The Prayground soft space has become one of the most popular places to worship at St. Dunstan’s. Our younger set can find quiet toys, books, coloring pages, and St. Dunstan the Lion there. It is a comfy space to occupy themselves while the service happens on a Sunday morning. While it may seem counterintuitive to some to put the youngest up front, children who can see easily are more engaged with what is going on at the altar, the pulpit, and the music and choir.
St. Dunstan’s has responded to this new space with overwhelmingly positive support. Young families worship together in the way that each suits member. Our only guideline—that parents sit within a pew range to keep an eye on their child—has been carefully followed. And regardless of the colorful chaos that reigns in the Prayground during the service, it is immaculate by the time the last child leaves.
We have fielded a few questions regarding behavior expectations so for the parents and grandparents of our littles, a few points to consider:
- Relax! God put the wiggle in children. Don’t feel you have to suppress the wiggles in God’s house. Remember the way that we welcome children in church directly affects the way they respond to the Church, to God, and to one another, now and into the years to come. Let them know they are at home in this house of worship.
- Sometimes the “shhhhh” is more distracting than the noise it is shushing. We expect to hear quiet chatter, giggles, and dropped crayons during worship. The sounds that children make as they play quietly are the sound of a family, the sounds of a church, not as a silent building, but church as a people.
- Bringing children to church may not always be easy, but it is an extremely vital part of their spiritual growth. Keep doing it. Even if you had a rough day in church, saying to your child “Thank you for being with me in church” goes a long way to get them on board for next Sunday.
- Talk about worship at home during the week (“That’s like what Fr. Roman said during the sermon” or “Do you remember the music we heard in church?”) This reinforces what they have seen or heard and prepares them to look for those things the next time.
For our congregation, a few things to consider in support our young families:
- Faith communities are called to partner with parents in raising up our children in faith. Remember the commitment we have as a congregation to the children in our midst. As a part of the service of baptism, the congregation commits to helping each person grow in faith. We are all children of God and learning how to worship is important. How better to do this than to have these children as full participants in our service.
- Remember what it was like to bring your own little children to church—dressing, feeding, getting out the door on time. Let our young families know you are glad to have them. A commiserating smile to a parent with a toddler in the middle of a meltdown is truly a comfort.
- Children grow – in love of God and love of other – when they feel truly affirmed as members of the worshipping community. Comments such as, “you were so good in church,” or “your child was so quiet today” may make children/parents feel good, but statements that honor a child’s personhood are even better. For example: “I am so glad to see you today,” or, “It was wonderful to worship with you.”
The presence of children is a gift to the Church. They remind us that our church is growing. Our children, who love so freely, need to be in worship, and they need to learn how to express their love to God. It’s important to God, it should be important to us, and it is important to the future of the church as we know it. Will it always be easy? Absolutely not, because just like everything else, our children are counting on us, their parents and their congregation, to teach them. It means that we can endure the goldfish in the pews, the occasional squeals, the wiggles, and the random loud comments with grace and understanding. Because having children in church is pleasing to God and part of our responsibility in fulfilling the promises we all made at their baptism.