Sunday, May 12, 2013

Making the church or "sanctuary" family-friendly Part 1

This post is not to implicate any particular church or denomination. Nevertheless, based on experiences, I want to take to this blog to indicate a problem that I recognise in churches (especially Sabbatarian congregations) where young families can feel some what out of place in church "worship services".

I must begin, that I've always considered the church a family friendly place, having great memories of the church that my parents raised me in. It is only since I have left home and my home church and ventured else  where with a young family of my own, that I have realised that not all churches are young family friendly. At least the way that my Caribbean and North American church institutionalised cultures practice church. To illustrate, let me give you a fictional story based on lived experience.

Jane, a single mom, takes her 3 young children to church. One's 5, the other 2 and the other months old. On entry, the usher or greeter, points out "We have a mother;s room, down the hall on your right." Jane politely says thanks, but in her mind she thinks:

Why have I come so far from home, travelled to church via bus, spent bus fare to sit detained in a room just to watch the service from a TV screen? I could stay home and do that!
She goes into the main hall. After half an hour, her 2 year old starts to complain about hunger. The 5 year old at the same time wants to use the rest room. So Jane takes all three to the restroom where she supervises the 5 year old and insists that her 2 year old keeps quiet about being hungry as she played around the breakfast table and did not eat all her breakfast. Jane thinks to herself:

The service is short. It will perhaps be over in another hour. I can put up with this for 1 more hour. Plus, I definitely want to hear what God has to say to me.

She returns to the service and fortunately retains her seat. It is one of those days when church is not so crowded and well attended. As she sits, her 2 year old throws a tantrum, resisting mommy's command to wait until after service for a snack. The 5 year old, who previously passed the mother's room and say kids his age playing with cool toys, asks his mom if he can go play in the room.

Jane thinks to herself:

What's the point of bringing my children to church, if they are just going to sit in a room full of toys and not see by example how they ought to behave in church.
The person sitting beside her leans over to say "We have a mother's room, you know!" Another sitting behind her leans forward and says "Shh, I can't hear what's going on!"

The sermon begins and the pastor begins with a loud proclamation: "God is good!" At this the months old baby awakens, startled by the booming voice. Then the baby begins to cry. Frustrated, Jane takes her bundles and children and leaves the church altogether, crying baby, hungry 2 year old and disappointed 5 year old.

And this is just one of many stories. I haven't even told you about the Far-U-See that criticises when mom places a sweet into s hungry child's mouth to keep them quiet. Instead, the Far-U-See says "You are not supposed to eat in the sanctuary!"

So the place which ought to be a dwelling place for God's people, where it is Okay to eat communion bread and grape juice (if not wine), is not the place for food to be consumed by hungry children, even if it is just a grape sweet?

Then there is the Sad-U-See, who can't seem to concentrate if a baby is happily screaming or laughing during the church service. The joy and energy in the room are so distracting, that the Sad-U-See has to lean over to say "Why don't you use the mother's room?" Of course this is a rhetorical question. Further, when I go to the library, I see the sign about what is permitted and not permitted in the library space. I obviously did not see sign that says "No laughing, running or playing by children in the sanctuary!" I will look for it the next time I go.

Last time I checked, the Holy temple in Jerusalem was desecrated. I also thought that Christian theology taught that the new holiness is not in buildings but human bodies. I also thought that the church is not a building, but a community. It is the people or community who are holy and dedicated to worship. I further thought that we only need a room or space to gather at a particular time in order to"not forsake the assembly of the brethren" (Hebrews 10:25).

The same problem persisted in the beginning days when the church was yet to be organised. Jesus who had open door services had to contend with his disciples not wanting noisy children and their nursing mothers (who would be ritually clean, not having their period) around when Jesus was teaching (Matthew 19:13). They must have said: "the noisy bunch will distract us from the teachings and message".  Yet contrast Jesus' teaching that states:

"And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me" (Matthew 18:5; New Living Translation (©2007))
In my next follow-up post, part of the proposed solution!

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