Children in Church – The Rules

cross toddlerThese rules are disseminated out of the response to a previous post I wrote about children and their parents in church. Thanks to all who commented.

1. The Rules are made to be broken. They won’t suit everyone, all the time. So go ahead and break them. Make up new ones. Disregard them too. Ask people what rules they would like – as congregations, parents, children and service leaders.

2. Being family friendly doesn’t mean that every Service of Worship held has to be child centric. Adults need space too.

3. Leaders should mean it when they say “everyone is welcome”. That attitude should be shared with welcomers, sidespeople and people in the pews.

4. It is useful to have a creche area separate from the church service. It is wonderful to have a set of friendly people to look after the children, and let their parents spend a bit of time in church. Having people in church who are prepared to share cuddles and quiet entertaining is pretty amazing too. It is unhelpful for parents arriving with small toddlers to be sent straight to the creche, by thought, word or deed.

5. If a priest celebrates Holy Communion whilst intermittently stepping round small people, the sky will not fall. If they stop and chat during the Eucharistic Prayer, I offer the opinion that God won’t mind. And if it keeps a toddler gurgly and cheerful, rather than a screaming heap, so much the better.

6. Screaming, thoroughly upset children should be taken out. I do mean thoroughly screaming, not loud chatting. I don’t expect unhappy, uncomfortable adults to stay in the church unless they choose, why should children? And a friendly designated person could go out with child and parent, so see what if anything will help, and to point them to creche/toilet/changing table/playground, wherever. (We have two churches where taking a child out means outside. This is more difficult, especially if it is raining. One of those churches is commonly used for baptisms, where a high proportion of children, screaming and otherwise, is only to be expected. But often, if parent and child feel free to move, to wander up and down the aisle, to check the view from the gallery, investigate the nooks and crannies, then peace tends to reign. See Rule 1.)

7. Run separate children’s activities during the main service. Not every child will go to them. That is fine.

8. Have the service start or end (or preferably both???) with everyone together.

9. Comunicate expectations clearly. I really do tell people that provided they don’t give their children matches, there is nothing they can do in a largely 11th and 15th century church that a child hasn’t already done. The flip side is that churches are not necessarily child friendly spaces. They contain steps, uneven, very hard floors, electric sockets of varying degrees of decepitness, so I ask that if their children go walkabout, an adult goes with them.

10. Have quiet (ish) activities available in church. Be prepared for them to be ignored and for children to stack hassocks or make tunnels of books instead. This is probably the most sensible use to which either will have been put for some time!

11. Encourage children to explore church when it isn’t being used. Get them to help with tidying, carrying bits and pieces. Help them to think it is theirs. How children see us behave in church helps them to learn too.

12. The rules were partially inspired by the TheRevSteve who commented

““There are special rules for children in church”

[at this point there are usually some startled looks and frowns]
“Rule 1: the pews are hard, so if you’re uncomfortable, you MUST get up and run around.
Rule 2: adults are big and get in the way, so you MUST stand up on the pew to get a better view, or move around till you can see what’s going on.
Rule 3: sometimes the Vicar goes on a bit and gets boring: you MUST make a loud noise to remind him to get on with it”
[by now, there are smiles and visible relaxing]
I only do this when there are visitors, because the regulars already know!”

13. The inclusion of children in church is rooted not only in scripture (Matt 19:14) but also in the commitment made in Baptism to bring up those who are baptised in a Christian community.

14. Make sure everyone knows where the toilets / changing area / creche / children’s activities / adults’ quiet space is. (Actually, I may just have hit on something. Does anyone else fancy an “Adults’ Quiet Space”? A sort of creche for Introverts?)

15. Give children jobs to do as soon as they are old enough – they can help take collections, give out books, take messages…make the most of all that energy. Don’t worry when they abandon their job half way through.

None of these rules are difficult. They mostly don’t require investment (although a few toys for creche, and some Pew bags for toddlers, which are kept updated is no bad thing). They DO require time, and thought, and people who are prepared to give them a go. Can we start a revolution?  Can you add some more rules?

PS My darling daughter announced she was quite happy for people to know she was the cross toddler in the photograph “because I look so cute”. 

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15 responses to “Children in Church – The Rules

  1. Implicit in both yours and Steve’s, but worth bringing out as a separate point, is:

    x. Church is not a place for sitting still and facing the front quietly. Children will make a noise, go and look at things, investigate what’s going on and generally move about the place as if they’re at home. If you aren’t doing these things, you’re doing church wrong.

  2. Nº 5. Often when my elder son was about 2 or 3 years old, he would want to come and sit on my lap during the readings etc when I was presiding. Often the Eucharistic prayer was a one handed job as he wanted to hold the other and stand with me behind the altar! The sky didn’t fall in.
    and
    I love The Revd Steve’s rules.

  3. There is nothing wrong with eating rich tea fingers, dolly mixtures, extra strong peppermints… in church as long as you don’t choke on them. Sharing is appreciated especially by the mice who will clear up the crumbs after everyone has gone.

  4. X. All the really exciting stuff happens up front, People dancing around in colourful fancy dress. Candles. Shi-i-i-ney.cups and plates. Smoking firepots*. Big noisy organ*. Loudly singing people. Make sure your children have a good view – they might even want to join in sometimes. A toddler tagged on to our choir procession today. [* optional extras]

  5. Pingback: MIssion | Annotary·

  6. Brilliant ‘rules’, Claire. We have a nine-year old son with autism that has taught the church that it is OK to play on your Gameboy in church as long as you keep the volume down and it’s OK to stand up and quote verses from the Bible or make some other comment when you feel it’s appropriate because God wants to use you (not just the guy up the front) to talk to the church.

  7. Amen. I understand that I ‘assisted’ my Dad at a very early stage in his vicaring career by standing (aged nothing and a bit) and holding his hand during a service at which he was (trying to) officiate…. They say that if you let the child hold the candle, the candle will hold the child (to church). Maybe that’s a bit old-fashioned, but CM will appreciate a decently mixed Old Fashioned, anyway?

  8. Pingback: Rules for Children in Church | ChYPs Ministry·

    • Sorry Karin, I’ve been away! A pew bag is a cloth bag containing a selection of child entertainment devices, preferably which can be explored at length without the need to run round. Done well, they are great – perhaps a book or two, and some (quietish toys). Done badly they are a dumping ground for unhygenic broken discards!

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