Monday, January 27, 2014

The baby-friendly parish

As a parent of many children, I've posted about children in church many times (see here, here, here, and here). Please read the below by James Hargrave.

(OCN) - “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 10:14)

Does your parish welcome little children?

Of course you love kids. Like mine, yours is a probably a church where adults rejoice to worship with young ones, and where even the grumps- like Sounding blogger Bev Cooke - give thanks for them anyhow. I’ll take for granted that your church likes kids.

But that’s not my question.

Even though you like having children around, does the physical set-up of your church make it burdensome for little children to participate in the services?

As parents of a ten-month-old, my wife Daphne and I have discovered all sorts of new things about our parish. Our son loves coming to services. But sometimes we dread bringing him, because some things about our church- like yours, perhaps- make it especially burdensome to have a small child in church. Father and Parish Council have started on some small improvements that will make things much nicer for us and other families with babies.

Here are some questions that will help you see whether your parish “suffers” very young children, or whether it’s a forbidding environment for families with babies.

Is there a changing table? Do you ever miss out on post-Liturgy conversations with parents of babies, because they’ve made a beeline for the car before coffee hour’s even started? Chances are, they dread changing their child’s diaper on a chair, on the floor, or on a table where others are eating. Install a changing table, and you’ll have your friends back again.

You’ve probably seen fold-down changing tables in restaurants and shops. They take up little space, and are conveniently located in the bathroom where parents have easy access to a toilet, sink and garbage can. Wherever you install a changing table, it needs to be within reach of a sink and a trash can. Don’t just slap one up in the women’s washroom- make sure Dad can change baby as well! Most of the time we'll just go back to the car and do it there if one isn't available. I've seen people change diapers in the nave - a definite no-no, but one fixed by providing the necessary tools and not by the "mati."

Is there a private, comfortable nursing area? Sounding blogger Tony Alexiou reminded us what Pope Francis recently reminded Catholics - that church is a place where mothers ought to feel comfortable feeding their children. This is not the bathroom. Who wants to eat in the bathroom? Having a nursing area is not a mandate that nursing should happen in that one spot just as a cry room is not the exclusive domain of all children throughout services.

But sometimes babies get distracted, and you’re doing Mama a huge favor if you provide a quiet, private space where she can slip away and comfortably nurse her child. Even if you don’t have a nursery, you can put a rocking chair in the library or even hang up a curtain in the narthex or fellowship hall. Make sure Mama’s able to hear the service. Please don’t banish her and baby off to the bathroom. Would you eat on a toilet?

Are there high chairs in the fellowship hall? If you have carpet, put a drop mat under the high chair. A kettle, microwave, and kitchen sink will also help parents prepare baby food and formula. Often helpful to put a sign on the back of it saying, "Parents' responsibility to clean after use."

Are baby facilities easily accessible from the nave? If, in the middle of service, I need to take my son out to change his diaper, will I first have to bundle him up against the blizzard outside? Ideally, parents should be able to bring their children in and out of service without being exposed to harsh elements. Be sure also to check that icons, candlestands, chairs, pews, and other obstacles in the nave are arranged in such a way that parents can make easy exits and re-entries.

Do you have arms? Even if your parish’s physical set-up is 100% child-forbidding, here’s something you can do at the very next service: hold a baby. One of my children was passed around like an hors d'oeuvre tray for some months by helpful parishioners.

You’ll give Mama or Papa a chance to actually make the sign of the Cross or even a metanoia. You’ll give them a still moment for prayerfulness. After Liturgy, parents will bless you to the skies if you hold baby long enough for them to get a sip of coffee and a bite of food.

Because some people are antsy about holding children, weary parents probably won’t put their baby in your arms unless you offer. By the way: little kids are more or less indestructable. It’s pretty hard to hold them wrong.

Ever hear this? “When we finish our building program and move into the new facility, everything will be nice. Until then, there’s nothing we can do.”

No, no, NO! Building programs can take decades to complete. You can suffer little children today. Ask parents of infants in your congregation to walk you through their Sunday morning. Chances are, you’ll see very small improvements that will make it a lot easier for the youngest in your midst to be present and participating in the liturgical life of the Church.

Find out who in the church has authority and responsibility to make changes. It might be Father, but it might be delegated to Parish Council or to a committee. Make sure the right people are aware, and that they know you’re ready to help. Advocate for parents.

Christ tells all of us to “receive the kingdom of God as a little child.” So let’s be sure we’re doing nothing to forbid the kingdom of God to the little children in our midst.

1 comment:

  1. There is no "fun" comparable to the "fun" of attending a large Orthodox church with the bathroom outside in a separate structure. Not only that, but the parish hall was a good distance away from the church. There were good, practical reasons why the hall had to remain away from the new church. The bathroom, however, was omitted from the church design for aesthetic reasons (i.e. to copy more closely the original church upon which the contemporary one was based). It most definitely was not a "baby-friendly" church given the physical set-up. No problem with the congregation's feelings toward children which, in the end, matters more if one is forced to choose.