This is an open letter to a woman who sat in front of us in church this morning; a woman whose name I do not know, and quite possibly will never know, but who managed to change the entire tone of our otherwise pleasant Sunday morning with just a few words.
In the moments after the church service, when the benediction response has been sung and the organ postlude begins, it is customary for us to greet those who are sitting around us with a handshake and a “Good morning.” We shook hands with a few other folks, and I extended my hand to you as you turned around. Instead of the expected “Good morning” or “Hello,” you said the following words to my husband, my daughter, and me:
“I wish you’d use the child care room. I couldn’t hear anything when she was talking.”
That was it. Nothing else. Daniel and I stood there, speechless, while we tried to think of a response.
So now that my initial shock has worn off, and my emotions have run the gamut from embarrassed and ashamed to angry, I’d like to say a few words to you. Unfortunately I couldn’t think of anything to say to you directly, as is often the case when a person behaves in such an unexpected manner, and since you were candid about your feelings towards our presence in church, I’d like to let you know just how hurtful and thoughtless your comment was to our family.
We sat behind you and your husband, and though we arrived a few moments late as usual, there was nothing particularly disruptive about our entrance. The older kids went off to the newly-placed quiet table underneath the balcony, and our two-year-old daughter Eleanor stayed with us, as is quite customary. We have tried taking advantage of the nursery care that is offered most Sunday mornings; however Eleanor spends the majority of the time crying for us until we return, one time to the point where I had to be called during a service to come and get her. So we’re taking a break from the nursery for a little while, since she’s at the age where she’s usually quiet enough to be in the sanctuary for the duration of the service. We feed her crackers and juice and use the provided crayons and clipboards to keep her occupied, and for the most part, she’s awesome. If she gets noisy or fussy or rambunctious, one of us takes her outside, but it is our firm belief that kids learn how to behave in church by BEING IN CHURCH, not by being shuttled away to some hidden room far away from the sanctuary, to be seen and heard during coffee hour afterwards but most definitely not during services.
Eleanor was fantastic during the service today. A little bit of conversation, but she didn’t cry once, and she wasn’t nonstop-chatter like she can be sometimes. I think this is why your comment was so jarring to us, because in my mind, our two-year-old just sat through an hour-long “boring” church service without any fuss. Instead of rejoicing in our presence, you essentially told us that she was not welcome there, and by default, WE were not welcome. At church. At a Morelight Presbyterian church, no less, which defines itself by insisting upon the acceptance and participation of all of God’s people.
I’m afraid that you and I must strongly disagree in how church and reality are integrated, for one thing, and with a rift that severe, I’m not sure that anything I have to say will make much of a difference. I understand that for many people from older generations, children in church are a nuisance and distract from the important goings-on at the altar, and spiritual focus, and heartfelt prayer, and so on. I understand that for many people, church on Sunday morning is their respite from the busyness of everyday life; a chance for quiet, uninterrupted reflection and meditation on the word of God. Because I am aware of this, and because I’m not completely insensitive to those sitting around us, when my child/children are being noisy or disruptive, I remove them from the service, just as I would remove them from a concert, or a play, or any other venue where they are expected to sit quietly. I am not the parent who lets their child run around the sanctuary, dropping bibles and hymnals and screeching for this and that while turning a blind eye, so for that, be thankful. But I’d also like a chance at a few quiet moments of respite from worldly matters, too, and I want to attend church with my family. So I think we have every right to experience the same spiritual offerings as everyone else.
I am sorry that you have difficulty hearing what is being said during the church service, and it must be awful to feel what I can only surmise as helpless in that situation. Since you felt obligated to tell us what we should have done with our daughter, I could have retorted that there are plenty of closer pews in which you could have sat so that you could hear the service better. Or I could have, in the spirit of your words, said something like “I wish you would use hearing aids, so you were less grouchy about having a family sitting behind you in church.” But that would have been equally unkind, and wouldn’t have served any purpose other than to continue the negativity that was spun in the air this morning.
This is not the first time that we have been reprimanded by someone in the congregation for having kids present during church services, but it was the first time where we were treated with outright rudeness. I love our church and everything it has to offer; one of the reasons I knew it was the right place for us is, ironically, the outstanding children’s ministry program. I doubt that you folks who complain about noisy kids are the ones who are saddened over dwindling church membership, but I must ask you: where do you think the future of the church lies? In the hands of our children, that’s where. In order for them to be passionate and excited about church, they need to BE THERE, participating, learning the ropes, so to speak. They need to know they are welcome, always.
What if we had been a new family, visiting for the first time? I think we would have turned on our heels and never returned. Maybe that’s what you want, and if so, that is so completely opposite of what Jesus would have wanted, and, frankly, what the rest of the body of the church would want. Fortunately(?), we aren’t going anywhere, so if you do find yourself in our proximity again, I hope we have a second chance for a more Christ-oriented greeting.
A soon-to-be-even-more-frazzled mother of four, doing the best she can to keep it all together, especially on Sunday mornings during the summer where everyone has to be out of the house an hour earlier.