Children in the Church – Some Practical Guidelines for the Parish
3 Children are a heritage from the Lord,
offspring a reward from him.
4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.
5 Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me.”
A parish or mission is a living and breathing thing with a life and character of its own. No two are the same. One thing is certain, however – when the parish ceases to baptize new members, it is dying. Children are, indeed, one of the most certain signs of life in any community – they are a gift from God.
As children are born, we welcome them as full members in baptism, and it is the job of the parents, the god-parents and the community to assure that children are raised with the saving knowledge of Christ and afforded a positive Church experience that will evolve into a love for God’s house and His people.
As the number of children increases, so does the “holy noise” that accompanies children – this is a growing pain that we should welcome, but not be afraid to confront. As St. Paul says, “Everything should be done decently, and in order.” So, how do we address the noise and distractions without crushing the children and the parents who might be contributing to the commotion?
The answer is, in short, “grace” – we have all received this in spades from our Lord. But, specifically, those without children need to exhibit grace toward the parents and children, and the parents with children need to exhibit grace toward those who aren’t wrestling little ones day in and day out.
The answer is, in short, “grace” – we have all received this in spades from our Lord.
To the parents of young children
Relax! God put the wiggle in children; don’t feel that you have to suppress those wiggles during services.
- Consider moving closer to the front where it is easier for young ones to engage, or hold them while you quietly point out the liturgical movements, the choir the priest the altar servers etc. – teach them while you have them during this precious time!
- If being in the front doesn’t work for you, then find an area off to the side where you can properly “corral” your kids.
- Sing the hymns and songs with them. Recite the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed with them – they will learn by following your lead, even before they know how to speak.
- If you need to leave the service for any reason, please do, but come back in as soon as possible. If your children learn that “making a fuss” means leaving for playtime, they will have you trained to leave constantly. Leaving the services should not be leaving for play time.
- If you need help with a child or children during a service, ask someone before the service if they might be willing to be your “helper” for the day (and then point them to the principles above). Don’t, however, leave your children with another child.
To adults without young children
Relax! You were once a child, and perhaps a parent, too.
- When you see children in the Church, offer a prayer of thanks to God for the blessing of new life in the Church.
- Engage with the children outside of services, and let them know that they are loved.
- If you see a father or mother in a service without a helper – a single mother perhaps, please be aware of how you can help them, but respect their boundaries! They are in charge, but might welcome some help from time to time.
- Treat every parent with love – we have no idea what struggles a parent might be dealing with prior to coming to services. It is a challenge to leave the house with children fed in many cases, and bringing children to church is an expression of love for their children (even when the kids are cranky or restless).
- If you observe something that is troubling or concerning in regards to a child’s behavior in church, bring it to the priest in charge. Don’t speak about it (specifically or generically) to anyone else – this is gossip, and sinful.
- When the commotion gets to be “too much,” consider relocating yourself to another area, quietly and discretely, so that you may focus your attention. Please remember that it is never appropriate to complain that you cannot “worship” because of distractions – we can worship, giving thanks to God, in any situation, especially if we are guests in His house. To say, “I can’t worship because of the children,” is something we should never let slip from our lips.
Standards for Children in the Parish (under 13 years)
- Parents should have their children use the restroom prior to each service. There is almost never a reason that a child should need to be excused to use the restroom during a service.
- If a child must use the restroom, the parent should accompany the child in every case. If the parent is charged with some responsibility in the church (such as singing), then the parent should assure that his/her duties are covered and accompany the child to the restroom – this will assure that the visit to the restroom is short, and that children do not linger, unsupervised, away from their parents. Children under 13 are not to use the restroom during services without a parent accompanying them.
- Parents should be within reach and eyesight of their children under the age of 13 at all times. Don’t assume that “someone” will keep an eye on them.
- Please don’t enlist the “help” of another child in the care of your child – if you do enlist the assistance of a youth in the parish, check with the parent first.
- If your child is being loud, your first response should be to quiet them with a gentle “Shhhhh.” If the noise persists, take them out and try to quiet them, returning to the service as soon as the child is quiet.
- Young children might sometimes require food during a lengthy service – if this is the case, the snack should be something that will not leave many crumbs.
- It is the job of the parent to assure that children are not talking needlessly, running around or (in the case of older children) playing in the church.
- If a child under the age of 13 is serving in the altar, he should be well mannered and attentive during the divine services – if this is not the case, and the child demonstrates that he is not ready to serve, then he will be asked to return to stand with his parents until he is older.
- Children under 13 who are serving in the altar should arrive at least 15 minutes prior to service, and not leave until he has cleaned up and received a blessing to depart. If the child needs to use the restroom during a service, he should receive a blessing to remove his robe, and then return to stand with his parent for the remainder of the service.
Standards for Older Children / Youth in the Parish (13+ years)
- Youth should, likewise, be asked to use the restroom before services, but as children get older and observe the fasting rules, this should not be an issue (at least during Liturgy).
- Youth should stand with their families whenever possible, but it is not unreasonable that well-mannered youth desire to stand or sit near each other. When this is permitted, it is the parent’s job to assure that their youth are well-mannered and attentive.
- Teens in the parish should be reminded that they set the tone for the other children in the parish – they are role models for the younger children. Their actions should model good behavior.
- Youth are not permitted to remain in the parish hall during services – if there is some reason why this must happen, then the parent of that youth should remain with or near their children (within eyesight) until they are ready to return.
There are always special cases and exceptions, and these should be addressed with the priest directly.