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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

What happened to courtesy in church?

Thursday, June 6, 2002

My life has enough controversy in it without making this column controversial. I listen to my sons argue over everything from whether a bullet shot straight into the air could fall back into the barrel and blow up the gun to why it is the youngest who always has to sit in the back seat.

However, after sitting in church and listening to the usual sounds of children's voices in the background I though I'd tackle the issue of children and church, or for those who don't attend church, children in a public setting, such as a movie theater, a discussion group, a concert or a meeting.

First, my credentials. In the early years of my parenting, I took my children everywhere with me. Yes, they attended seminars, church, concerts and movies as newborns, infants and toddlers. I'd love to brag they were well-behaved, but actually they were not. My daughter, Erin, spent most of her toddlerhood in the basement of church because she couldn't resist being center stage. She would either cry, pull up her dress and show parishioners her new underpants or feel compelled to make noise. Rather than allow our fellow churchgoers to be distracted, we would take turns carrying her out.

Peter could not suffer in silence. He received many spankings for temper fits in church. By this time I was going to fewer public gatherings. Maggie came along, and probably because she had an older sister and brother who, by this time, had learned to sit quietly, and possibly because one spanking was always enough for her, she sat quietly through church. Will slept through every service until he was 5, so he was an easy one to take.

Now we have Sam. Sam is not quiet and doesn't respond well to correction, spankings or reasoning. He imagines that everything he thinks needs to be said that instant. He has a hard time sitting still and an even harder time being quiet. I feel grateful when he sings the hymns, is reasonably quiet during the sermon and plays with my rings during the service.

Regardless of their temperaments, church, lectures, movies and public gatherings are not about the individuals who attend them. They are about the event. If a child (or an adult, for that matter) can't allow others to hear, enjoy or understand the activity they should temporarily and quietly step outside. This applies as much to a paying event, say a ballet or orchestra concert, as it does a nonpaying one such as a church service or school concert.

I write this because churches as a whole are turning into homogenous groups who have similar needs and visions instead of functioning as the family of God. Old people worship with old people because they grow weary of straining to hear a sermon as a crying baby is kept in church. Young people seek out young people because they grow tired of being told they tracked in mud or acted irresponsibly. Mothers wait until children turn 5 rather than risk being looked upon as if they have leprosy when their child cries, while grandparents avoid church with their grandchildren because they don't want to return home covered with food crumbs and marker stripes.

We are all self-centered and are raising a generation of children to be even more self-centered. It is a shame that at church, when our attention, our reverence and our awe should be directed toward our Creator, we can't see past ourselves and our selfish wants -- whether we might be the mother who won't take her child out so others can hear the sermon, the teen-ager talking with his friends, or the adult who is so focused on her neighbor's misbehavior that she doesn't listen to the sermon.

May we learn to bear with one another by denying our own interests and forgiving the failings of others. May we not make the mistake of imagining our children's antics are more important than the event being attended. And may we acknowledge that events are meant for people of all ages and sizes.