Children in a sacred space can be distracting, but worship is not about our experience – be it beautiful or broken. Worship is about God.
It is not always easy to welcome these wiggly wanderers into our sanctuaries, but when we do, kids transform our worship of the Living God with their unique gifts:
So the next time kids ruin your worship, will you sigh and start crafting an email to their parents or the pastor in your head, or will you chuckle and start looking for the Spirit in the midst of the mess?
Choose freedom over frustration. Choose grace. Allow the little ones to transform you into something bigger, more beautiful and more powerful than you ever imagined - the Church.
“Potty” is not a word you typically hear in a sanctuary. Potties are for preschoolers and mommies, for sticky fingers and training pants, for lisped emergencies and unseemly accidents. A “potty” does not belong among the pews and polished shoes of our most sacred spaces.
But there it was - like nails on the chalkboard of our nice, smooth church service. “Mommy, can I go to the potty?” Every head in the congregation whipped toward my three year old, shifting their focus from the proclamation of the Word to the proclamation of the potty.
I wanted to sink into the crimson carpeted floor - or rush her out the side door - but I couldn’t. Because I was in the middle of preaching my first sermon in a new church! With my husband serving another congregation and room full of strangers giggling nervously or rolling their eyes, I continued, determined to preach the gospel - regardless of preschoolers and their bathroom needs.
As my daughter skipped down the center aisle, carrying her sparkly little purse and our orderly worship with her, an unfamiliar older woman slipped out of her pew in hot pursuit. And we all breathed a sigh of relief.
Because we are the Body of Christ and sometimes part of the body has to pee, but that does not make her worthless. Sometimes part of the body can no longer climb the stairs to the sanctuary, but that does not make him obsolete. Sometimes parts of the body might need an oxygen mask, or a hearing aid, or crayons, or an extra explanation, but that does not make them a nuisance and it certainly shouldn’t keep them out of worship.
Children are a loud and messy part of the body. Their shrieks pierce our holy silence. Their pencils skitter across the floor. Their whispered questions sound more like shouts. Their cracker crumbs infest every crevice within 10 feet of their squirmy little bodies.
Kids crunch and cry and crawl up into our holiest of spaces, and God meets them there. God meets us there,”Let the children come to me.”Jesus gathers the little ones into his arms and implores us all to join them in their wonder, their joy, their hopefulness - even their messiness - "for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs" (Mark 10:14).
On my first Sunday at this wonderful little church, my daughter distracted us from our order of worship, but she could never distract us from God. When she and her new 80 year old friend marched back up the aisle hand in hand, beaming with holy delight, we all felt the embrace of the Holy Spirit drawing us into community, nestling us into the very heart of God.
Our littlest members can make the biggest impact in transforming our church into what God calls us to be - a messy and miraculous body of believers. So the next time a child pulls your focus from the liturgy or the sermon or the prayer, look for God. In the grandfather’s smile, in the mother’s coos, in the sister’s laugh or the friend’s helping hand, God is there, welcoming the little ones - and the big ones too!
“Mommy, can I get some candy?”
“Yes,” I replied, undaunted in my attempt to preach the Word. My almost four year-old daughter had recently discovered two things: 1) There is a bowl of hard candy in the church office and 2) Mommy isn’t really interested in teaching a lesson about nutrition or risking a meltdown in the middle of a sermon.
This was not the first time I received such a request, but when I saw a usually placid face on the front row contort with shock and fear, I knew something was terribly wrong.
I whipped around to find my little girl balancing on tip-toe at the communion table. One hand gripped the table cloth laden with lit votives, while her brown curls and pudgy fingers trembled as she attempted to set her own candle aflame. Instantly, I was by her side calmly explaining that she could not light a candle nor take it back to her pew. I pointed her toward the stash of flameless tea lights I gave her before worship and handed her two unlit votives which she accepted with a resigned sigh. Disaster averted.
It was All Saints Sunday a year ago. She learned about fire. I learned “candy” and “candle” sound remarkably similar!
It is all part of the learning process as we embrace the joys and the challenges of worshiping as a cross-generational community. We believe it’s important for children to worship with adults, but we’re also learning it’s good for adults to worship with children.
In our age-segregated society, many adults don’t have the opportunity to interact with children. We don’t have to deal with the baby’s cries, but we also don’t get to hear her laugh. We miss the child’s impatient wiggles, but we also miss his thoughtful questions. When we move the children out of the sanctuary, it’s like worshipping blindfolded. It might be easier to concentrate, but it’s harder to be distracted by beauty, by joy, by wonder, by heart-wrenching sobs and by soul-tending love.
Last summer we held a holy parade in our sanctuary to celebrate God’s presence among us. Like David dancing before the Lord, the children decorated bikes and rode them up the center aisle leading in the bread and cup. I didn’t get to see much of the children, but I couldn’t miss unbridled joy on the faces of the adults. Worshiping with children gave the adults permission and courage to respond authentically to God’s powerful presence. The kids freed us to worship with wild abandon!
On that All Saints Sunday a year ago, when my child very nearly lit the church on fire, we experienced the great challenge and gift of worshipping with children. We learned her actions – while distracting – did not ruin worship. Worship is not about our experience – be it beautiful or broken – it is about God. Children might not know the word “sacred,” but they understand the holy power of worship. Their presence enriches our experience, deepens our knowledge, and magnifies our joy.
When I sat down next to my daughter for the final hymn that Sunday, I saw she completed a communion puzzle, joining the broken bread and jagged cup, piecing together the holy words. Eleven tea lights flickered with battery-powered might and the two unlit votives completed a circle around the fragmented whole. “Remember me.”
And so we remember. We celebrate, pray and sing. We worship with all the saints.
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