As the father of four children (ages 8 1/2 years to 4 days), Beth Lewis Samuelson’s reflections on children in church resonates with me:
What does a child-tolerant church look like? First, the church ”and all of us, really ”must remember that where there are women, there are children. Today, with the widespread use of birth control and the prevalence of abortion services, the bittersweet burden of motherhood is no longer seen in the wider culture as a normal phase of life, but rather as a lifestyle option. As a result, many people don’t wish to be inconvenienced by children, who are seen as someone else’s “choice,” not the collective responsibility of (in this case) the church community. At an infant dedication ceremony, the entire congregation enters into a covenant with the parents to help raise the child to love and serve the Lord. That is what I remember hearing as a child, as I sat with my parents through many a long church service.
In a child-tolerant church, families with small, squirmy children are truly welcomed, not separated and exiled. An infant’s vocalizing, a dropped toy, the movement of a restless child in a pew ”all are viewed with tolerance, if not sympathy. Parents whose small children start to scream get up and take them to the cry room or the church foyer. The few moments of noise as a child is carried out are endured by the congregation and politely ignored. No one enjoys the disruption, of course, but all are mindful of having been in the same position or, at least, that all are called to “suffer little children to come unto me.”
I’m aware that, when I was young, my parents went to separate Sunday liturgies and kept my sister and I at home. While I am sympathetic to those who wish to spare others from distractions during Mass, my wife and I decided early on that we would take our children and celebrate the Eucharist as a family. Even on Sundays when my wife sang with the choir we would attend an earlier service as a family.
The bottom line for me is: children who are baptized members of the Church have every right to participate in her liturgical celebrations, just as any adult. I can’t imagine that anyone would ask an elderly person with severe Parkinson’s disease to leave because they constituted a distraction; nor would we expect a couple caring for an older mentally handicapped child to do so. So why we expect children to be tucked safely in a cry room or nursery is beyond me.
We must welcome all members of the Body of Christ. Christ suffered and died for all — even the toddler throwing Cheerios at the back of your head during the Gloria.