And not only are they long, but they're super disruptive. They interrupt eating schedules and napping schedules and on occasion get youngsters so wired up that they're out of sorts all day.
And sometimes genuine loving intentions often make things more difficult. Church potlucks
meant to create a sense of community and ease the need for all of us to prepare our own meals can actually make the morning longer and more frustrating. Coffee times inserted between the nurture hour and the worship service also lengthen the morning and can create more disruption as children are moved in and out of the nursery and then back in again. And worship services with special times for children are often so heady the rest of the time that kids are really only welcome for 5 min. of the hour long service.
These are just a few of the things I'm hearing from many many households. And alongside these expressions of weary frustration are also the beautiful stories of children connecting with other loving adults at the church and parents receiving support from their communities. I hear parents and caregivers express genuine appreciation for their congregations, and a sincere desire to battle through the infant, toddler, childhood, and adolescent years in order to help their loved ones have the opportunity to know and be loved by God and the church. I hear parents and caregivers who are both committed and weary.
And I wish I could say I had an answer. I wish I knew exactly how to make church more doable, more life-giving for parents/caregivers and children. But I don't. What I do know is that telling families repeatedly that they just need to suck it up and eventually it will get better is an insufficient response in light of the genuine desire for God and community that I have witnessed.
So, in the absence of immediate solutions, I want to commit myself to listening and to creative collaboration with families (this is not to ignore the needs for such work with many other groups/people in the church). The body of Christ is made up of people of all ages from all kinds of households and all are welcome. It is our challenge as the church to continually work towards being a healthy body, supporting and caring for each other and our broader communities in the best way possible as we learn to live as faithful followers of Christ in the world. And along the way, at the very least, I want caregivers to know that we hear their weariness and we hear their sincere commitment as well. I want them to know that we, the church, want to be supportive when they leave right after the service, skipping church potluck, because a child needs to nap. We want to be supportive when parents take turns attending worship when children are sick or when they just can't figure out how to "be" in the sanctuary with their child who is testing everything! We want to be supportive when you enter the service 10 min. after it began because you and your child suddenly needed a complete change of clothes when you were halfway out the door. And not only do we want to be supportive, but we want you to know how proud we are of you for embarking on this journey. A journey that we want to make together.
And the most important thing about this journey is not crossing some magical liturgical finish line where you and your pristine family are seated in the pew in holy silence. The most important thing is the intention to make the journey. The intention to put one foot in front of the other and to walk, run, dance, trip and stumble our way into the divine presence each day. And if that means that you meet God siting next to your sisters and brothers in the pew, that's great. But if one Sunday morning you find yourself sitting with your toddler in the van, damp leggings and underwear in a bag, waiting for the rest of your family to finish Sunday school, or if you and your family are sleeping late after a night with three changes of sheets, please know that even there you are in God's house. Even there you are on the journey. And you are not alone.