Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Suffer the Little Children

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 - 

...they are 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.


  1. Amen and Alleluia! I couldn't agree with you more. This post has triggered one of mine in which I quote you.

  2. Bravo David. I agree with all you've said about children in church, and those who can't cope with the children being there, would do well to have their consciences pricked, by having the opportunity to read what you've said: you could publish this blog page in the diocesan newspaper [the DOOR] for a start!

    Our own children were brought to church from the time they were born, and not everyone approved, but that didn't stop us bringing them. Our worship of God in Church has always been important to us, and if we were going to be able to be there, then the children came too.

    I'm proud to say [oops, pardon me Father for I have sinned] that they've always been in church, wherever they've lived, and now, some 30 years later, they're still there, one as an ordinand, and the other showing her belongingness by taking her place on the PCC.

  3. Well said! Am going through the 'taking children to church all over again' now that we have grandchildren. The lively boys 3 and 5 brighten up everyone's service with their antics and loud whispers or I hope they do. One week they had a magnet on a telescopic stick and spent the sermon trying to reach the glasses of the elderly lady in front (she never knew). Best of all was coffee time , as he passed the biscuits around to the starchiest child critic , said that it would be 'Ok if she had another one , and that there would be no charge.'



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