Thursday, April 26, 2012

7 QuickTakes- Kids & Church

Dana Carvey as 'the church lady' on SNL

Have I told you about the time Baby Girl put long-lasting lip gloss around her eyes like mascara during Mass? I had the courage to close my eyes and pray because we were at my parents' Roman-rite parish. I had no responsibilities- except watching after my kids- so I closed my eyes for a bit to meditate. Whoops! It didn't take her long to quietly open up my purse and make herself up. Using baby wipes helped, but her eyes looked sort of bloodshot for awhile. It was embarrassing, but babies will be babies. And I learn to really keep my eyes on her now!

In my last quick takes post, I wrote a bit about my shock in seeing an almost pre-teen boy playing on his IPad during the entire Divine Liturgy while seated between his praying grandparents. It was depressing. What can we as parents and as Church do to help the next generation engage during religious services? Here are some ideas:

1. As always, it starts with the family. Are the parents trying to practice virtue? Are they loving and gentle even while disciplining? No one is perfect, but blatant hypocrisy (being an active alcoholic while preaching on the importance of teetotalism, for example) will ensure that the children will find no value in the Church. Yes, mom and dad- you represent God's love to your children.
2. In order to participate in church services- or at least stay seated without wailing- the family has to make prayer a priority at home. It can be a quick grace before and after meals (yes, even in a restaurant). I hope every Byzantine Catholic reading has an icon corner where morning and evening prayers are said. Personally, I recommend not being too long in your family prayers (but I know many families that pray a nightly family rosary and it seems to 'work'). A daily habit of family prayer will go a long way in making church services a normal thing the family does. And church services on Sunday (or a Saturday vigil) must always be attended. It becomes a (hopefully happy) habit to be in church on Sundays with the family.
3. Bringing stuff into church might be frowned on, but I do it. We are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel with Boy, but Baby Girl still needs stuff....or maybe I need it. In any case, set yourself up for success. Change diapers and/or go to the bathroom right before the service begins. Depending on the timing of Mass, eat something right before (string cheese isn't messy) and consider bringing in water sippy cups for the little ones. Anything with noise is not allowed. We are trying to teach respect for others- so nothing that makes music or lights up. My rule of thumb is two quiet things (a stuffed animal, a car that doesn't squeak, a book) per little child. Some families are successful with nothing but the missal, but I need to be able to cantor, so a few quiet things for the little ones to focus on are necessary. I am trying to find that impossible balance so they won't hate churchgoing. about food- Babies are another story; they get the milk they need in whatever form they are used to. So if someone gives you the stink-eye for discretely nursing your 3-month old, tell them "Priest's Wife" said it was okay. Watch their brain explode.
4. But maybe the boy with the IPad and the grandparents doesn't have churchgoing parents so the Divine Liturgy was something new and boring to him. How can they instill in the boy a love for God and His Church when his parents don't care? First of all- the grandparents need to pray for the boy's parents and the boy...then...
5. Insist on basic manners during church services. This means- no electronic devices during the Mass- ever. It also means that he should be asked to assume the posture of the people around him, like standing for the reading of the Gospel. I remember a non-U S citizen in high school who would stand for the pledge of allegiance to the US flag but not say the words or have his hand over his heart. I think he got it just right. Basic manners doesn't mean he has to sing along with the congregation (my parents insisted we do this even in our sullen teenage years) or even make the sign of the cross. Basic means that his presence in the church doesn't offend other people and distract young children from the service with a blinking electronic tablet.
6. Let's imagine that the grandparents get to have their grandson over every other weekend or even once a month. Now, church is going to be a part of his life with his grandparents, but it is not a part of his life the other times. In this situation, the grandparents should ask for the direction of their parish priest. One possibility is for one grandparent to leave the church with the grandson at the liturgy of the Eucharist (like in the old days when the catechumens left for instruction) to shorten the time he is in the church and so that he will not be receiving the Eucharist. Of course, if he is engaged in Mass and is missing Sundays through no fault of his own, he should ask the priest if he can receive. 
The grandparents should really try not to accuse the parents of dereliction of duty. The child will most likely be confused and 'side' with his parents. Grandparents should make church services as stress-free as possible. Expect more from an older child. Ask him- what was the Gospel? What did the priest say about the Gospel? Which icon is your favorite in the church? Training a child to be respectful and quiet/prayerful for a little over an hour once a week will have life-long benefits. He might even be able to sit peacefully for an exam or a job interview.
7. And for all those who see/hear unchurched-boy-with-grandparents or toddler-having-a-fit, have mercy! Keep your eyes closed during church, try to ignore any distractions, imagine that Jesus had to deal with loudly baaing sheep during the Sermon on the Mount. He didn't complain; He said "Let the little children come to me" (14 verses later in St Matthew's Gospel). Try to ignore the imperfect behavior and be happy to hear a few kerfuffles. A church is dead if there are no young families. Yes, children need to be disciplined and guided, but if church is going to be a part of their spiritual life, the guidance needs to be slow and gentle because IPads are instantly interesting and they require nothing from us. Technology from the 21st century is just so much more blinky than a 2,000 year old Liturgy. Let's lovingly help the next generation learn there is more to life than the latest gadget.


  1. Last Sunday I had a fully grown man sitting to my left of me. All during Mass he was respectful, but immediately after receiving he whipped out his phone and started texting. I got oh so close to poking this stranger in the shoulder and telling him that Mass wasn't over yet so put away your phone. But I didn't. I think next time I will.

