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An Open Letter to Parish Councils and Church Leadership

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Last week we posted a compassionate letter addressed to parents who bring their young children to church. The overwhelming response to the author’s heartfelt words made it clear that this letter had highlighted something of great importance, not only to Anglicans, but to followers of Jesus around the world

Many, many parents responded with words of gratitude. It became obvious that they really needed to hear the words of affirmation and appreciation. We were reminded that parenting is really hard at times and parents need to be told they are doing a good job; that bringing their children to church is important; that it is worth the struggle; that WE WANT THEM TO BE THERE.

We heard many stories about wonderful congregations who do a fantastic job of welcoming young children and their families into their midst. Congregations who make a point of encouraging and affirming parents, who value the contribution that children make to their worship. It was wonderful! We also heard stories about people in congregations who were not so welcoming. This message was communicated in a variety of ways and included hurtful comments, eye rolling, sighs of impatience and a general attitude of impatience and annoyance directed towards the lively chatter of young children. The stories broke my heart.

As congregations we need to be talking about how we welcome and treat young families. I believe the conversation needs to start with you. As you do this you may need to wrestle with some difficult questions. Perhaps you are being called to repent and change your ways. I would implore you not to ignore this opportunity. Start the conversation today, take the time to prayerfully reflect on the questions, and wrestle with the implications of your answers.

  • How often do you, as leaders, express your appreciation to parents who struggle to church with their young children?
  • Have you educated the members of your congregation about the need for this kind of affirmation?
  • Are there people in your congregation who could be encouraged to make a point of offering words of affirmation and encouragement to parents?

“When you are here, the church is filled with a joyful noise. When you are here, the Body of Christ is more fully present. When you are here, we are reminded that this worship thing we do isn’t about Bible Study or personal, quiet contemplation but coming together to worship as a community where all are welcome, where we share in the Word and Sacrament together.”

  • As a congregation have you grappled with the understanding that worship isn’t about Bible study or quiet contemplation?
  • How is that understanding reflected in your attitude and response to the lively noise and chatter of young children?
  • Do you make a point of telling parents that they and their children fill the church with joyful noise?
  • What actions could you take to show these families that they are vital members of the community?

“It matters that children learn that they are an integral part of this church, that their prayers, their songs, and even their badly (or perfectly timed depending on who you ask) cries and whines are a joyful noise because it means they are present.”

  • How do you communicate this message?
  • How can you lovingly approach members of your congregation whose negative comments and attitude cause discouragement and harm?

As followers of Jesus we are called to do everything we can to ensure that all are accepted just as they are – “that they don’t need to wait until they can believe, pray or worship a certain way to be welcome.” How are you responding to that call? As one very wise pastor said, ” if we don’t expect them to participate and make noise when they are two, how can we expect it at 22?”

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Sharon Harding

About Sharon Harding

I was born in England and immigrated to Canada almost 30 years ago. A graduate of Gloucestershire University (B.Ed.), I have been involved in children’s ministry since I was 16. Over the past 12 years I have written for a variety of Christian Education curriculum resources. I also write a blog at encouraging parents to build strong connections with their children. When I am not working I enjoy painting, reading, and pottering around the Internet.

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11 Responses to An Open Letter to Parish Councils and Church Leadership

  1. My family feels really welcome at our church and I think that some of these discussions that you have written about have already happened there. My family and I have only been attending for about six months, but I’ve heard from the people that I’ve met there that it has taken a lot of time and hard work to get to the point. Some of the older people have left, but many new people (young and old) have started to come. When I look around, I see a good balance of church events and opportunities for young and old to feel at home there. We have contemplative prayer Saturday mornings. I attend almost every Saturday and it’s a nice break to sit quietly without children interrupting my thoughts. It has made me aware of how some of the older people feel about children in church and it has helped me understand some of the negative comments. Also, our 8:30 a.m. Sunday service is quieter and (mostly) without children (as a parent, 8:30 is a bit early to get all the kids up, fed, dressed and out the door in time). The 10:30 a.m. service is more lively and accepting of children. I think this gives the older people an opportunity to attend the service that suits them. Also though, I think the parents with young children need to encourage disciplined behaviour. I think what some older people are upset with is the ruckus that some kids make. There’s loud and then there’s loud. My kids can be noisy during the service, but we have also taught them to respect others and that when someone is speaking, they have to wait their turn to speak. I don’t think it’s that older people don’t want children in church. I think they just have a different expectation of behaviour because of the way things were done in their generation. And it’s a hard thing to change, but it’s something that younger and older people have to work together on to understand each other.

