Whenever we go to church conferences I always here the same thing “How do we get more families with children to come to our church?” We have about 45 active members at our church, 20 of those being children under age 9. Our nursery is for ages 1ish to 4ish. So at any given Sunday, there are roughly 8 to 14 children worshiping the whole time during our hour and a half long service. If your church doesn’t have lots of children, I am not sure you can quite conceive of how loud and fidgety 8 to 14 children can be while they are trying to be quiet and still. I love our church, but the noise and movement does take some getting used to. Sometimes visitors attempt to race out during the last hymn only to realize that all 20 children have beat them to the back of the Sanctuary so they can dance during the last song, blocking their only hope of never having to sit through a crazy Sunday like that ever again.
Having families with lots of children is a huge commitment and I always speak up during those little breakout sessions and go from the “the cool mom with blue hair and a nose piercing” to the “why are you dashing our dreams you ignorant youngster”. There are tantrums, fights, spills, crying and 8,000 trips to the bathroom even though “OMG you just went and you’re being rude and if you don’t stop going to the bathroom during church you’re going to lose dessert. I don’t care I’m going to pee on the floor. I don’t even like dessert!” angry whisper speeches coming from the pastor’s wife’s pew near the front left.
In the Anglican tradition we take Communion every week. It’s my favorite part of the service. It’s all memorized, the same beautiful language every week (depending on the season). Literally no matter what the noise level is, how many distractions there are, it’s the same. I can correct a child by snapping my fingers, giving a death glare and never miss any of the call and response. My oldest daughter is learning to read and we are teaching her read the words out of the worship book. She is working really hard to pay attention with the promise that she’ll get to go to acolyte training this summer. Teaching someone else out of the worship guide just makes everything come alive again. All that being said something happened a couple of weeks ago during our Communion. It isn’t uncommon that children don’t sit with their families. We have several families that don’t have kids in our church and we would be lost without them helping us. I don’t think my two oldest daughters have sat with me (unless they are in trouble) for an entire service since they have been out of the nursery. Communion was wrapping up that Sunday and a family with two small boys had sat back down in their pew. My husband turned around at the same moment his mother realized that their usually mild mannered sweet 4-year-old boy had snuck past the pastor and the servers and was laying at the foot of the alter. His mother ran forward to grab him. He would have none of it. He threw an epic tantrum. Screaming, thrashing, yelling “NO!!! I’M NOT LEAVING!!” He never looked out like he wanted attention, he never wavered in his desire. He knew what he wanted. Eventually both parents, had to come get him. Aside from feeling bad that I knew the parents were embarrassed, I had an overwhelming feeling of “I’ve been there man.” I’ve laid at the foot of the Cross and cried. I’ve laid at Jesus’s feet and thrown a tantrum. But at the alter is where things get changed. At the window to Heaven is where we should throw our tantrums, our wails, our laments. I’m reminded of a song:
O love that will not let me go I rest my weary soul in thee I give thee back the life I owe That in thine ocean depths its flow My richer, fuller be
O light that followest all my way I yield my flickering torch to thee My heart restores its borrowed ray That in thy sunshines glow its day May brighter, fairer be
O joy you seek me through the pain I cannot close my heart to thee I trace the rainbow through the rain And feel the promise is not vain Then morn shall tearless be
In all the drama and craziness that comes from having almost half your congregation being under the age of 9, I would not give it up for anything. I don’t remember what my husband’s sermon was about that day. I was probably taking a child to go to the bathroom anyway. I do remember how God spoke to me through that unwavering child. Maybe, it’s the stage of life I’m in, but over the last seven years I’ve been a mom, God has pretty much only spoken to me through my children. From when I was in the emergency room losing an unborn child and heard God audibly tell me what name to give the baby or a mysterious feeling of peace after a long frustrating day.
“O love that will not let me go” Let me always be like that child. Not wanting to move from the most holy place on Earth. “I rest my weary soul in thee” “O joy you seek me through the pain” “I trace the rainbow through the rain and feel the promise is not vain. Then morn shall tearless be!”
If you say your church needs more families with children, be prepared and brace yourself not for the foolishness of children’s innocent ways, but for the intense way God will call you out and speak to you. Show you how much you need Him. How we cannot do this on our own. We need a community. We need to see Christ from the eyes of a child throwing a tantrum at the Alter. “O light that followest all my way, I yield my flickering torch to thee. My heart restores its borrowed ray! That in the sunshines glows its day may brighter, fairer be!”