It is a blessing and a privilege when a congregation is able to welcome children in church.

But, when you include small people in a relatively confined and formal space, where everyone is attempting to focus on the serious business of opening to the mysterious presence of the Divine, small  people inevitably introduce the occasional distraction.

The Roman Catholic bishop of Arundel and Brighton, the Rt Rev Kieran Conry thinks that churches need to learn to be ok with a little youthful distraction during public worship.

Bishop Conry, 63, says,

What we’ve got to do is say to an older generation: ‘You were children once and it would be a very sad day if there isn’t the noise of children in church – it would be a very sad day.’

Church is not for my generation, it’s for all generations, and I would never comment on children’s noise in church and would discourage any priest to make any comment.

I’ve heard awful stories of priests stopping the service and saying, in effect, remove that child. That’s a dreadful message to give out.

Pope Francis is saying that the family is at the heart of the church. The family is children – that’s what families are for.

It’s a really good noise to hear in church – kids present. For children who are allowed to make noise – in other words they don’t associate church with discipline and fear of punishment – church is a nice place to be. They have got to grow up feeling that.”

ChildrenI am not keen on complete chaos in church. But I certainly want the children in our community to experience a deep and warm sense of welcome and belonging whenever they come to church. And I understand that welcoming children means saying goodbye to complete quiet and stillness.

There is a lot of talk in church circles these days about “Messy Church.” This usually refers to a special time apart from the main Sunday worship when a space is created for children to feel really welcome. But, if children are going to be truly welcome in our churches, all worshipers need to be willing to accept that every service is going to be a little bit more “messy” than might be immediately comfortable.

If we want children to feel fully welcome in church, we adults will need to lay aside some of our needs, wants, and desires. Things may not be able to be exactly as we might wish them to be in church if we are going to fully and deeply include children.

In the church I serve we occasionally include a note in our Sunday leaflet that says:

To the parents of children, may we suggest…

Relax! We love your children and are glad they can join us in worship. We understand they may need to move around, or express themselves aloud at times.

Please feel free to keep your children with you in the pew if that is where they are most comfortable.

Or, there are always tables at the back with quiet activities for children. Feel free to use them if that works best for you and your children.

Following the children’s time at the front of the church, children customarily go downstairs for an activity in the basement. If your children are going downstairs feel free to accompany them if they need you, or they are welcome to stay in church.

When your children are with you in church, join in the songs, pray and say the responses. Children learn by copying.

If you need to leave with your child, feel free to come and go as the needs of your family require. We are not disturbed by a little movement or noise in our worship.

The way we welcome children in church will affect their vision of God. Let them know they are at home among us. This is their place as much as anyone’s.

To other worshipers… 

A smile of encouragement is always welcome to parents with active children. We all have a role to play in making our worship warm and welcoming for everyone.  

Jesus said,

‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them.’ (Matthew 19:14)

It is important that we identify any ways in which we, as a worshiping community, might put obstacles in the way of children coming to Jesus.

How we welcome the smallest members of our community into corporate worship says a lot about our values and intentions when we gather to open our hearts to the power of Love.