    • Sharon Harding

      Your church sounds wonderful! It encourages me to know that there are congregations who have worked through these issues and found a way to be a family of faith where all are welcome. I think it is a good idea to offer a range of services. I do understand what you are saying about some older people having a different expectations and I think that is why we need to have these conversations.

  2. Wonderful Sharon! Thank you for this.

  3. Afra Saskia Tucker

    Thanks Sharon! Contemplating your questions, I am struck in particular by the last one:

    “How can you lovingly approach members of your congregation whose negative comments and attitude cause discouragement and harm?”

    I would love to learn more about how I can answer this question in a way that works well for me in my context. Do you have any suggestions on how to get started?

    • I’m with Afra on this one. It’s a delicate topic–reminding members that what we do is about “us” rather than “me,” especially when the infants involved aren’t yet able to think beyond personal need. 🙂

      What I would say, however, is that sometimes a clear line needs to be drawn between conversations about being a welcoming community, and conversations about financial stewardship. Let me explain: in my own experience, some are inclined to believe that the shape of liturgy/music/architecture/silence in worship/whatever is directly influenced by the amount of money they give. That can lead to all sorts of problems, especially when a congregation aims to welcome young families or members who might be struggling.

      I’ll piggyback on Afra’s question by asking if anyone has any suggestions or resources that might help members disconnect the relationship between personal preference and financial giving from our goal of being a welcoming community.

    • Sharon Harding

      Very carefully 🙂 I don’t know what your situation is, but I think the best approach is the one outlined by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17. Personally I would ask some prayer warriors I trust to hold the whole situation in prayer. I think we need to be really careful with the language we use. Probably a “When you (describe the behavior) it causes (describe the consequences)” approach is helpful.

      • Sharon Harding

        @ Jesse that is a tricky one. I have encountered this attitude way too often. I think it comes from a bad understanding of stewardship. We give as a response to God’s grace and love in our lives. I also think that our giving is a symbolic gesture, an acknowledgement that we are handing over every part of our lives to God. We are not paying for goods and services (no pun intended). It’s very counter cultural and I don’t know how to help people make the connection.

      • Afra Saskia Tucker

        Those two suggestions are really the best foundation for anything else that may happen. Thanks for reminding me, Sharon!!! (also, thanks Jesse for piggy-backing off my question, because yours is a question of equal interest to me too)

  4. Peter Misiaszek

    If a church wants to grow it has to find a way to welcome families. I have heard so often how many Anglicans lament the absence of young people from their church. Well…. if you want young families, with young children, you need to be receptive and accommodating to their needs.

    I am very blessed to be part of a loving and welcoming Anglican parish family. My wife and three young kids (7,10,12) has always felt welcome. The 11:15 service at our church has a worship band, lively chatter from lots of children, meaningful worship, awesome preaching and a terrific sense of welcome. And would you be surprised to learn that it is precisely because of this service that our parish is growing?

    Kids need to have an important place in our churches and worship. To do otherwise, quite frankly, imperils the future of the church.

    • Sharon Harding

      Your church sounds wonderful! Perhaps we need to get our Bishops talking about these things with their clergy. I sent the link for this post to my Bishop and he was very receptive.

  5. A good series of posts. Children’s comments can often be very perceptive and have probably discomfited many a preacher – with advantage. But sometimes noise from them can actually be painful – having hyperacusis, I have experienced this. My worst problem, however, is with preachers who sing loudly, slightly off-key and who will not kill the mike!

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