03 October, 2014

Let The Children Come!

  I remember those days when my oldest son, Andrew, was very young and my middle was bulging with my second son who even in utero did not hold still. I chose to sit in the back pew of the church so Andrew's incessant questions and boisterous objections would not disturb the mostly "chronologically advantaged" people in my husband's congregation. The embarrassing moment of which I will forever remind Andrew occurred when his plastic truck rolled down the raked sanctuary floor under the pews toward the chancel steps. As a toddler who had not yet refined his speaking motor skills, all of his consonant clusters in front of words were pronounced as F's. In the silence of a pause in the pastoral prayer, a loud voice rose to the rafters proclaiming for the entire world to hear, "Mommy, ##uck! Mommy, ##uck!"  
     At that moment, I wanted to disappear into the woodwork. His father looked up, saw my utter dismay, and warmly wrapped into the prayer thankfulness to God for the voices of children that remind us to laugh and to welcome the sleep deprived parents who care enough to bring their children to worship. 
     I remember those tired days of bringing my children to worship: the struggle it was just to get to church on time, how hard it was to make the children behave or at least not disturb the others around us, and how no matter the effort, someone was usually disturbed. The backward glances, the glares when I stood rocking a crying infant while shushing the talkative toddler betrayed the feelings behind their kind words during the passing of the peace. I felt guilty bringing my children to worship! I did not feel welcome or wanted. 
     It was a moment of relief when Helen Straub offered to watch after my little ones so I could sing with the choir. I remember feeling that it was a huge sacrifice for her to sit with a fidgety toddler and an infant when she was there to spiritually fed. When I raised this with her, her response was joy filled and uplifting. She said she loved to have children in worship because children are holy; they bring a layer of hope to the congregation and especially to those, like her, whose children are grown and whose grandchildren live far away. She said that the children were for her a lesson in wonder as they followed the light of the acolytes' flames to the altar candles, as they watched the fly in the window, as they caught glimpses of the holiness of worship in between their wiggles and their squirms. And, she said that whenever people told her to hush the children, she reminded them that they too were once children and that a church without children has no future.
     Helen Straub was my angel in disguise! With her caring and her warm words, she helped me to feel welcome. Her attitude of gratitude helped to build a culture of acceptance of all within the congregation. Her advocacy for the children and families of the church was what kept me going to church each week. 
     What a blessing it is for those of us who are beyond our youth to have the energy of little ones to lift our spirits and help us sing praise to God. And what a joy it is to have children with us in worship to remind us to laugh, to not take ourselves quite so seriously, to raise our sense of wonder, and bring out the child in each of us. What encouragement and hope young families bring to our congregation! Thanks be to God for new generations of young people who will unwrap and unfold God's promised future for our congregation!
     You see, a church without children will cease to be the Body of Christ. God requires of each generation to make the faith their own; that will happen only if we welcome the future into our present. Jesus said, "Let the children come to me ....for such belongs the Realm of God." The reign of God is not ours; it belongs to the children. 
     And all God's children said, "Amen!"