For the record, I’m weighing whether or not to read this letter aloud during coffee hour or have it added to next week’s church bulletin…
Dear fellow parishioners,
Recently a question was raised whether the church rules had been relaxed such that it was now ok for people to walk in and out whenever they wished during the Divine Liturgy. In particular, a comment was raised about children in the parish with “bladder problems”, and how on at least one witnessed occasion, someone walked in during the Gospel reading and brushed up against the robes of Deacon Dan while he was preaching.
Let me confess right now that our youngest, the youngest child of your newly elected church president, is one of those children. He’s 7. He loves church. We’ve made a point to sit in the front rows since he was a baby precisely because he was enthralled watching the priests and seeing the icons, and these last few years he’s been pretty close to the action when Deacon Dan reads the Gospel.
Over the years at Archangel Michael, this son of ours would ask me questions about the icons during liturgy. I took the time to teach him right then and there, in the middle of service, because it was so encouraging to me when he would remark over the story he recognized in the pictures. Our son spends an inordinate amount of time hugging me during liturgy, and I feel like it must make for the biggest scene to all those who sit behind us, but you know what? He’s 7. And I love him, so I hug him back, the entire time. I want every little thing about church to be a positive experience for him, because the language, the motions, the things we do over 90 long minutes, don’t really resonate too well for him since he’s just a little kid.
I mean, I know plenty of Orthodox Christian adults who don’t understand the language, the motions, and the things we do in church despite witnessing it every single week over their lifetime, so I cut our youngest some slack for not understanding. And like his two siblings before him, he’s going through classes right now to receive the sacrament of holy confession for the first time this Palm Sunday. I’m sure he’s learning more about liturgy in the process, to supplement what I, a cradle Orthodox, have been trying to teach him these few short years. But 2nd grade, when a child is 7-8 years old, is when the church considers the child to be of the “age of reason”. So again, I cut him some slack if he isn’t a perfect angel in church every Sunday. His halo might need a little polishing, but it isn’t too awfully crooked.
We drive 35-40 minutes each Sunday to arrive at Sunday School which is supposed to start at 9 but doesn’t really start until 9:10 or 9:15, and then we jump straight into church at 10:00 am. No break in between. At this point, he’s the only one that has breakfast.
For whatever reason, during each of the last five Sundays he has told me about 20 minutes into liturgy that he needs to use the potty. I tell him no, and then I see that look of desperation on his face. He pleads with me a couple more times, and I try to hold firm, but realize that I know my kid, and he’s not being mischievous. For whatever reason, he’s gotta go. Nature calls. After all, 2nd graders get potty breaks mid-morning in elementary school, no big deal. I judge whether it’s too close to the Gospel to let him go, but I usually let him because each time he’s asked, he has enough time to return to his seat before then. I don’t follow him to the back of the church to police his actions because he doesn’t need that kind of supervision.
I’ll be honest, I’m a little exasperated myself, because one recent Sunday our youngest had to go an unprecedented 2nd time during liturgy. I shot him that look that only moms can deliver, and chided him, “You JUST went!”, but you know what? I trust that he knows his own body and his own needs, and I’m not going to crush his spirit over something like this because he’s only human, and he’s only 7.
It’s a good thing it takes all types to make the world go round. The way I see it, you can be dismayed over the lack of formality and respect during liturgy, which I suspect has been an issue for a couple of millennia, or you can rejoice that young people grace the halls of this temple when so many other churches are falling silent without the melody of young children inside.
There is a time and a place for everything under the sun, so it says in Ecclesiastes. So in this time and place, I want to say to the other parents with young children in the church: you are welcome here.
- What? Your infant is crying inconsolably? That is music to our ears, because you, and your child, are the future of this church.
- Your toddler squeals with delight having broken free, running a beeline toward the altar? That is a joy to behold. Didn’t the Lord say, “Let the little children come to me”?
- Oh, what did you say? You have a rambunctious child, maybe even one with ADHD? I get it. I know you’re exhausted and overwhelmed and YET you still come to church anyway with your family in tow. GOD BLESS YOU. You have a choice and you choose to spend it with us in communion.
- And to those of you with a child on the spectrum who is longing for a welcoming community? I pray that we offer that collectively to you. I get how hard it is for your kid to fit in and you want nothing more than for him or her to be welcomed here. I pray that we open our arms to you in a loving embrace.
You are welcome here. Don’t let anyone make you feel otherwise. We are all sinners. We are all broken in some way. No one here is perfect, but we come together to grow and learn and love in Christ. Some of us know the rules of the church very well, while others of us know only the love in the heart. No one is to despise the other because of it. If you had heard the Epistle reading I delivered this morning (Romans 13: 11-14:4), that was the whole point.
Yet sometimes, because we’re human, because we don’t understand what cross you already bear, our guidance can sound unforgiving. However I want you to know that we welcome you. Come exactly as you are. Just come, and be in communion, in a community, with us.
In Christ, Denise
PS – The restroom, should you or your child need it in the middle of liturgy, is toward the back of the church toward the elevator. You are most welcome to use it.