Church and Children, do they mix?

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We go to church. I won’t sit here and pretend we are regulars but we do try to attend as much as we are able to. We aren’t fanatics and I’m embarrassed to say our bible is buried behind a stack of popular fiction on our bookshelf. We go through spurts where we go quite often and then we won’t go for a few months. We are members of our church, our children were both baptised there and Mr. T. goes to Sunday School, but we don’t attend every Sunday.

I grew up going to church. We went every single Sunday when I was young. I sung in the church choir, I played handbells in the handbell choir and I took care of the little ones in the church nursery. My parents taught Sunday school and I was confirmed. We were active members of our church and I had always assumed that I would one day go to church with my family. I felt like it was an important thing to introduce to my children. When they are old enough to make their own decisions their religious beliefs will be their personal decisions however I always felt like it was my job to give them a starting point.

We have found a wonderful family friendly church where we are always welcomed with open arms no matter how long it’s been since our last visit. We leave feeling warm and fulfilled after each and every service. Our church really puts family and children at the centre. Our service has a children’s time where the kids sit up at the front with the minister while she tells a story then they go off to Sunday school or nursery depending on their age. They have a toy kitchen in the back of the room so if children get restless they are free to go play. There’s even a family with three little girls who are apparently dancers at heart because every time we sing a hymn they go up to the front and spin around in their little tutus moving to the music.

Recently we went to a special service at a different church and had a very different experience. Now I’ll preface this by saying that I have a fear of Priests. The way some people are afraid of heights or clowns, I am afraid of Priests. Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? I don’t have any explanation as to why I have this fear but it’s very real and I’ll be the first to admit that perhaps this fear has clouded my judgement slightly. Needless to say I’m not entirely comfortable in a Catholic Church. I will however make the effort because Mr. C. was born and raised Catholic. From the moment we walked into the church we, meaning both Mr.C. and I,  felt awkward and unwelcome. I felt eyes boring a hole in my back as I walked down the aisle holding my kids hands trying to find our way to our pew. I felt the instinctive need to protect my children by pulling them in  closer to me and further away from these strangers who sighed as we walked by. The service was actually dedicated to Mr. T, our reason for being there, but it seemed as though it was more of a burden that both him and Ms. J were even attending. I began to sweat as my children started to get restless and whines echoed into the cathedral ceilings garnering more judgmental looks and murmurs from the pews around us. My heart was beating powerfully, it’s rythmic drum pounding throughout my entire body, as I noticed the Priest watching my mouth to see if I was reciting the proper words. Which of course I wasn’t since I am not actually Catholic. I felt shamed. As though he was looking at me like I didn’t deserve to be there. Eventually I left with Ms. J who was loudly protesting the fact that she was expected to sit still  and quiet for the entire service. An expectation that I personally think is unrealistic for a toddler. Mr T. is used to our church where he can get up if needs be and where he actually participates so he was saddened when he wasn’t allowed to contribute anything.  Walking out into the warm early summer air I felt relieved to be away from all of the judging eyes. I didn’t feel warm and fuzzy. I didn’t feel closer to God at all.

It raised in me a question about where children fit into religion and the church. Am I expecting too much for a church to welcome children? I am fully aware that my expectations are based upon my experience with my own church so is it unfair of me to assume that all churches happily encourage you to bring your entire family. Shouldn’t there be a place for children in Church?

I think my opinion is obvious and already stated. I think if you are religious and have your own beliefs, regardless of which religion it is, I think it’s important for you to teach that to your children. So of course I think there should be a place for children in a place of worship.

Obviously I made an assumption when heading to this service, an assumption that my children would be able to attend a service as children. I didn’t think that perhaps this church doesn’t function the way mine does and that they would be expected to sit quietly, to be seen and not heard. I won’t make that mistake again. It isn’t fair for me, my kids or the rest of the congregation who isn’t expecting a service with an added soundtrack of fidgety little ones.

The most ironic part of this whole ordeal to me is that a part of the service was talking about a mothers love and the gift of bringing children into the world. The message I ended up taking away was that becoming a mother, bringing a life into this world is truly a gift from God, however please don’t bring those gifts into God’s house, that’s actually an adults only environment.

I think I will make a point of attending service this Sunday. I’ll make sure we are attending our family friendly church, where kids are encouraged to be seen as well as heard. We’ll leave the adults only service to well..the grown ups! It’s for the best really. Perhaps a little hymn dancing is just what the doctor ordered!

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