"I can’t think of a better way for God's family to enter the church building on a Sunday morning than by shaking your hand and receiving a high-five from your child. "
Survival in the Sanctuary
I’ve seen them. You probably have too. Exhausted looking parents walking from the church to the parking lot as their children walk, run, hop, cry, fight, or refuse to make their way to the car. I’ve been one of those parents. When my kids were little, Sunday mornings were wild as struggled to get the kids dressed, fed, and out the door in time for church.
We’d stuff Steph into her snowsuit and realize she needed a diaper change. We’d insert Sam into her car seat and notice she was missing a shoe. Kailey and Tara would tease each other as they waited in the back seat. All this and we hadn’t even left the driveway.
Sometimes Sunday worship services felt like ‘survival in the sanctuary’ for my husband and I as we tolerated the twenty minutes it took before the children were invited to leave for Sunday school. But I also remember how my heart would leap during those services when I’d hear our kids singing along, when I’d watch them shake an extended hand during the passing of the peace, and when they’d carefully place their own quarters in the collection plate. Although I’m now the shortest one in the row when I stand beside my grown children on a Sunday morning, my eyes still well up when I watch them worship.
Children in Church
As people engaged in communicating the love of God to children, we know the value of age appropriate learning led by loving teachers using pedagogically sound resources. And we also understand the importance of including children in intergenerational worship.
Too often I’ve witnessed parents, weary and worried about disrupting the service, apologize to the people around because their children were wiggly or loud. They shouldn’t have to feel that way. Parents, grandparents, and other caregivers may wonder at times if it is worth all the effort. This letter is for them:
A Letter to Parents
Thank you for bringing your babies to worship. When I was a young mom, we were encouraged to bring our babies to the nursery, not the sanctuary, so I missed out on cuddling my newborn while Psalms were read and songs were sung. Seeing you rock your little one to sleep from across the aisle reminds us that God’s family includes all ages.
I’m glad you’re taking your toddlers along too. One Sunday during worship I saw a 2-year old-girl passed lovingly from one set of arms to another all the way down the row from where she had been sitting with her mom. Everyone wanted a chance to hold her as she waved her hands to the music and watched her father play the keyboard at the front of the sanctuary. Watching each person extend their arms toward this little one and ask, “me too?” was like watching our baptismal promises come to life.
Thank you for including your preschoolers. When little Dakota and Ayo spontaneously held each other’s hands last week and began dancing in the aisles to the beat of the music, they showed us what it means to worship God with joyful abandon. And when Lily makes her way over to her grandpa, climbs up on his lap, and looks at him while he sings songs of praise, the two of them are painting a beautiful picture of one generation calling to the next.
I’m so glad you’re looking for opportunities to involve your children in worship. I can’t think of a better way for God's family to enter the church building on a Sunday morning than by shaking your hand and receiving a high-five from your child. You taught your child what it means to give back the day he opened his zipper sealed plastic bag and poured the coins he'd collected into the offering for the hurricane victims he’d seen on the news.
During baptism, when your child joins the crowd that comes forward to pray for and lay hands on the person who was baptized, he knows he belongs and we're getting a live snapshot of what it means to be an intergenerational body of believers. Thank you for making morning announcements, while your son clings to your leg and your daughter holds your hand. You’re teaching them that talking to God’s family isn’t so different from sharing a story around the kitchen table.
Speaking of supper, participating in the Lord’s Supper with your kids nurtures our faith as it nurtures theirs. Lining up with believers of all ages to receive the elements, and observing an adult get down on one knee to make eye contact with a child to say, “Jesus gave his life for you, Evan,” reminds us that Jesus died for all of us. Watching a girl balance her pink plastic purse on one arm, as she carefully walks back to her seat while carrying a precious piece of bread and a ready-to-overflow cup of juice, reminds us what a special and abundant gift we’re receiving.
Parenting is hard work. I know that some Sundays you’re just longing to sit in silence. And I suspect that there have been times when you’ve felt like your wee ones weren’t always welcome in worship. Please persist. Because, in addition to the blessings your children bring to us as God’s family when we worship together, you’re training your child to do the one thing we get to do forever: worship (Robbie Castleman, Parenting in the Pew).
Children learn by observing. But they learn even more by participating. So keep coming. Keep trying. We’re glad you’re here.
Karen DeBoer works in Discipleship and Faith Formation Ministries for the Christian Reformed Church of North America. She and her family live in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. Karen helped shape the curricula Kid Connection and Dwell, published by Faith Alive Resources. She is also the author of the Home Grown Handbook for Christian Parenting. You can read more of her thoughts at the CRCNA Network.
Karen's letter to parents was originally posted here on the CRCNA Network. It has been republished here, with Karen's additional introduction for Building Faith.