When Things Get Messy – And All Are Welcome

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This past Sunday, worship was, well…hard. Let’s own that fact from the start. There was a lot of action, commotion, and noise from the children’s space that was distracting and disruptive. I could see from the front of the sanctuary that it was difficult for some to fully engage in worship, and as your pastor I can tell you I was NOT in a space of fully engaging in worship. This past Sunday, worship was hard.

From the start, as a mother of one of the vocal and moving little ones in the space on Sunday, I was struggling. Without too much detail we have been looking for a person to hire to be with our son in worship – as that is central and essential to us as parents – but so far finding someone who will be open to being at one of two churches for several hours a week has proven hard. We are still looking. That said, I personally, as a mother, apologize for his behavior/responses on Sunday. It was hard.

But as your pastor it was hard on another level. It was hard because since beginning the experience of having this designated space that is up front and open – so our youngest can see, engage, and come to learn our worship patterns and practices – it has not been a piece of cake. When Worship & Music sought to create this experience, we didn’t anticipate it being easy. We knew there would be bumps, some adjusting, and some just rough moments. We knew there would be some who were opposed to this space – as “children should be seen and not heard” is still an ethos that is alive for some. We knew there would be some who celebrated an “openness” that they feel should be created. We also knew that there would be many in-between those extremes. And this has proven true.

We have been surveying formally via https://tinyurl.com/childrensspace and we invite you to share thoughts there through Friday, September 6th. So far what I can tell you is that for the most part the responses convey the diversity of experience and thought, yet an openness to trying to figure out how to create a welcoming and inclusive space for everyone – children included. This is what we as the Worship & Music team were expecting would come out of this experience.

That said as pastor I have been reflecting since we created this space about HOW we have opened this space and supported it. A few observations I have made are:

  • We had intentions of gathering parents and families shortly after creating the space to talk about boundaries, engagement, etc…and we didn’t. This was a drop on our part, mostly due to the fullness of summer, but a drop none-the-less. This time would have provided space to further articulate to parents our desire to have their children fully present in worship, at their level; how this isn’t a “play” space (although there are manipulatives to engage/play with); and what the parent’s role in supervision is, and knowing when to remove a child from the space, take a break from the space for a few weeks, etc. We intend for this gathering to happen soon.
  • We also had thoughts of inviting a handful of folks who don’t have kids to volunteer to be “Pew Grandparents” – meaning they would sit nearby and if the parents look like they need a break or the kids were getting a bit overly loud, etc…they would step in to help calm the situation and redirect. This has not yet been engaged but it is still on the horizon – as we believe that we as a community (and individuals) make commitments to raise our children up in worship when they are baptized and we need to figure out how to do that best for today.
  • As a congregation our life and ministry is centered around worship. For some people worship is a space of solemnity, of reflection, of peace. For some people worship is a time of celebration, rejoicing, and connection. While for others worship is a space of healing, a space of wrestling, or a space of belonging. I would venture to say that all of these are true for all of us, at one point in our lives of faith or another. The question we must wrestle with always is how do we open up the space so that all can enter in where they are in their live of faith. Like most of life it can’t be an either or, but will be a both/and. There will be times when worship opens up into a space of peace and solemnity, and other times celebration and joy, and most often times a solid mix of both. There will also be times, like last Sunday, when it just goes off the rails and we do our best to bring it back to center where God’s grace and love find us every day – feeding us in word and sacrament, forgiveness and new life.
  • I think we as a congregation need to wrestle with what it means to be a truly welcoming and inclusive community; and how we live that out. Truly welcoming and inclusive doesn’t mean anything goes, but it does mean that there are times when our individual and communal expectations will not be met, we may be inconvenienced, or we may be pushed to grow in a way we hadn’t anticipated. This is hard work that we need to do together and it includes more than this “children’s space”, but it does include a full welcoming of children and all that comes with that. It is also a work that is never finished…but rather is a process.

As we move forward as a congregation, asking God to lead us as we grow as people of faith individually and together, we must do so from a space of respect, hopefulness, faithfulness, and openness to new ways of being church together – ways that honor the past, are rooted in the present, and look into the future. It’s not easy work – and we have work to do – but we know we don’t go it alone.

Finally, please remember that my door is ALWAYS open to hearing concerns, frustrations, joys, celebrations, ideas, and what if’s – email, call or simply stop in. If we can’t talk together, we’ve got a lot more work to do.

Friends, we proclaim to the world in our Mission Statement and Core Values that:

We celebrate and joyfully share Christ’s love as we grow in faith and serve all.  Centered in Christ, we are:
Welcoming:  We respect and affirm all people as children of God.
Caring:  We have compassion for all.
Encouraging:  We support one another in our faith journeys.

Our call now, is to discern together how to live into this, in and through the grace of God.

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