May 4, 2011

The Cacophony of Children

I’m a firm believer: Children should be seen and heard in church.

About eight years ago, we started an Episcopal church in a fast-growing area with few community buildings. Our only option for a meeting site was a small, one-room township hall with a mini-kitchen and restrooms. We couldn’t tuck the young children into a nursery, making the experience easier for both parents and kids, so we spread out a quilt in front of the altar. The toddlers played with cars and books. They colored and rolled around and jabbered, their noise woven into the movement of the liturgy.

I’ve been in many Episcopal churches where the only sounds are the high whine of a hearing aid battery and the thump of a walking cane.

Sometimes the cacophony of children overtook the singing or a 2-year-old who failed to properly share with another child let loose a sudden shriek. The parents did their best to keep the children quieter but not silent – after all, this was as much their church, their new church, as it was ours. 

And of course, it always seemed like my child was the loudest (isn’t that how it always is?). I would shrink in embarrassment, try to coax her into a whisper, bribe her with goldfish crackers and exact a promise that next time, she would be much, much quieter. But there was no place to go when my child – or any child -- wailed, no crying room with soundproof glass, so we figured out how to be more tolerant of one another, how to accept the joy-filled babble of a baby as part of our worship together. 

Some Sundays, the children outnumbered adults. 

When we moved from that space into a more traditional setting, we also moved the children from the quilt in the front to a brightly colored nursery in another room. 

The silence was deafening.