“At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.” –Matthew 18:1-5
My parish is currently undergoing growing pains. Over the past several months I’ve watched the number of young families attending mass has grown exponentially. When my husband and I became members of our parish, I would venture to guess that at least 75% of the parish would have fallen into the “senior citizen” category. There were hardly any children to be seen. Now when I look out I see more and more families with children ages ten and under scattered throughout.
While I find this to be uplifting (as do many others in our community) there are those who wish that the children would just *poof* disappear. Or perhaps they desire for us parents to duct tape our children’s mouths and duct tape them to the pews so they don’t wiggle. Since neither of these two ideas are going to happen they’ve decided on a different “solution.” My parish has what is called a “cry room” and the folks who desire that the children not only not be heard but to also not be seen want ALL families with children to use this room. It’s a tiny room that is off of the sanctuary with a window and some speakers. This room is a great resource for parents when their children are having either a meltdown or a tantrum. It is not a room that should be forced on families to sit in during the entire service. Besides, there isn’t enough room for all of the families to utilize this room at the same time.
“It is a sad sight in a church when nobody comes to the Lord’s Table but the older people, and the young men and the young women all turn away. But it is a sadder sight still when no children are to be seen in a church, except those who come to the Sunday School, and are often obliged to attend. Let none of this guilt lie at your doors. There are many boys and girls in every city, besides those who come to Sunday School, and you who are their parents and friends should see to it that they come with you to church.” –J.C. Ryle
For about four years I sat in this room with my children. It’s a horrible place to be. You feel as if you are a spectator peaking in the window and dreaming of one day being a part of the group. You get nothing out of the service. During those four years I heard not one homily unless my husband and kiddos were sick and I was able to come to mass sans children. My children didn’t even think we were at church. No, they thought this was a play group and they could hang out with their friends. The children cannot see out of the window to see what is going on inside the sanctuary and if they see no reason to be quiet and sit still they won’t.
A couple of months ago, my family and three other families decided that we were going to sit in the sanctuary. That it was way past time for us to introduce our children to the service and because we adults desired and needed to be a part of the rest of the congregation. Our children did an amazing job from day one. None of our kids ran around playing tag in the sanctuary, there was no screaming, no fights. Sure they wiggled and moved and said a few things during the service, but they were never loud. Our four families decided to sit together so that we could keep an eye on all of our kids collectively and so our children would be able to still be near their friends. It has been an amazing change in my children since we moved into the sanctuary.
“Parents are called to make their children discover the value and importance of the response to Christ’s invitation, who calls the whole Christian family to Sunday Mass.” –Pope Benedict XVI
Apparently not everyone in our parish agrees. A couple of weeks ago our parish priest reminded the congregation that we do have a “cry room” and that due to other members of the congregation who do have some difficulties hearing that those of us with small children should use it. What?!? Was he saying that children were no longer welcome in the service? I sincerely hope not.
Yet, this past Sunday a member from the choir came over to us as we were entering the pew to say, “Fr. X (X is not his name, but I don’t feel that it is necessary to put it out there) wanted me to remind you that children are to be in the cry room.” One family was so incensed at this that they were prepared to leave the church that very day and not look back. I had been helping with the RCIA program as I do every Sunday and saw them getting ready to leave. My husband had our children in the “cry room” by the time I arrived, and so I gathered my children and moved them back into the sanctuary. The same lady came up to me and said the above to me, to which I informed her that no I would not be using the “cry room” unless my children were misbehaving. There were other words said that don’t need to be reiterated here.
“Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked them, but Jesus said,”Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” –Matthew 19: 13-14
The most hurtful thing about all of this is that this same lady did NOT go around the entire parish speaking to all the young families. No. Instead she focused on the group of families that sit together. I felt as if we were being singled out by her and that she was doing her best to kick us out of the church. Also, upon talking to Father afterwards we discovered that he did not say any such thing and that all are welcome.
It’s a very good thing that I am strong in my faith. If I weren’t I just might leave not only the parish but my faith all together. I don’t know how the other three families will react to such an unloving, unwelcoming gesture from a prominent member of the parish. I for one am standing my ground. I will continue to attend Mass and I will continue to fill the pews, not the “cry room.” This Thursday we have a meeting with the priest at our parish to discuss this incident. My hope is that the meeting will go well and that I can still feel as if I am a wanted member of this community.