Monday, February 13, 2017
"Your children have always been so well behaved during worship - how do you do it?"
I was speaking with a friend about inclusion of children in worship. Before experiencing worship in our congregation, she had assumed children went to the nursery or a separate children's church for all or most of worship, as that had been her experience of church as a child and in recent years. I explained to her that, in our congregation, children are included in all of worship because we believe that that's where they belong. Even "disruptive" children (I prefer to think of them as enthusiastic). Even children who might not understand what's going on. Even children that fidget in their seats.
It is in experiencing all of worship that our children come to understand what worship is all about. Children can't learn to sit relatively quietly and still through worship if they don't have the practice of doing so. They can't learn to navigate worship without a family member or friend answering their questions and guiding them through worship. And we can't learn how to help them get the most out of worship if we don't engage with them during worship.
"But what about special needs children?"
Three of my children qualify as special needs children. She was shocked. No way were my children special needs, in her opinion.
My OCD child has always been fairly well-behaved during worship, or I'd assume so, since she spent much of ages 3-5 sitting with grandparents and great-grandparents in our congregation that she'd adopted as her own for a good portion of worship. She did sing loudly. Incredibly loudly, come to think of it. And she seemed to be very into spontaneous liturgical dance. She did walk out on a sermon once, it being a repeat of what Pastor G had taught us during Tuesday Night Sunday School the previous Tuesday. Come to think of it, more than several times she could be heard singing hymns in the bathroom - during the quietest parts of worship.
My autistic children weren't always the best behaved on a "normal" person's scale, but did incredibly well for what I would expect of them. There was the need to exit the sanctuary to spin or flap or sit for a few moments somewhere quieter so they could resume sitting relatively still through worship. They would forget to use their church voices when asking a question about worship. One child dove under the pew chairs to avoid sharing the peace, indicating the need to formulate an escape plan pre-sharing of the peace so said child didn't have to suffer other people trying to touch him.
I worked with my children to figure out what worked for them so that they could achieve maximum enjoyment of worship, and I could as well.
My children are rather well-behaved during worship now. Some of this is due to the work we put in figuring out what works best for them during worship, but much is due to the fact that they grew up being included in the entire worship experience. They always knew that they were just as welcome to share in worship as everyone else - that they, despite their age or their differences, were an essential part of the body that was missed if it wasn't there.