Sunday, January 06, 2013

Sunday Morning in the Balcony

When William is gleefully and noisily slurp-slurp-slurping his little cup of grape juice during communion, I have to remind myself that God really does love him just the way he is.

Boy, though. If sitting through church with a squirmy six-year-old boy doesn't test one's ability to be calm and in control, I don't know what does.

Our church is beginning to have a conversation around what a family-friendly church looks like. What kind of services does it have or should it have? Do we need to make any changes to our services? If we did, what would they look like? Would it be worthwhile to make changes, though, if it alienates some people? What if it bothers the parents of those children who have deliberately chosen to attend our church the way that it is now because of the way that it is now (we presume)?

I think it's worth having the discussion, to be sure.

We attend a big Presbyterian church that has what you might call a "high church" bent to it. And I personally love that. I love High Church. I love the liturgy, the processional, the way that someone carries the big Bible into the church at the start of the service, the hymns, the hymnbook, the responsive recitations. I love the way that the words are worn smooth on the Lord's Prayer, and I love the thundering notes of the pipe organ that I can feel in the bottom of my stomach and in the marrow of my bones. I love it when the choir sings a complicated piece of music written by Haydn or Bach that makes me feel like I've just attended a professional choral concert. I love the way the children's choir members wear floppy white robes and line up on the front steps to sing like the little angels that they weren't behaving like just a few minutes earlier in the hallway.

I love that my child experiences these things each Sunday (or often enough). I love that he will grow up with this as his experience of church. I love the way that he can stand at front of the balcony and look down on the choir members as they process into the sanctuary. I love that he can page through the hymnal and find songs that I remember singing as a little girl, along with newer songs that I sang at Montreat youth conferences and much, much older songs that my grandparents sang in churches far away.  I love that he is participating in the life of a church that wants to nurture his faith by encouraging him to ask hard questions, examine his faith and ponder the possibilities.

But I know that I am not everyone.

And even I admit that it can get very tedious, sitting in the balcony with my child as he wiggles around during the Scripture readings. Our church doesn't have a children's time, so there's little opportunity for the kids to get up and move around during the service. I actually look forward to the times when they serve communion by intinction because we get to walk down the main aisle to receive the elements and then walk back up to our seats. Even better are the weeks with a baptism. William gets to go down front with his friends and see the babies up close. I don't even flinch when all the kids race back to their seats, with William and a few other children pounding up the balcony steps like they're doing wind sprints at a football stadium. They're burning a few calories and burning up some energy, and they're having a positive experience in church at the same time. That's a win-win, in my book.

Would it be good to have more of those interludes? Would other adults find it annoying? Does it matter if they find it annoying, since the children are every bit as important to the church as the adults are--and maybe more? Is there a way to make (almost) everybody happy? Or honestly, is happy not the point? Is the point more about making people of all ages feel included and welcome, and if there are some pounding feet in there, isn't that sort of, well, just fine? Wouldn't it be just fine with God, since He really does love all of us, just the way we are?

Even if our faces have juice stains and our patent Mary Janes are a little scuffed? Even if we're a little hard of hearing and have to use a cane to negotiate the walk from the parking lot to the pew? Even if we're flustered from shepherding a rowdy group of kids and just sort of want a few moments of peace to rest? Even if our kids are grown and we've had a good night's sleep and today we're looking forward to a soul-piercing sermon? Even if we're glad to be there but still have a hard time sitting still and being quiet for 75 minutes? Even if maybe we're not so glad to be there but Mom said we had to be there so what are we going to do about it?

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