These are not words that I would normally like to hear as I’m walking with my three year-old daughter up the aisle to the communion rail. But today I welcomed these words, whispered into my ear by an elderly woman as she approached the Lord’s Table, as an affirmation of one of my deepest longings as a parent.
"Where’s your other one?" (referring to my five month-old daughter)
"In the nursery."
"Shame on you," her gentle voice scolded.
"Yes," I replied, with a beaming smile. "Thank you."
Yes, shame on me. Both of my children should be in worship. Both of my children should be surrounded by the sights and sounds of the people of God gathered around the Word and Sacrament in praise and prayer. My three year-old has been going to church nearly every Sunday of her young life. Because we have consistently brought her to worship – not just to the nursery or Sunday School – "amen" was one of her early words, she learned the Lord’s Prayer at age two, and has become as comfortable in a church pew as on our living room couch.
Yet with the ordination of mommy, the birth of our second child, and our membership in a congregation whose worship life is deeply traditional and (ahem) not quite child-oriented, negotiating worship as a single parent with a newly potty-trained three year-old and an infant is nearly impossible. The baby often likes to be held by a standing (not seated) adult. She also makes cute babbling noises and lets out the occasional scream when the bottle slips out of her mouth or her diaper is saturated. The Big Girl, on the other hand, hasn’t quite yet learned the skill of peeing-in-advance. Rather, she pees mostly when it is an emergency – which this week occurred just before the Great Thanksgiving and Words of Institution. So with two girls who can be antsy, noisy and disruptive in various ways, it is quite challenging to balance both of them in worship. After much discernment and gnashing of teeth, I decided to leave our baby in the nursery while Big Girl and I went to worship.
And so I was thrilled when this elderly woman gently scolded me for failing to fulfill the vows I made at my baby’s baptism – to bring her to the Lord’s house. I was thrilled because in her scolding was a belief that my child – my wiggly, noisy, pooping, drooling, babbling baby – belongs among the community of believers in worship. Way too often our churches are less-than-welcoming to such children and their families. But this wise old woman was different. In her scolding, she was affirming one of my strongest parental passions . . .