I was flabbergasted to see this note on Facebook this morning, complaining about a child’s behavior during Mass. The mother posted it from an anonymous parishioner at her church:
Dear Fellow Parishioners:
I am writing this note on behalf of all parishioners at the 10:45 Mass. I sincerely wish I didn’t have to write this note. But I believe you must know how disruptive your son can be. Many of us missed the first two readings because we couldn’t hear over your son’s disruption. You must have missed the bulletin where Father Bob addressed this issue. He said to remove your child from the congregation. Go behind the glass wall separation when he is noisy. Return when and if your child has settled down.
It is so unfair to those of us who have come to Mass to pray and worship. We are urging you to be considerate. Merry Christmas!
I don’t know what could possibly prompt a parishioner to write something like that. Children, we all know, can be a handful. But what was the author of that note thinking? It is uncharitable to the point of being cruel—and it flies in the face of Christ’s own words, “Let the children come to me.”
Small children are a great gift, and a reminder to us all that the faith is growing. We need them. And we need them (and their parents!) to feel welcome. You want to kill the church? Notes like that are a good start.
The mother who received it wrote of her shock at getting this in the mail:
Not once have we felt unwelcome at our church. We have a 3-year-old son with a very outgoing personality so at times he is louder than he should be at Mass. I don’t want to remove him for every noise because then he won’t learn to sit and be quiet and experience church for what it’s all about. Our church does not have a children’s room or nursery. The other side of glass wall is part of the gathering space which our son would just run around in. We’ve talked to our priest and he doesn’t seem to mind unless the child is extremely disruptive. This makes me so sad. A church that isn’t crying is dying, right? I think what bothered me most is that this person said “on behalf of all parishioners,” where we’ve only gotten lots of compliments and encouragement before.
I was reminded of St. Thomas More Parish in Lynchburg, Virginia. I visited there a couple years back and discovered this:
Lying on the table in the gathering area was a stack of cards for parents, with the following advice printed on them. I’m told it comes from the parish of St. Juan Diego in the Archdiocese of Portland, OR.
TO THE PARENTS OF OUR YOUNG CHILDREN, MAY WE SUGGEST…
- Relax! God put the wiggle in children. Don’t feel you have to suppress it in God’s house. All are welcome!
- Feel free to sit toward the front where it is easier for your little ones to see and hear.
- Quietly explain the parts of the Mass and actions of the priest, altar servers, choir, etc.
- Sing the hymns, pray and voice the responses. Children learn liturgical behavior by copying you.
- If you have to leave Mass with your child, feel free to do so but please come back. As Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.”
- Remember that the way we welcome children in church directly affects the way they respond to the Church, to God, and to one another. Let them know that they are at home in this house of worship.
Please let your child use the reverse side of the card to draw and doodle.
TO THE MEMBERS OF OUR PARISH
- The presence of children is a gift to the Church! They are members of our community, and a reminder that our parish is growing. Please welcome our children and give a smile of encouragement to the parents.
On the back of the card were the words:
- Please let your child use this side of the card to draw and doodle. Take this with you as a reminder of your time in church.
Pray for the person who sent that note. And pray that more parents will continue to bring their young ones to church. As we say in the baptism ritual: “The Christian community welcomes you with great joy!” We do. Keep coming!