Through the Praise of Children and Infants

As a rule, we try not to rant here. We favour reasoned opinions and carefully constructed arguments. This Sunday we can’t help ranting though, so we ask ahead that you forgive us. We also ask for your opinion. We’d love to know if we’re over-reacting, if we’re wrong, or if you agree.

The passive-aggressive reader who has appeared on the readers’ rota was back with a vengeance today. She waited with excruciating exactitude for the children to exit the church, which they did slowly, and yes, jabbering a little, as children do, and then began the reading.

Here’s the thing about pauses in a High Anglican Mass, much like the pauses in Jane Austen (and for more on those we direct you to the wonderful Nora Bartlett), they are purposeful. They draw attention to themselves, and if you’re going to use them it had better not be to say with austerity ‘a rather late reading from the book of Ecclesiastes,’ as happened today.

Children chatter. They’re excitable. They talk. This should be, but is not, a truth universally acknowledged. We taught all year at a primary school and we’ll vouch for the fact the closest any of our P2s got to Mime-hood was the wee lad who dressed up as one for Mardi Gras. It’s inevitable that on occasion they talk in church, and maybe there are times and places for chattering and jabbering, and maybe church isn’t one of those, but isn’t the whole point of being a child that you learn those places and times?

The thing that upsets us though, more even than the implicit assumption that these children should be seen and not heard by this morning’s reader (in 2016 –ye gods and little fishes!) is the message it sends. If the basic tenet of our church worship is ‘you are welcome, as are your children, but only provided they’re well-behaved, don’t scream and don’t interfere with our worship,’ something is wrong not only with the worship, but the church. How on earth, with a message like that, do we expect newcomers to feel at home? How, with a message like that will any child ever feel welcomed into the body of the church? More than that, are we going to turn away families on the strength of an aversion to noise? We devoutly hope not.

The rector understands this, which is why what it actually says on the order of service is ‘in the green room there are activities for children who wish to leave during the Mass. We have a soft space in the side chapel for young children. We apologise for the summer hiatus of the Children’s Church. It will resume in September. You aren’t obligated to make use of it, but its there. If you want it.’ Or words to that effect.

And the ones that don’t make use of these things? We love having them with us. As far as we’re concerned all that chatter and babble is a joyful noise in itself, and while we’re not the sort to throw scripture about lightly, there’s certainly a precedent for taking it that way. We know it isn’t only our KJV that says of the children of such is the kingdom of heaven.

To our passive-aggressive reader this morning we say, we should be welcoming those children, not pointedly turning them away. We certainly shouldn’t make the parents feel they’re at fault for incursions of noise, jubilant or otherwise. There’s a reason we say at every baptism, we welcome you, we will care for you, we will share our faith with you. The word of God won’t ever be lost in our efforts to sustain that promise of inclusivity and welcome, not ever.

3 thoughts on “Through the Praise of Children and Infants

  1. I agree with Anne. Well done. Your reader should be thankful for the joyful noise of children.
    Especially given most churches, including mine, are begging for them. I often think about other people who don’t feel welcome in church because they don’t quite “fit”. Yet to me one of the very essences of Christianity is that everyone is welcome, every one fits.

    To the question of children in the church though, I wished I had taken a picture of a hand written sign in the Sunday School room I passed through yesterday, so I could send it to you. It read, if memory serves me correctly, “Keep your hands and feet to yourself! No screaming. No calling names.
    Have fun!”


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