Thursday, June 2, 2011

Getting the stick out of the mud

I'll admit it. I've been a stick stuck firmly in the mud of close-mindedness.

A few weeks ago (I think) on Twitter there was a long discussion about children in worship, offering other options for kids, what to do with pastors' kids without a non-leading parent present, etc, etc, etc. I chimed in early with my usual stance of "kids should be welcome in worship," but really without meaning parents are wrong for wanting something different. I didn't stay in the conversation long because I saw the limitations of 140 characters and didn't have the time to blog a longer answer. If I had had the time I still probably would have come down on the "side" of including kids in worship. I tend to say that the worship service should change to engage kids instead of kids leaving because the worship doesn't work for them. I think in the ideal world I still hope for that.

However (and this is a big however for me), in that conversation I started to hear the voice of parents in a new way. That may sound weird in some ways because I am a parent. But I'm also the pastor and have a husband who is not a pastor (different from many of the moms who were in the conversation) and is in worship every week (often times more than me because he'll even go on some of my vacation or continuing education Sundays off). I am not responsible for my kids when I am leading worship on Sunday. He's the parent on duty and (for the most part) the kids and he work things out themselves. He usually keeps 2 of 3 kids with him in worship on any given Sunday, when he's not the nursery volunteer that is. It is his "struggle," not mine.

I started to realize in that last go round of the discussion that I had about as much experience and credibility in the discussion as the older ladies whose opinion on the subject I discount because when they start talking about taking kids out of worship it sounds a whole lot like, "Those kids are too noisy, Can't they go somewhere else?" When I hear them suggesting other options (and in the past it was always folks far outside child-rearing years who made these suggestions) it sounds like they are kicking kids out, cutting them out of the circle, excluding them from the kingdom of God. Well, when I heard what I sounded like I started to hear that maybe I'm doing the same to parents without realizing it.

When the Twitter conversation was going on and when I took myself out of it (pretty early, I think) I ended my participation with that sure-fire seminary answer - - Context, context, context. There's no way to make a sweeping statement about the issue because each context is so unique. And thus began my sermon to the woman in the mirror.

Fast forward to yesterday (because I didn't think on any of this anymore until then). I got an e-mail from a mom expressing heartfelt and sincere stress over trying to keep her kids from being distractions in worship. It was so subtly different this time, though. She wasn't expressing stress over disturbing others (Yea! Because I think we have a pretty tolerant congregation and that's usually my stock answer). She was expressing stress over not being able to worship herself. Ah ha! Now that was something different. It was something I hadn't heard in my context before. It struck me.

The other thing that struck me was that she didn't just write to express her frustration, but had an idea to address it and volunteered to run with it. It was a good ministry "proposal" with a smart time limit on it as a testing phase. Not a ground-breaking idea, but a children's church option for the second half of the service with singing and lessons. But she was willing to help create it and get it going. She wasn't trying to turn it into an every week thing from now until forever. She wasn't asking me to do it. She was asking to be empowered to try to do ministry herself.

Hell to the yes. Next came my email to the Worship & Arts committee in which I had to eat some crow in front of a couple of ladies from another generation, if you know what I mean. I shared with them the hope and the idea. I added my own hopes (it took everything that I had to let go of them as "requirements" - - mostly kidding) to the proposal, things the mom agreed with tonight, too - -
1. Kids will be present for the whole service on communion Sundays.
2. The time will be used for something more "productive" than nursery/play time, but not duplicating Sunday School. It will let the kids participate in the elements of worship they are missing in a way that is more engaging or age appropriate for them. I want it to lead them back into the worship service when they are too old to come anymore. In addition to fun kid-friendly worship pieces they can also learn some of the traditional stuff, like the doxology, Lord's Prayer, etc. I don't want them to come back to the worship service in 2nd or 3rd grade and have missed out on these things we do regularly as a community.
3. The volunteers when/if we go beyond the summer will be recruited from the congregation BEYOND parents. This is not a ministry to parents if the parents have to take turns carrying it out. (This might be where I firmly place my next stick.)

Anyway, I'm pretty fired up that this mom is pretty fired up. In her most recent e-mail this evening she even said this is something she feels called to do right now. Love it. Love. it. LOVE it.

So, here I am, admitting that I have changed my stance. I guess I could also say I am living into my most recent cry of "It depends on the context." Right now, in my context this seems to be the direction the Spirit is leading. I'll be taking my stick and going home for now. Hopefully I don't find any mud anywhere on the way home.

1 comment:

Wendy said...

We started attending church regularly when my daughter was 18-months and she wouldn't stay in nursery, so she's been quietly sitting with us ever since. And then came the boy. He was made for nursery and nursery was made for him, and I hate to borrow trouble, but I wonder if he's going to be ready in a year to sit through a service. I keep thinking, "I should bring him in through the time with children and start getting him used to it" but none of us are ready for that. Just one more story...

Anyway, I hope you can make your #3 stick. I was having a conversation with my pastor today about the lack of involvement by non-parents in church school. I want to ask whether we mean it when we make baptismal promises as a congregation. But I want to encourage people to help, not alienate them...