perspective. Instead of complaining about the distraction, we should be asking ourselves, what do our children get out of being in the church? The answer, I believe, is plenty.
This past week, I read an excellent column on Huffington Post about this topic that I would like to share with you. It is written in the form of an open letter to parents:
Dear Parents With Young Children in Church
by Jamie Bruesehoff
You are doing something really, really important. I know it’s not easy. I see you with your arms overflowing, and I know you came to church already tired. Parenting is tiring. Really tiring.
I watch you bounce and sway trying to keep the baby quiet, juggling the infant car seat and the diaper bag as you find a seat. I see you wince as your child cries. I see you anxiously pull things out of your bag of tricks to try to quiet them.
And I see you with your toddler and your preschooler. I watch you cringe when your little girl asks an innocent question in a voice that might not be an inside voice let alone a church whisper. I hear the exasperation in your voice as you beg your child to just sit, to be quiet as you feel everyone’s eyes on you. Not everyone is looking, but I know it feels that way.
I know you’re wondering, is this worth it? Why do I bother? I know you often leave church more exhausted than fulfilled. But what you are doing is so important.
When you are here, the church is filled with a joyful noise. When you are here, the Body of Christ is more fully present. When you are here, we are reminded that this worship thing we do isn’t about bible study or personal, quiet contemplation but coming together to worship as a community where all are welcome, where we share in the Word and Sacrament together. When you are here, I have hope that these pews won’t be empty in 10 years when your kids are old enough to sit quietly and behave in worship. I know that they are learning how and why we worship now, before it’s too late. They are learning that worship is important.
I see them learning. In the midst of the cries, whines, and giggles, in the midst of the crinkling of pretzel bags and the growing pile of crumbs, I see a little girl who insists on going two pews up to share peace with someone she’s never met. I hear a little boy slurping (quite loudly) every last drop of his communion wine out of the cup, determined not to miss a drop of Jesus. I watch a child excitedly color a cross and point to the one in the front of the sanctuary. I hear the echos of “Amens” just a few seconds after the rest of the community says it together. I watch a boy just learning to read try to sound out the words in the worship book or count his way to Hymn 672. Even on weeks when I can’t see my own children learning because, well, it’s one of those mornings, I can see your children learning.
I know how hard it is to do what you’re doing, but I want you to know it matters. It matters to me. It matters to my children to not be alone in the pew. It matters to the congregation to know that families care about faith, to see young people… and even on those weeks when you can’t see the little moments, it matters to your children.
It matters that they learn that worship is what we do as a community of faith, that everyone is welcome, that their worship matters. When we teach children that their worship matters, we teach them that they are enough right here and right now as members of the church community. They don’t need to wait until they can believe, pray or worship a certain way to be welcome here, and I know adults who are still looking to be shown that. It matters that children learn that they are an integral part of this church, that their prayers, their songs, and even their badly (or perfectly-timed, depending on who you ask) cries and whines are a joyful noise because it means they are present.
I know it’s hard, but thank you for what you do when you bring your children to church. Please know that your family — with all of its noise, struggle, commotion, and joy — are not simply tolerated, you are a vital part of the community gathered to pray.
I seem to remember something in the Bible about Jesus saying, “Let the little children come unto me.” Maybe we need to ask ourselves if we are following his welcoming example?