When a two-year-old is antsy and curious, parents squirm. Especially when it’s the day of the younger brother’s baptism and the entire family is in the pews, the church is full, and you have imagined this moment as perfect. Mom’s arms are full with a newborn, and Dad is wrangling two other preschoolers.
As parents, most of us have been there. We try to summon superpowers so that the glare from our eyes will magically curtail the exploration. We marvel at the superpowers of our children who can suddenly make their bodies completely limp and boneless when we try to pull them off the floor, out from under the pews, and in from the aisles. We wither a bit inside as our children choose this day, this moment, to explore, to fuss, to wander.
But here’s the thing: They’re kids. And this is their church too.
I’ve been to churches and with parishioners who still espouse the philosophy of children as seen but not heard. I remember the chiding from a fellow congregant when my children were little. I was feeding my 10-week-old, and our three-year-old wiggled out of the seat and to her father, who was preaching. He scooped her up and continued. After the service, the parishioner told me I needed to control my child and heaped on other digs about my poor parenting. My hurt and indignation burn a decade later.
This past Sunday, we celebrated the baptism of a beautiful baby boy. And his brother, like toddlers are prone to do, wanted to wander, to see his grandpa in the choir loft, to take a lap around the organ, to peer over the edge of the baptismal font. His parents were embarrassed and, with other family members, tried to bring him back into the pew, to sit quietly and color, and to the back of the church. But he had other plans.
During the baptism, the family gathered around the font, including this brother and two sisters. The priest and congregation shone the love of Jesus this day. The priest invited the boy and his sister to help pour the water into the font. He invited them to touch the water, to be in the circle, to be a part of this sacred sacrament. When the little boy started to walk away, the priest brought him back, talked directly to him, and encouraged him to participate in the moment. These young children were ministers as well as the priest, taking an active role in welcoming the newest member of the Body of Christ.
During the announcements, the priest talked about how wonderful it is to have a church teeming with children. It’s a true blessing, he said.
And indeed it is. I want to be in a place that embraces all people, including young, wiggly, wandering ones, as a blessing, not a burden. And I’m pretty sure Jesus wants that too.
How do you make young wiggly ones welcome in your church?