From the blog Praying with my Feet, a post on the ridiculous expectations for children in church. This is a topic I have spoken on quite a few times (see here, here, here, here, and here). As the parent of many children, as a seminarian required to attend many services, and as a person who has been to numerous parishes all over the US and Canada I can say that the response of parishioners to children can best be described as bipolar. Harkening back to Texas, if I drove south a bit to a nearby Orthodox church any noise made by children was met with icy stares and eyes darting like directional markers to the narthex door. If I drove north a bit, children were smiled at and parents even helped out other parents by picking up scurrying children or walking them around to look at icons. Both parishes were in the same jurisdiction and less than an hour away from one another. Which church do you think today can't even fit all the new members in the building on any given Sunday?
The church is a hospital. It is not a palliative care center where the old and crotchety go to die in peace. Kicking children out of church is kicking them out of a hospital - akin to sour-faced people kicking children's gurneys out the front door, past the ambulances, and into the street. A church that is not growing is dying.
I can't imagine kicking a family out for being a distraction. I can, and just might, prescribe an epitimia of penitential silence to a parishioner who told me to "Do something about" a noisy child.
Lastly, let me recount an encounter I once had with a person who thought I might commiserate with them about a particularly boisterous child.
Person: Wow. They (the parents) really need to do something about that kid!
Me: I'm sure they were doing what they could...
Person: Well, if they can't get a handle on him, one of them should stay home on Sundays until he can be quiet.
Me: You could always help.
Me: What's stopping you from going over and walking him around, letting him sit with you for a few minutes, or asking how you can help when you see them at coffee hour?
Person: [Looking at me like I had grown horns and smelled of sulfur] He's not my kid!
Today during the last minutes of the post communion prayers many of the little children (and some adults too) were getting restive. I thought again about the family who had been so rudely shunned. I acknowledge that it can be hard to ignore very disruptive behavior. [And by "very disruptive behavior" I mean seriously disruptive behavior. Not simple talking.] But, honestly, the only solution is to say, "GET OUT"? This is from my post "More on Children in Church":
If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. [1 Cor 13:1-2]
In the case of the family I mentioned, the priest didn't have a problem with it - some parishioners did. And they took it upon themselves to throw this family out.
When we were in seminary there was a man in the local community who had recently married a woman with a smallish child. They had a baby not too long afterward. The man was Orthodox but his wife was not. Then tragedy struck: the man was flying his small plane when it crashed and he died. His new widow was heartbroken but decided that she wanted to be Orthodox and continue to raise her children in the Orthodox faith. She was rapidly catechized and baptised. She came to Liturgy at the seminary every Sunday, bringing her two children with her. They tended to sit in about the same place every week. Almost always sitting behind her was an elderly woman who, I can say only from my own experience, never had a kind word for anyone. For myself, I stayed as far away from that woman as possible. She would sit right behind this little family and criticize them audibly. Every time a child would make a peep (and really, these were pretty quiet kids) she would have something to say. This went on for weeks and weeks.
One day, it was just one comment too many. In the middle of Liturgy the young mother stood up, turned around, and in a voice that penetrated every corner of the building, told the woman off. She said how horrible it was to listen to her criticize every little thing and talk so badly about them. She said how much it hurt her and she was taking her children and never darkening the doors again. She picked up the baby, took the other child by the arm, and marched out. Needless to say, Liturgy had come to a standstill. Everyone in the altar was looking out the doors and the choir was peering down from the loft. When the doors to the narthex slammed shut, everyone tried to pick up the lost thread and Liturgy continued. Whew.
Some time later (I can't remember exactly how long) I heard that the old woman was sick. She had gone to the doctor who put her in the hospital. She was diagnosed with cancer and was "eaten up with it", to use the common phrase. Only three days later she was dead. I wondered if the pain from the cancer had contributed to her foul personality. A few weeks after this the young mother returned to church.
This is not a story with a happy ending. Mostly it is an object lesson. We do hurt people with our words and actions and we can be responsible for driving them from the Church.
Church services are not always perfectly quiet. Elder Porphyrios when serving a church in the middle of Athens had a problem with music blaring from a music shop across the street during Liturgy. The owner refused to lower the volume during services. This caused the elder great distress and he prayed that God would help him overcome it. One day he said this came to his mind: "And if you celebrate here and have your mind on God, who can cause you any harm?"* The next time he served he remembered this and it was as if there was no music blaring - he heard nothing.
We cannot always control the atmosphere in the physical temple, but we do control the atmosphere in the temple of our souls. We cannot condemn people for making distractions when we ourselves are making our own noise in our souls, chattering and complaining endlessly about who is late, who is talking, what someone is wearing, what children are doing, how long the sermon is... When we manage to create stillness in our own hearts, then the noise around us will not bother us.