One of the most difficult issues on Sunday morning can be the place of children in the church. The Psalmist said, “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go unto the house of the Lord,” (Psalm 122) but I know of some mothers who dread the Sunday morning hour or at least find it to be one of the most difficult hours of the week. Frequently my wife says that she wasn’t able to hear the sermon as the children required her undivided attention. She calls the Sunday morning hour “pew wrestling.” Maybe it could qualify as an Olympic sport.
At times we are told of a better day when children never made any noise in church. One friend I know said his mother would threaten to hold her hand over their mouths and suffocate them if they made any noise in church. As a nurse she knew that the children would merely pass out and start breathing again. Such measures seem a little on the extreme side and not at all to be recommended. One pastor’s wife told a story of her young boy who she was trying to restrain who shouted out for the whole congregation to hear, “Mommy, don’t touch my penis.” Some of these things can be funny, but the guilt that mothers feel over their misbehaving little ones is no laughing matter.
Many churches have children’s church. The children are shuttled off to their Sunday School classrooms so that their parents can hear the sermon in silence. And yet, how will the children learn the liturgy and the importance of God’s Word unless they hear it read and taught? If they don’t come to church as children how will they ever learn how to be in church when they grow up? The disciples also wanted to shut the little children out of church. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me,” as He took them up in His arms and blessed them. There is no more important place for the children to be than in the Sunday Divine Service. Our liturgy is so full of visual and verbal elements. The children, each week, receive a rich banquet of heavenly gifts as they learn God’s Word, hear preaching, are forgiven their sins, are taught to pray, are blessed by God, see Holy Communion given and received, participate in the Lord’s Prayer, speak the Creed, learn the hymns of our faith, and participate in the community of believers. Even when it seems that the children are not paying attention or are too little to grasp what is being done and said they are still getting more than we can imagine out of church! In college I read many child psychologists who said that the most important years of religious formation are the first three! Even in the womb our children are learning about the worship of God as their mothers come to church. On Palm Sunday it was the children who sang their praises “the simplest and the best.” (Matthew 22)
I thank God for the members of our congregation, young and old, who are patient and helpful with the children. Audrey Borkenhagen puts activity bags together for the children each week. Individuals like the Seiders and Pam Wordell have stepped up to help the young families in the church. Our children play such an integral role in our congregation that many have commented how much they appreciate seeing the children in church. “A church that isn’t crying is a church that is dying,” I have heard some people say. Is this care shown to all our members? I think so. Recently a concerned parishioner called me when one family was having particular difficulty with a young child. “What can I do to help?” she said. Instead of sitting in the pew and passing judgment on the situation, she used it as an opportunity to be of assistance. As the Bible says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6
We have all been there. We all understand what it is like. And face it, children all have different temperaments. Some children have more difficulty in church than others. Some mothers need more help in church than others. Some mothers like my wife never went to church as a child and are new at it and had to learn from other people what behaviors were expected in church. Some children act out because of developmental disabilities and not through any fault of the parents. One child in my pastors former congregation was autistic and regularly shouted out questions for him to answer in the middle of his sermon. Even Mary had trouble with her child in church as she lost him in church for three days. Whatever the situation is, any difficulty that others are facing is an opportunity to extend the mercy and concern of Christ, something that I thank God I have seen many times here at Emmanuel. As Jesus showed mercy to us in our need, so we extend the hand of love and compassion to others. Jesus said, “Freely you have received, freely give.” Matthew 10:8
To the embarrassed mother, the frazzled mother, or even the cool, calm, and collected mother we say, “I’ve been there. Though I know it must be hard, thank you for doing the right thing and bringing your child to church.” Being a mother means being selfless. It is a difficult cross to bear. And yet, if our mothers didn’t do the hard work of dressing us up and getting us to church where would we be today?
Let us commend the mothers and the women of our parish who help us aim toward Jesus commands, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Each week in Matins we pray the Litany which reads in part, “Grant all women with child, and all mothers with infant children, increasing happiness in their blessings.” (LSB p. 289)
P.S. Over the following months I will have a little corner in the newsletter collecting helpful tips and advice about children and the Divine Service. If you have any yourself, let me know!