Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Reverence: The Kids Aren't the Issue

I wouldn’t trade having children in our meetings for anything, and, as bluntly as I can put this, they aren’t the problem. The adults are, and I say this from the perspective of quite a few years sitting in front of the chapel looking out over the congregation. Here are a few of my observations:

1) Reverence is not quietude. It is an internal feeling of awe, respect, worship - of "revering" something.

2) Children who see their parents or other adults talking in Sacrament Meeting will learn to talk in Sacrament Meeting. Children who see adults not being respectful and worshipful will learn also to model that behavior. This is particularly disheartening during the actual administration of the sacrament, when awe, respect and reverential worship are the heart of the very purpose for the ordinance.

3) Reverence does include a degree of quietude in situations where quietude is appropriate - like the administration of the sacrament. Children who are not taught to be quiet outside of Sacrament Meeting, as a component of reverence, will not be able to be quiet during Sacrament Meeting. I know my wife and have been blessed with children who do not have difficult issues that make being quiet particularly difficult, but we also took time each week when they were pre-nursery age, at home, to sit with them on our laps for extended periods of time (while reading or talking quietly at first and then simply “thinking”) - specifically to help train them to be able to sit silently during the administration of the sacrament and quietly throughout the service. They aren’t perfect little angels, but they don’t distract from the spirit - even when my wife was alone with all six of them.

4) Parents (or mothers alone) who struggle to control the chaos of a disruptive child and others they simply can’t leave alone need others (adults and/or teenagers) who are willing to ask privately if they can help - either by sitting with the family throughout SM or moving to them when the parent(s) needs to leave with a child. The screaming child isn’t the issue; the mother or father not feeling like s/he can leave is - and that is a problem of lack of service within the congregation. The parent who blithely sits and ignores a screaming child also is much more of a problem than the child, and a parent who chastises in again during a time requiring reverence also is a problem.

5) Many husbands and fathers need to take a few slaps upside the head and stop acting like dealing with the kids in Sacrament Meeting is their wives’ job. There is a heavy dose of repentance necessary for many.

There are more examples I could give, but I believe firmly that the issue is not kids in sacrament meeting but rather adults abrogating their responsibilities for those kids. Jesus said, "Suffer the children to come unto me" - and allowing them to worship with us is one way to help fulfill this request, imo. God bless the parent (usually the mother) who sacrifices a bit of her own peace and sanity in an effort to bring her children to Christ and help them learn to worship Him. NOTHING in this post should be used to make that good brother or sister feel guilty when children still are learning reverence and simply being children.

In our ward now, our last Bishop focused a lot of attention on humbly and gently teaching the adults to take responsibility for reverence in the chapel, especially during the administration of the sacrament. The difference in our ward over the past few years has been nothing short of amazing - even with plenty of children in our midst.


Jami said...

We've done practice Sacrament Meetings for years with very little effect. I'm always interested in the success stories of others. I'll have to try the "just thinking" after story time.

Sacrament Meeting suffering is about to get much less painful. My husband was released as the chorister, so now he can sit with us again. (And there was much rejoicing.)

Papa D said...

Jami, we've never done practice Sacrament Meetings. I'm not much into any kind of role playing.

Congrats on your husband's release. *grin*

Anonymous said...

Great post,sad in a way that we do have to spell this stuff out,but we really do and your thoughts here need wider dissemination.We always sat on the front row when DH was on bishopric so that they would be under his nose and convenient to his participation in discipleship.Otherwise I would have constantly been running after kids running up the aisle as i see poor parents doing,particularly women with husbands on the stand.It all just takes some joined up thinking,but with the focus on adult behaviour.Nevertheless,i think it's crazy to be offended by the behaviour of a child,and if i'm honest i find them the most entertaining part of sacrament meeting,although i should point out that i do understand that sacrament meeting is not there for my entertainment-which is also what i think we need to teach our kids.

Louann and Bari said...

