My thanks to Mrs Rushton of Lincs, whose difficult experiences have precipitated this post - I pray she finds a resolution in line with so many of my friends!
There is a debate raging in a lot of churches (and far further afield as I will explain later) regarding 'what to do' about a foul curse, a problem of epic proportions, a thorn in the side of all good practicing church-folk, a threat to the very fabric of our spiritual being. No, I am not talking about Prof. Richard Dawkins, he is as nothing compared to this - I refer to, and please sit down if you need to....
...children in church on a Sunday in the service!
I should say from the start that my own church does not labour under such a leaden sky.
When married people are ordained, a useful and un-planned purpose is served. Priests rarely communicate among themselves, we just don't - we claim lack of time among other lofty excuses - but their partners however, they are a useful mine of information about the nature of church life around the country. One theme has recurred over and over and that is how these partners (generally mothers in my own experience) are made to feel when they (and I can hardly bring myself to say it) take their kids to church. There, it is said - I'm ok, thanks.
The response to a considerable number of my friends and their children has, I am sad to report, been negative. I hear tales of frowning congregations when the kids appear, complaints about noise, murmering about toys, conspiracies about how best to hide the little mites in the room at the back 'where they can play properly'. I know that some of you who may read this might be surprised at this, but I am sad to report that it is altogether more common than you might imagine. The reasons cited are often along the lines that the rampaging toddlers (often this age group is the specific target) impede the quality of prayer, interupt the hymns, get in the way generally, disrupt the sermon or just 'ruin for those of us who come to church to be with God'.
Let me let them into a little secret, here and now -
wrong missing the point.
After a weekend when we celebrated the holy saints living and departed, we priests did not say that those saints were the ones who were quiet and obedient, over 18, able to engage with the drivelly sermon, not apt to out-shout a zillion decibel Allen Organ - no, the saints-living are all of us, whether we are 80 or 8 days old. My house is my children's house and they will be at home here. God's house is his children's house and that refers to all his children. They make noise and ALLELUIA. There is nothing more beautiful, stunning and hopeful than the noise of kids relaxing in church during a service. The babbling of babies, the stomping of toddlers, the raging of tantrums - they are all sounds of life and to Tippex them out in favour of one's own need to pray one's own needs in public is just not acceptable to me. I come from a very ceremonially-centred style of worship, and I am delighted ot report that my own children love to come to church - why? Because no-one ever told them to be quiet. They have screamed through Prefaces, hollered through Angeli (plural Angelus?) and even needed carrying out in the procession after the service ended. MARVELLOUS - not because they were my kids, but because they were in God's house with me and my family and we all worshipped together - as is right and proper.
As an additional comment - for those who would purge the church of the too-young; think about the adults that policy also injures - the parent(s) who is/are with them at church. If you rid your temples of their kids, you force them into you back-rooms too, or worse - much worse; you lose them not for now but for ever. Thinking back to a post a couple of days ago - I would remind those objectors that it is those same toddlers who will be slavvering over in a mere decade, spending thousands tempting them to become a Sunbeam for the Lord Jesus Christ. Too late, by then, I think.
Interestingly, this is not an English Anglican Christian-only problem. When I visited Jerusalem recently, and as I worshipped in a Synagogue there, a parent stood up and made this same point to the Jewish population to which she belongs - and let me tell you, stonkingly good as worshipping with Jews is, it was ten times better because their children were comfortable in there, did their thing and made whatever noise they made.