Pope Francis, Children, and Worship

In many churches, there are very clear expectations for children (and there parents). Even if you have never attended the congregation before, you can quickly pick up on the expectation.
  • The very clearly labelled cry room / nursery, far from the sanctuary. To separate noisy children from the worshipers. 
  • The children being led out at some point for "children's church." 
  • The judging looks at parents with young children who are laughing or crying. 
  • Even the sign, "Small Children Should Be in the Nursery During Worship."
Yup. The expectation is clear. We do not want to see or hear children during worship. No wiggling, no laughing, no talking, no fidgeting. Take them out: to the nursery, to the cry room, anywhere but the sanctuary. 

I was greatly moved by the pictures this week of Pope Francis. As he was speaking to a huge gathering of families, a young boy joined the Pope on the stage. Despite attempts by those on the stage to remove him, the boy stayed. He wandered. He talked. He spent time in the places where he was not supposed to be. And no one seemed happier about the situation than Pope Francis. 

The Pope seemed to have grasped an important truth: If you have a gathering of families, there will be children. And those children will behave like ... well ...children. 

If we continue to make it clear that we do not want to hear or see children in worship, we will get exactly what we want. We will not see or hear children -- Not now, and not in twenty years when they grow up. They will get the message loud and clear: They are not welcome.

Worship leaders: learn from the Pope. We want our worship services to be gatherings for families (all sorts of families). And where there are families, there will be children. (Rodger Nishioka wrote about this very idea yesterday on the NextChurch blog)

Worship leaders: let children be children. Give permission for them to wander, to talk, to color, to play. To do all the things that children do. Make it abundantly clear to parents and children that they are welcome.

Here is the welcome that we put in our bulletins at St. John - Prairie Hill

Parents of Young Children
We are so glad that you are here, and that you brought your children with you! Thank you! A few suggestions for your worship experience: 

  • Relax! God put the wiggle in children; don’t feel you have to suppress it in God’s house. It can be helpful to sit toward the front where it is easier for children to see and hear. 
  • Sing hymns loudly, pray, and voice the responses with enthusiasm. Children learn behavior by copying you. If you are excited about God, they will be too! 
  • There are Story Bibles in the pew—your child is welcome to read, look at, and use this Bible! (If you would like to take one home, talk to Pastor David). 
  • Teach children some of the basic prayers; being able to join in with the prayers helps them feel they are contributing too. Also, it can be helpful to explain to your child what is happening during the service. 
  • Attend worship often, children like and need routines where they can participate. 
To those who are sitting near worshiping parents and children
A smile of encouragement is always welcome to parents with small, active children! Jesus welcomed the little children, and so do we. Whether talking, crying, laughing, or singing, the sounds of children in worship are joyful songs of praise.

An Usher at St. John