I have always struggled with this problem. As a single mom I occasionally missed going to church because 'I just couldn't deal with it'. So, I do have much sympathy with that situation.
BUT- what really gets me are the parents who are completely OBLIVIOUS to their children fighting/talking loudly during the meeting. Geez- I'd like some kind of reminder to whisper.

John Mansfield said...

I'll go a step further. Leaders are the issue. If the people who attend ward council deliberately kept their work out of the chapel, then there would be little need for the bishop to remind the congregation to be reverent.

Christy said...

Fantastic observations Ray. I confess that there are times when, as I am reverently trying to soak in the talks, I have become irritated because a noisy child was not taken out of the room. But I sit in the front, and I don't know the circumstances behind what I am hearing. Point #4gave me a slap up the side of my head. Thanks for opening my eyes. And my heart.

Anonymous said...

I think there is also a clear lack of understanding from members.
Last sunday was specially noisy to me and I stopped listening to the talks to listen to the room. I thought it was a beautiful noise. Children do make noise but this is because we think that the place where they belong to is with their parents listening to talks and worshiping God.
So my reaction to members being anoyed by the screams of the children is "love it or help the parents because b*tching about it is not going to change anything for sure".

SilverRain said...

There is one lady in our ward with four children under 6 years old. When I stepped way out of my comfort zone to offer help, she was (to put it mildly) displeased. Later, her husband told me that she didn't like to be helped.

And yet, her children disrupt the meeting, flinging snack food* around the room which their parents both desperately shove at them, and cause general mayhem.

I think a good thing to add would be to accept help when it is offered. Oftentimes, I'm afraid to offer service because it offends people.

* I have found that food in sacrament meeting enhances noisy children, and does not enhance reverence or even quiet.

Papa D said...

I can't respond to all the comments right now, but just a couple of points:

1) Leadership really is the key. Our good bishop nearly wore himself out for months asking for and modeling reverence. For example, he insisted that the bishopric be in their seats and listening to the prelude music for the final five minutes before the meeting started. It finally worked, and the result now is wonderful.

2) I support totally the elimination of food from the chapel. I know it has become a "tool of quietude" with some parents, but it is diametrically opposed to reverence - and I think it sets a horrible precedence for children to think that the talks really aren't all that important - that distractions from the message are OK, or even better than the messages.

Clean Cut said...

SilverRain, I think you raise a really interesting topic worthy of its own post, or at least sociological study. Why is it that people get offended when help is offered? Do they feel they'd be admitting failure since they can't do it on their own? (Whatever it is). I see this time and time again, yet it's so contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (We ALL need help!).

Mama D said...

Back when I had 3 young kids (4, 2, newborn) church was a nightmare. Ray had a calling that took him to a different branch with a meeting afterwards. He was never there to help get the kids ready or to be in our meetings. I grew up in a home where it was instilled that you sit with family at church. As a young mom I could not bring myself to ask anyone to help me with the kids, largely because of this attitude and because of fear of failure and pride. It was an extremely tough time for me.

I have learned over the years to swallow my pride and ask for help when I need it, and especially to gratefully accept it when it is offered. How wonderful to realize someone has noticed you and your struggles, and is willing to help without judgment! You no longer feel alone and overwhelmed.

However, as Silverrain pointed out, not everyone can bridge this gap of needing/asking/accepting help. Everyone is at a different point and we need to accept them where they are.

Now that our 6 kids are 20-6, I can relax a bit with the reverence issue - because it is no longer much of an issue. I've learned that it is worth it to keep trying your best in teaching your kids to be reverent. Jami, Louann, and others - don't give up yet! Some day (whenever that is) your efforts WILL pay off!

jennycherie said...

Great post, Ray. SilverRain, I think it's wonderful that you are *observant* enough to notice someone in need of help. And who knows, maybe that sister is asking herself now, "why on earth did I say no??" I will say, we also need to be cautious of the line between helping and interfering. Reverence has been difficult for my children, though it has improved as they get older. I've always appreciated offers of help, but not interfering. Sometimes, just sitting on the lap of a different adult can be all it takes to calm a restless child. . . but I do *not* need anyone leaning up to "correct" my children if they reach out for the bread with the wrong hand!