Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Children, Church, and Why It's Time to Bring Da Noise!

Taken from CatholicVote's Facebook Page.
I shared the image above this morning after seeing it on a friend's Facebook page last night. In case you can't read it, here is the text:
Relax! God put the wiggle in children, don't feel you have to suppress it in God's house! All are welcome! Sit toward the front where it is easier for your little ones to see and hear what's going on at the altar. They tire of seeing the backs of others' heads.
Quietly explain the parts of Mass and actions of the priest, altar servers, choir, etc. Sing the hymns, pray and voice the responses. Children learn liturgical behavior by copying you.  
If you have to leave Mass with your little one, feel free to do so, but please come back! Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me."

Remember, the way that we welcome children in church directly affects the way they respond to Church, to God, and to one another. Let them know that they are at home in this house of worship. 

Please let your child use the back of reverse side of this card to draw and doodle. 


The presence of children is a gift to the Church and they are a reminder that our parish is growing. Please welcome our children and give a smile of encouragement to their parents. 
How much would you breathe a sigh of relief if you found this as you corralled your children into a pew? This post definitely struck a nerve with fellow moms. While I'm no Kendra, Kelly, or Haley with hundreds of responses, I noticed an uptick of activity rather quickly this morning. It made me wonder if perhaps our churches are missing the mark on helping parents of young children feel welcome. I wondered if maybe the message that has been sent loud and clear on the whole (and of course this is a generalization) is that young families were welcome to worship, but only if they kept their kids under wraps. 

Even at welcoming parishes, I have often felt the glare of others as my children make more noise than what is expected. This is the number one reason I do not go to daily Mass. I miss out on the Eucharist during the week because I do not want to deal with people who think I should have to silence my toddler. I miss out because the thought of having to chase and silence him is so exhausting that it is just doesn't seem worth the effort. That is a failing on my part, but also a failing on the part of our churches, I think. When I think of worshiping with my family, the first thought that comes to mind should not be how much energy might it take to keep a three year old quiet. 

Another friend commented on my post that perhaps our trouble is that there is just a little too much of a Victorian remnant to our worship sensibilities. Children should be seen and not heard, right? Isn't that how so many of us feel at Mass? Yes! We want big families - but for God's sake keep 'em quiet! I retorted back to Amy, who I have known since my awkward teenage years incidentally, what a revolution it would be if instead our churches presented the norm of noise - healthy, reverent noise - as a sign of life-giving, life-sustaining worship. Noise which welcomes our young ones to be - wait for it - young and restless! (No, not like the soap opera!)

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that while there is great value in silent prayer, silence is NOT always golden (or in some cases, it is golden like a calf - it becomes an idol in itself). What if silence was NOT the norm for communal worship? What if we raised our voices in praise? What if we allowed people to go off script every once in awhile to pray in the Spirit? What if we allowed our children to be children without removing them from the premises to be children at "children's church" as though there are two separate houses of worship?

This would definitely require a dramatic paradigm shift in our Catholic worship. It would be a shift that could take a whole generation, but what if that was our lasting legacy? A church who truly welcomes - noise, mess, stink, and all - those who come to its doors. Let's face it. If we take an honest look, while we have the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, people are not beating down our doors, especially young families. If they DO marry in the Church, where numbers are also declining, it is not a given that they will be back to establish themselves in a parish. (Don't even get me started on the obstacles we present to those seeking marriage in the Church. That's a post/rant for another day . . .)

Even for our family - a committed, worshiping family - parish life seems to be in existence around us. There is little outside of the school community that brings us together with other young families. Luckily we know some in our parish through our former ministries and our connection to the schools. Yet, at a stage of life where time is short and stress is high, perhaps this is one ministry where the church should not rely on a do-it-yourself model. 

Welcome. Engage. Affirm. Support. Feed (both the soul and the body!). Stick with us even when we aren't able to give back the way we should because we are exhausted from chasing midgets and working multiple jobs to pay the bills. If you get this right, I guarantee you will get a lot of the other ministries right too. 

While not every parish has the resources to create full-fledged ministries (meal ministries, mom's groups, dad's groups, play groups, prayer groups, etc.), the one thing we can do is be sure that when it comes time to sit at the banquet table of the Lord, even the wiggly food-throwers feel free to come join us, booster seats and all. If you feed us well now, we promise we will return the favor.

What do you think? Does Catholic worship have room for those who are a little noisy and perhaps rough around the edges? How does your parish welcome young families while keeping the Mass reverent for all to worship?

At the end of the day, let's remember that our job is to love 'em like Jesus, and He wasn't afraid of a little noise. 

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  1. We have definitely have had Mass times that left me in tears, not because of anything anyone else did but because of the crazy my kids shared. I will say, from my little bubble of a family, it is tough. But, I hear His Words telling us to bring the children. I know it is good. I agree though, sometimes Church doesn't seem welcoming but I think that it's in my own self-conscious head rather than what others are doing or thinking. Honestly, most parishes we've visited have been sweet and encouraging. Lots to think about re: how to more involve families. Sometimes it's just hard to show up to the extra events given the busyness of family life. So I'm not sure what more parishes can do, exactly. Will be thinking! May be back if I come up with something. :D

  2. Our parish is mostly older people, and I ALWAYS feel embarrased when our kids make a bunch of noise. I wish our parish had this 'flyer' in the pews. I rarely get looks, and most people are understanding, but it just takes that one person to make you feel bad about your kids and mass suddenly feels uncomfortable and nerve wracking when it should be all about Christ and the Eucharist.
    The other thing about our church- child care is almost never available at church events. If they wanted young adults and families to attend their events and activities, they don't make it very hospitable. I always ask in my perkiest and most innocent sounding voice "will there be a nursery available for this bible study?" Maybe one day they'll get the hint!