I have been attending the same church for, oh, about three years. It’s a biggish church, but not huge. It’s close to our home. I know people there. The theology espoused aligns fairly well with my own, which is to say that the preaching tends to encourage me in the acts I already feel I should do (and challenges me in ways I need to be challenged).
Sometime last year, when we had a generous and loving interim pastor, it started to feel like home. The feeling sort of snuck up on me, as I have spent a great deal of my life seeking a church home, without a lot of success. Plus, the idea of a church “home” is still somewhat alien to my sweetheart, although he understands how important it is to me.
Anyway, I decided it was time to stop standing on the sidelines of the church. I have gifts, and I knew God wanted me to use them. So, as an initial step, I joined the choir. The Bean started to go to children’s church (which unfortunately happens during the worship service). As part of a larger group, M, Bean and I visited home-bound church members. We didn’t exactly throw ourselves into every activity the church has to offer, but it was a start.
As time passed, I made friends in the choir. At the end of each rehearsal, we shared our joys and sorrows, and we prayed for each other. We supported one another, bolstered one another, hugged one another. It was a strong group before I joined, but I felt very welcome.
In the summer, however, the choir takes a break. Last summer, my family traveled a lot, so we weren’t around every Sunday. In the meantime, my little Pumpkin grew bigger, more vociferous and more active. Those Sundays when we were at church, I held her in my lap when she started to get wiggly.
Then came the fall. Choir started up again. The first Sunday we sang in church, Pumpkin did not behave like an angel. She behaved like a tired, cranky one-year-old who did not want to sit still and be quiet and who did not understand why her momma wasn’t there to cuddle her. In short, she cried. M took her out of the sanctuary several times–one occasion lasting nearly the entire sermon.
I was mortified, but more than that, I felt sorry for my little girl. When the choir walked back down the aisle, Pumpkin nearly launched herself onto the floor in an effort to get to me. I left the group to hold her and comfort her.
A few moments later, when the service had completely ended, I became aware of some angry words coming from a few pews ahead of me. A furious older man was addressing my husband. I did not hear the entire tirade, but the gist of it was that my daughter did not belong in the sanctuary during worship.
My daughter was not welcome in the church.
My baby was not welcome.
I sat in my choir robe and rocked Pumpkin, but inside I felt as if I were falling. Alternating waves of anger and sadness washed over me. I wanted to hand the baby off to my husband and confront the man. I wanted to remind him that Jesus asked for the little children to come to him. I wanted to ask him why he chose to sit next to a small child if he could not deal with some restlessness. I wanted to hand him the laminated note that resides in each pew to remind people of WHY kids need to be in church. I wondered how many other people felt the way he did. I wanted to cry.
Instead, I rocked my baby and held everything in. Two well-meaning women came over to comfort us and remind me that the church does have a nursery.
Yes, the church has a nursery. But call me crazy; I think kids belong in church. I could list off a dozen reasons, but that isn’t the point. The point is, it’s my choice. Mine and my husband’s. And we have chosen to keep her in the service.
We sit near the back for an easy escape, should one be necessary. We bring toys and snacks and pacifiers. We do what we can to make our kids’ presence tolerable for other churchgoers.
Apparently, that wasn’t enough. When we left church, I exploded. I spent the next three days trying to deal with my anger. M was furious, too, and not inclined to forgive. We debated the merits of leaving the church, but I wasn’t comfortable with that. Perhaps the man been in a bad mood for some unrelated reason. Perhaps he regretted what he had said. I had to find out.
Wednesday was choir rehearsal, and the man whose words had begun this upheaval would be there. I was nervous, but I went. Afterward, I headed outside to confront him, but he ducked out in a hurry.
The following Sunday, we were running late. M and the girls dropped me off so I could get into my robe. While I was hurrying through the vestibule, a woman said to me, “Got your kids in the nursery this morning?”
Not hello. Not good morning. Not nice to see you. Because obviously all of those sentiments were secondary to keeping my girls out of the sanctuary.
I was livid, and I could think of nothing else as I donned my robe, as I walked to the front of the church, as I sat and tried to turn my thoughts to God.
The service began. M and the girls were in the usual pew in the back. Five minutes later, as usual, Bean and the other school-age kids left for children’s church. A man stood to read scripture, and with a jolt, I realized it was the man who had been so mean to us. Not only was he in the choir, he was a church leader!
I had hardly had a chance to deal with that surprise when Pumpkin began to wail. M picked her up and walked out of the sanctuary and straight on out of the church. I began to cry.
The sermon began. It was Christian Education Sunday. Our new pastor preached about how important it was to teach kids about God. He extolled the efforts of the children’s ministry. I looked around and began to count. How many kids were in the sanctuary, anyway? Exactly one, and he is thirteen years old.
I cried some more. I prayed. I hoped that M and Pumpkin would come back. They didn’t.
The choir stood and sang an anthem. I don’t even remember its name; I sang with tears running down my face. The service ended. I walked to the back of the church with the rest of the choir. A church meeting was beginning, but I gathered the bags and jackets M had left behind. I walked to the choir room and put away my robe. Still crying, I set out to find the Bean.
I found her in a basement classroom, still finishing up children’s church. I took her outside to look for M and Pumpkin, but they were not in sight. We went back inside and made our way to the fellowship hall. They were not there, but I did find three teenagers who had opted to nap rather than attend worship. Obviously the Christian education was working like a charm.
Finally someone stepped in from the patio door and asked if I was Holly. Someone had told her my husband and daughter were sleeping under a tree beside the parking lot. With tears still on my face, I walked past the choir director and his family and headed out to find my own.
We found them. We left. And we decided to start looking for a new church.