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This month, I want to talk about what it’s like to be a parent of small children at church today.  What follows is my experience and is not even remotely reflective of the experience of all parents of small children, but I share it to get you thinking about how you might come alongside those who bring their small children to church.

When my family first moved to San Diego, Elijah was 10 months old, crawling, still nursing, and wanting to get into everything.  I was packing a fair amount of anxiety - I like to have my act together and showing up with a baby made me feel like a walking tornado of bags and stuff and crying and occasionally smelling like poop or being covered in spit up.  I like being self-sufficient and parenting in public made me uncomfortably self-deficient as I struggled to juggle my hymnal and my runaway toddler, who’d just spilled cheerios all over the pew.  I was also mildly nervous about germs (not because I was afraid my kid would get too sick or die but because we weren’t sleeping well and if he got sick, we’d get even LESS sleep and then I might die!).  I would have loved help, but I had no idea how to ask for it.

Sometimes we’d get home and Marcus would ask me how the sermon was and I’d have to tell him more often than not that I didn’t really hear it.

One time during fellowship hour in our first few months at the church, when Elijah had graduated to walking, he wanted to check something out in the far corner of the playground, far from where folks were gathered. I tried to carry him back to where I could socialize but he wouldn’t have it and so I followed him off to the hinterlands, where I spent fellowship hour alone with my Luke-warm coffee and I quietly wept.  What was even the point of coming to church? I wasn’t hearing the sermon. During coffee hour I wasn’t meeting anyone.  I was chasing my kid around, just like at home, except now with an audience that made me anxious. 

New parents can be hard to come alongside.  We can be anxious, or protective and we’re sometimes so new at parenting that we don’t know what we need.  Nevertheless, let’s be a community that makes church worth their while.  Look around, where is the young mom, the new dad? Are they chasing their kid by themselves? What can you do to make inroads to get to know them? Can you play peekaboo with their kid or carry their plate to the table during coffee hour? If nothing else, don’t let their possibly haphazard state deter you from making an introduction. 

When you meet a parent and aren’t sure how best to come alongside them, ask questions. Try these:

-Would you prefer if I stay at arm’s length? I want to be mindful of germs.

-Is your child shy or afraid to come to strangers? If not, I’d be happy to walk them around the fellowship hall while you get a cup of coffee.

-Would it be helpful to have someone sit with you in the pew? It’s tricky juggling a baby and a bulletin.

What I found was that church with baby Elijah was worthwhile even though we felt like a whirlwind; even if it felt uncomfortable and exposed and lonely sometimes.  There was a fourth grade boy who sat in the pew in front of us who would walk Elijah up for the children’s sermon, hand in hand and Elijah loved him.  There was a man named Dusty who would play peek-a-boo with him, and a woman named Chin who would come and hold him every chance she got and as a new mom in a new place, those things mattered to me a lot. Despite not always hearing the sermon, on All Saints’ Sunday that year, the year that a close friend of mine died of cancer, we sang “For All the Saints” and singing it (baby on hip) was salve for my aching heart. Church provided me with babysitters and provided Elijah with Aunties and Uncles and surrogate grandparents and the other day we were driving home from church and he said, “Mom, do you know that when I was born, God breathed the Holy Breath of God into my lungs and that’s what makes me alive?” I didn’t teach him that.  One of you did.  A few weeks ago he had the neighbor boy over and wanted to act out the story of Jonah, which he got during the children’s story.  Week after week he can’t wait to get to church to talk to Steve Silva about airplanes.

So, to our young families who sometimes wonder if it’s worth it - I firmly believe that it is.  But it’s also hard sometimes.  Let us come along side you.  Shoot me an email or grab a friendly grandma and ask them to hold your hymnal for you. You’re not alone and you and your little ones are of immense value to us. 

Church is one of the rare places in our world where we get to figure out how to do life together with everyone from our elders to our babies. May it always be so.


Pastor Bekki