    1. hmmm...this is a tough one- other commenters said to assume he is doing something like checking on a sick relative. And hopefully, he was. It is a balance for us to assume the best- but we should also try to help avoid scandal

  2. This is a great post, even for us Roman Rite people. Especially #7. When I am in Mass and there is a distracting child, other than one of my own, I close my eyes to shut out the distraction. I would like to point out here that exceptionally adorable babies in the pew directly in front of me is a big distraction. The temptation to ooh and ahh and make googly-eyes at their sweetness is great. I close my eyes!

    1. Kimberlie - it is always a good idea to close one's eyes from distractions- for example, I NEVER look at who is receiving the Eucharist- I want to save myself from the sin of being judgmental!

    2. Sometimes, making googly-eyes at the adorable baby is an act of mercy to the mother because it keeps the baby happy so that the mother can pray for a moment. Or in my case, she doesn't get to pray, but she does get to deal with the toddler while the baby is kept happy for a moment.

  3. I love Dana as 'the church lady'! Now that I'm older (grown-up perspective vs teenage) I can see he was so spot on. There are 'church ladies' in every denomination.

    This is a great post. I struggle to get Ella to sit through church. She's just such a busy girl, she's go go go from morning till night (and then some). She brings a few stuffies and a bible book. If she's quiet, I don't make her stand for everything (hymns, etc). But she stands for the important parts (Gospel, creed, etc).

    Oh how I wish more of the 'church lady' types would just close their eyes (and I don't mean the other ladies here, we all know the type I mean). It's hard to feel welcome when getting dirty looks because we've made a noise or asked a question. I'm not sure how they think these children will suddenly come back to church when they grow up if they weren't welcome as children.

    1. yes Paula- it is hard- just give those 'church ladies' a big smile while you are struggling to keep your babies from being total hellions. The merciful people will see that you are trying- and that is enough.

      There is never a good time to start going to church services- so we Catholics start at the beginning and struggle through all the foibles each age bring

      Just pretend the glaring church lady type are sad for day gone by when they had their own babies to care for.

  4. Thanks for the great tips. Our oldest kids are just starting to really "get it" and behave in church. We have something called a "daddy bag" that has been fine-tuned over the last three years. It has everything we would need to get through a Liturgy.
    I have discovered that often the Babas that glare at me because my daughter is rolling on the floor are really looking at her because they think she is cute, not because they are judging was just my own perspective that made me think everyone was glaring at us.
    I am a little intimidated by the prospect of Sundays at the Seminary with no pews and no other families....but I guess we will cross that bridge when we get to it and the kid will learn to adjust.

    1. Kim- plaster this on your forehead- My kids are the present and future of the Church. And then do a lot of Madagascar penguin 'smiling and waving'. Yes- you WILL have these types of people to contend with at the seminary (I assume the public comes to Sunday DL)

      1. Grumpy Granny- yes, she really IS glaring at you and the kids. How dare you disturb her beautiful Liturgy- and the kids don't speak Ukrainian well at all! And you don't have the proper head scarf on! (this category is the minority- no solution- smile and wave and try not to listen)

      2. Lollipop Poppop- This grandpa type doesn't have his grandkids in the area, so he will use your kids as surrogates. You will have to decide how to deal with his smiling distractions- and yes- actual lollipops given during the Mass.

      3. Agent 007- Your eparchy is much bigger than mine- but what happens in seminary will be part of the history of Fr. and Kim and family for better or worse. People have really long memories. Remember that there will be some people whose questions will get a little personal- slowly learn your boundaries and NEVER talk about money. Someone might be all 'concerned' and say "wow- how are you going to support a family of ___ on a priest's salary?" They are fishing. They want-for whatever reason- to find out your financial situation. You might say- I'm willing to live on very little or I'm a nurse so I will help support the family or My grandfather left me lots of money so his small church salary doesn't matter or the church actually supports us well. None of these responses will satisfy someone who asked this question. Or don't answer it.

      4. Lovely Laity- yes- you were right to think that most people 'glaring' at the kids are just thinking the kids are cute and wishing that they had such a distraction- cherish these people!

  5. I especially liked your comment "Jesus had to deal with loudly baaing sheep during the Sermon on the Mount." I had never thought of that. As for the man whipping out his cell phone after receiving - it might help to imagine that this man's wife was in the hospital and he was awaiting crucial news about her. That's probably not what happened, but imagining it to be so might have a calming effect. Now, if I could just take my own advice.

  6. As far as electronic devices go...

    I keep my telephone in my pocket on vibrate. I don't turn it off or leave it at home because I'm likely to forget about it for the next day or so. The only time I'm likely to pull it out during the liturgy is to read a prayer or to follow along with the readings. Of course, anyone who sees me night think I'm texting or playing a game.

    I work with technology and try to limit my children's consumption of it. It's fun when watching what they do with their time instead of staring at the great glowing box. I spend too much time tethered to technology, I don't want to pass that to my children.

  7. Just a thought, the pre-teen boy might have a disorder that isn't obvious and can't sit still without doing something. The grandparents are probably better able to enjoy the liturgy without having to worry about entertaining or worrying about him. Also, I know this is wrong, but I love to go to mass by myself. I do take my kids usually, but I prefer to sit by myself and enjoy the mass whenever I have the chance. Also those without kids, should do themselves a favor and go to the earliest mass possible.


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