“Shame on you”

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 . . .

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

8 thoughts on ““Shame on you”

  1. Screaming, pooping, drooling. Wow, my steps into fatherhood are looking exciting. Can’t wait (sarcastic smile).
    Seriously though, Marcae and I are getting excited about the day our child is born. We are dreaming about what her worship experience will be like. We will also be facing a similar delima as we work towards worshiping and child rearing.

  2. It seems like little ones get rambunctious not during the hymns, or during communion, but during the sermon, when you’re really trying to concentrate.
    Cagey li’l buggers, aren’t they?

  3. It really is all about balance, isn’t it? With both of us leading worship it’s impossible for one of us to be present with our son at that time.
    So, while she said shame on you, I say, good for you — not only for doing what you have to do to maintain some sanity, but also for hearing her intended message. I’m afraid I might have not been so generous in my thinking, or responses.

  4. Hey, whatever works. The physical demands are sometimes impossible. I often wished that someone next to me would take a child or hold the hymnal. And that should be a lesson to all of us.
    And you’ll be a more emphatetic pastor as a result.
    How many male pastors who have gone straight through the system would even know what it is like to hold babies in church?

  5. I have this fantasy that when my children are grown and I’m able to focus during a worship service I’ll be suddenly transformed into an amazingly spiritual person. Of course, we all know it doesn’t work that way.
    I suspect that the people who glare at noisy children in worship services have a similar fantasy. Others, like your wise woman, know that the “wiggly, noisy, pooping, drooling, babbling” things are part of the real world in which we actually develop our relationship with God.

  6. Ahem? Not quite child friendly?? Ah, but let’s not forget the devil is in the details! As the poet Blake said, “without contraries there is no progression.” A little child in church? Fine, as long as the parent knows to leave when the child cries thus preventing others from worshiping. a good choir has spent weeks rehearsing the anthem– the preacher many hours crafting the sermon.
    Perhaps it is best that the “little ones” be present for the meal and not for what precedes the meal until they are mature enough to do so.
    As Chesterton said: “the smoker and the non-smoker cannot be equally free in the same railway car.”
    So too with the needs of an adult who has just learned she has cancer and little Johnny with his matchbox cars in the pew behind her.” On one hand, on the other hand. Or, as the playwright would say, “a delicate balance indeed!” Ahem! Or was that Amen?

  7. Oye! The people who read the blog unbeknownst to me!
    In a previous post (Kids in Worship) I wrote about the multi-layered nature of worship. Worship is more than simply a cognitive or entertaining experience. Worship is not akin to attending a lecture or the orchestra . . . well, I’m just repeating myself. If any of you are interested, check out that old post, published back in June.

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