There were some baptisms in worship yesterday. Dolled up babies and beaming parents, camera clicking grandparents and neck-craning congregants in the 13th pew. It’s a great scene.
The babies inevitably fuss and cry, though, both during the baptism and the remainder of the service. That’s not a problem for me. I subscribe to the sentiment of one of my seminary professors who said she appreciates when babies cry during baptisms because it indicates that at least somebody appreciates the gravity of what’s happening.
I think the sound of fussing children is a great indicator of church vitality, and I feel generally that grown ups who are irritated by ill tempered children in public places like airplanes and churches need to relax.
But I realized during yesterday’s service that “It’s not a problem for me” is not entirely true. When the whines and protests of wriggly children ring out during worship, I get tense. If I’m speaking when a it starts, I suddenly become conscious of my volume and my pace. If someone else is speaking, I scan the pews with my eyes to see if congregants are reacting. I exert every ounce of willpower I have to not look at the child.
The noise is not a problem for me. The problem is my awareness of the noise’s effect on other people, most critically the parents.
Most of the time, parents already feel embarrassed and self-conscious when their child makes noise during a service. They don’t need annoyed looks from other people. That sends the exact wrong signal about welcome and the place of children in church.
I once was part of a church that took the dramatic step of placing rocking chairs and blankets in the back of its small sanctuary, so that parents with infants wouldn’t be forced to leave the service if the infant got fussy. It was a great idea, but in practice it didn’t work. Whenever those chairs got used, people stared and rolled their eyes, even some of the people who championed the idea to begin with.
Babies crying in church is a problem for me. I admit it. I start to freak out internally that the parents are going to feel unwelcome. No doubt that comes across as a reaction to the baby.
I need to quit doing that.