The following post shares my adventures “parenting in the pew” for the month of October. My children (nicknamed Blueseed, 6, and Wooty, 3) and I attend the 9:30 am service together (along with a great babysitter) and then head to children’s religious education at 11:15 am. I am using the book, Parenting in the Pew by Robbie Castleman as a resource.
My adventures began last Sunday. Interestingly enough, earlier that week, Wooty was humming as she was playing. I listened to the tune. It was “Go Now In Peace,” a song that I learned in worship as a child. I started singing the words along with her and she joined in. I discovered that she knew all of the words. I felt like she was ready to dive into worship.
Robbie Castleman recommends that “worship training” actually begins the night before you attend worship. As we were eating dinner, I shared with my kids what we did in worship and why I enjoyed it so much. I also set age-appropriate goals for them. I told Wooty to listen for the ringing of the gong and my favorite song about a boat. I taught her how to let her hand fall as the sound went away. Blueseed’s goal was to listen for the words “chalice” and “minister” in the sermon and to figure out what these words meant.
On Sunday morning I woke up before everyone else to insure that I had thirty minutes of quiet. I didn’t want to race into the morning before monitoring my own anxiety levels. As the time of worship grew closer and we struggled with the production of getting out the door, I must admit that my mind was screaming: “Abort, abort, abort!” It grew louder as we sat in the front row. Castleman recommends sitting where children can get a good view of everything that is happening. The front row is the best seat in the house (also, no one sits there). But I definitely felt like I was on display. There was no “making a smooth getaway”. I now have a new appreciation why families sit in the balcony: it offers front row viewing and an easy escape.
I think the service felt harder for me than anyone else. The kids were excited to be there. Fellow congregants were so welcoming to the children (thank you). But I struggled with my own knee-jerk reaction to make them be quiet. Later at Social Hour, as I talked with several members about parenting in the pew, one common story emerged: the death stare (or pinches!) our mothers gave us if we weren’t absolutely silent during worship.
I wonder if we shy away from bringing children into our worship regularly because we don’t want to give our children those same experiences of silencing. It makes me wonder… Is there not another way of worshipping? Is worship all about being quiet? By going to worship together, I am not training my children how to sit silently. Although I want them to learn the power of stillness and quiet. Instead I want them to learn how to love worship. To sing. To center themselves. To be moved. To feel the power of community. To listen for their own inner voice. To grieve loss. To stand up against injustice. To celebrate moments that feel miraculous. All experiences held in worship. There is much more there than simply silence.
So, as we headed to church that morning, I reminded the girls that they would need to quietly listen at some points AND also use their voices and bodies to participate. Wooty replied, “Okay, Mommy, but it’s hard to be quiet and still.” I replied, “I know it is. It’s even hard for me to be quiet and keep my body still. If you help me, I will help you.” She smiled. So I held my tongue several times when I wanted to silence them. At the same time, I wondered – when Wooty started quietly humming to herself during announcements and the prayer – if that was okay in our community.
Many people suggested I use “coloring pages”. I agree that they are helpful. My children had a book of open pages and markers to doodle during the service. But I would like to make an intentional distinction. I am not giving them the coloring pages to give them an activity to keep them happy. Remember, I want them to engage with the service. So, it’s important to me that the coloring pages not be a distraction from the service but instead, a way to enhance their experience.
After the service I asked Blueseed about her experience. She was very proud of herself for sitting through the whole worship service. When I asked her what the word minister meant, she said, “It’s about serving people.” Bang on, Blueseed. “Who can be a minister?” I asked. “I think she [the preacher] said anyone,” she replied, “But you have to be special to wear the cool outfit.” Nicely done. I then asked Blueseed what she was drawing. “I drew a picture of Jimmy Dad,” she said. Jimmy Dad is Blueseed’s great-grandfather who died this time last year. “Why did you draw a picture of Jimmy Dad at worship?” I asked. “Because we were thinking about people we lost and everyone was naming people so I drew a picture of Jimmy Dad because we lost him,” she replied matter-of-factly. That moment for me made all of the anxiety disappear.