It’s time to — really — embrace families
By Kecelyn Santiago | Presbyterians Today
Quickly, kids! We need to get going or we’ll miss the service! This was my plea one Easter morning as I ushered my children out the door to make it to church. My husband and I served in different churches, and worshiping together was impossible. However, on this morning he was the guest preacher at a church that had a different worship schedule from ours. We were thrilled. Our family could celebrate together.
As we walked into the church, we heard beautiful singing from the choir, which signaled that the service had started. I turned to my 2- and 4-year-olds and said, “We need to use our indoor voices, OK?” The church had an amazing space in the back for young children. Pews had been removed, and a plush carpet covered the floor. There were bins with books and toys. I felt bliss as my children ran to the area and picked up the toys. Together, we sat on the carpet.
A few minutes later, an usher approached me and another mother to tell us to keep our children quiet. I decided to move my children to the foyer so they could not be a distraction. The foyer had a clear view of the sanctuary. We could stay there and still worship and hear Daddy preach. As soon as we stepped into the foyer, though, the usher closed the French doors and whispered, “Please keep your children quiet because they could destroy the service.”
Astonished, I replied, “I beg your pardon?” He repeated: “Keep the children quiet because they could destroy the service.”
Taking my children by their hands, I looked at the usher and said, “No worries. We’re leaving.” Crying, I picked up my belongings and walked out. If my children could “destroy” a service, then that service was not an act of worship. It was an act of entertainment. No one has the power to destroy worship, because the gathering of people is a call from God. It is an invitation for all of us to know God more deeply and to have fellowship with one another.
If there is something that needs to be destroyed, it’s the misconception of children disrupting our way of worship. I believe that children are the greatest treasure the church has, and therefore we need to take good care of them. We need to provide space for families to participate in the worshiping community because when we do, a community of faith is enriched. Children and families should not be an afterthought when planning events and programs in the church.
That Easter Sunday led me to take the role of an ally in my ministry. Whenever our church staff sits down to plan, I say, “That’s a great idea. Now, what about the children? And how are we going to include families?”
Why do I push for this? Because if a family takes the monumental challenge of waking up early on a Sunday to get the little ones dressed, fed and loaded into the car to go to church, I want them to feel embraced by the community they have chosen to worship with. I want them to know that they belong. God has invited them. It is good that we get to be together.
There’s a story in Acts that I love. Peter and John are going to the Temple, where they find a lame man begging at the door. The man asks for money. Peter offers something better. He offers healing in the name of Jesus. Instantly, the man’s feet and ankles become strong. The man rushes inside the Temple and disrupts the service. Yet, in doing so, he testifies to God’s power and love.
As we work to include our children in the life of our faith communities, let’s look at each of them, take their hand and invite them in. And then let us be witnesses as they testify to God’s power and love among us — even if their testimony “destroys” worship.
Kecelyn Santiago is the coordinator for children’s ministry at Kirk in the Hills in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. She and her husband, the Rev. Fernando Rodriguez, have two children, Matías and Sionely.
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