People often ask me how I can keep preaching, seemingly unaffected, when a child (or multiple children) screams or cries throughout much of the sermon. My first answer is, being a parent of two young kids, I’m more than used to screaming and crying children. My house is full of noise whenever they are awake, and often it’s full of noise even when they’re asleep. To be a parent is, I imagine, often like living in a circus. Out of necessity, I have learned how to focus in the midst of a cacophony of sound. Preaching while someone else takes care of an upset child? Not a problem.
The other reason I don’t have trouble preaching through the sound of kids is that I truly believe they belong in worship, even though I know it can be a struggle. I have sat through worship with my own squirmy child, and rejoiced when he actually stayed in worship even 15 minutes, because it was the longest he’d been able to sit still in church in months. I feel for parents who take on the holy struggle of bringing their active and curious children to a church service. It is not easy, and I can completely understand why some families choose not to take on the task, especially when no one in the family, including the parents, gets a single thing out of worship other than exhaustion. I see the value and necessity of an equipped nursery where parents and kids can get a break.
I am also informed by the vivid memory of a worship service I attended several years ago. There was a baptism that day, and the family of the baptized child sat in the front few rows. During the sermon, a child in that family began to make a huge commotion. I remember being annoyed because I couldn’t hear the sermon, and the pastor became noticeably flustered. The entire congregation grew more and more uncomfortable as the child grew more and more upset. Finally, the pastor stopped the sermon, looked at the young mother struggling to quiet her child, and said, “There is a quiet room in the narthex area. Please take him out of the service until he quiets down.” That young mother, who may not have been used to being in church, had to stand up in front of the entire congregation and walk her crying child out of the sanctuary, her head dropped in shame. The silence as she walked out was heavy and poignant. It wasn’t until she left the sanctuary that the pastor began to preach again. I was mortified. I know it’s important to know when to remove your child from a situation, but as parents we are all just doing our best. I also understand that pastor was in quite a pickle and was not left with much of a choice, as the child was making it difficult for anyone in the room to worship. Yet I think about that morning and wonder, what if someone from the congregation had come forward and offered to help? What if an usher had handed her a quiet bag and a snack for her child, or even offered to guide her to the quiet room? Her worship experience, and her family’s, may have been very different that day.
I also have vivid memories of leading worship at the little town church where I served my first call. The church was very small, and occasionally there were Sundays without any children in worship. I remember how terribly quiet the sanctuary was on those mornings, and how it felt as if all the energy had been sucked out of the space. Worship on those days lacked any joy or vivaciousness. Those Sundays will always be a reminder to me that, even if they drive us all crazy, kids belong in worship. Without them, it is so much less. And they deserve to worship; to enjoy the music, to feel a part of a community, to learn the rhythm of the Lord’s Prayer. To sit next to loving adults who are glad they are there. To crawl under the pews and make faces at the worshipers around them. To learn how to sit still and listen. It’s a daunting and challenging task, and it’s something we all do together–for the parents need just as much support as the kids. And for me, to preach in the midst of a lively and noisy congregation will always be a joy and a privilege.