Last week my pastor, Father Michael White, posted a blog which underscored the value we place on programs for infants and toddlers that parents can use while they’re attending Mass.
Within hours his Twitter account lit up with dozens of responses, mostly negative. Fr. Michael acknowledges that he could have done a better job of making his points. And, moving forward, we’re not interested in stirring further debate. But, we are interested in the topic.
To begin, here is what we are not saying:
We are not saying that parents who choose to keep their babies with them at Mass are making a bad choice. In fact, it might be the perfect choice for them and their family. Here at our parish we always respect that choice.
Here is what we are saying:
First, as a parish, we want everyone to have a loving relationship with the living Lord. That’s why we exist. At Nativity our kids programs are intended to serve this purpose.
Second, we believe that the best way for a child to grow in their relationship with Jesus is to have parents who are growing in their relationship with Jesus. We have created children’s programs to help parents who are looking for help to more fully engage in the Eucharist.
Third, we believe that children come to know Jesus in age appropriate ways. In raising children, there is a progression. Mass defies comparisons, of course, to other life experiences. Notwithstanding, our programs are grounded in this conviction.
Our All Stars program is for ages 6 weeks to 6 years old. We offer dedicated spaces for each age, but this is definitely not babysitting. We call it play, worship, learn. Obviously, this is going to look different for infants than for toddlers, but basically, they experience a gathering time, followed by worship music and a faith based message from the weekend gospel. As they progress through the program they are introduced to more and more elements of the Mass itself.
I have seen the positive impact this has made on my own children and their easy transition to Mass when my wife and I think they’re ready.
Fourth, we believe that children grow in faith when they are connected to a community. Our children’s programs give families an opportunity to develop friends in faith, so that they are not all alone when it comes to their child’s faith formation.
Along with All Stars, and our Children’s Liturgy of the Word for older children, we also have a dedicated seating area for parents with small kids where they can see and hear everything. The flip side of the people who choose to keep their little kids with them, are the parents who feel they have no other options. We know of many stories of people who stop going to church because it becomes an uncomfortable experience for them. Take a look at some feedback from our parishioner Josh:
I just wanted to thank everyone at the church for being so welcoming and friendly to our family. For us, the barrier Nativity has removed is the frustration we’ve experienced with having three children attend Mass with us. We had taken many months off from attending any church because we had become so frustrated, continually trying to keep our children quiet or occupied, while getting nothing out of it at all, except irritated with one another.
Thanks to Nativity, my wife and I can now sit as a couple for an hour, worship, sing, receive communion in a prayerful, thoughtful way, and renew our spirits just to make it through another crazy week! Now, we look forward to every Sunday.
It makes us happy that our kids program works for Josh, his family, and many others.
Tom is Pastoral Associate at Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland. In his twenty plus years of parish ministry he has held a variety of roles including Director of Children’s Ministry. Tom and his wife Mia are parents to seven children, ages 17 to 4, and are joyfully active in their homeschool community.