Note: These are real questions, but the name of the questioner is withheld. Questions may be edited for the sake of clarity and brevity. If you have a question for The Thoughtful Pastor, feel free to email her at email@example.com or fill out the form here.
Dear Thoughtful Pastor: “What should my attitude be when there are babies and children screaming at the top of their lungs in church, and the parents won’t take them out? How does a thoughtful pastor handle such a situation?” ~Distracted
You’ve asked me two questions here. What do you do about the screaming baby or other distractions? What does the pastor do?
Last Sunday, I was sitting in worship when a young woman in front of me spent most of the service running her hands through her hair. When she finally decided she had it in adequate order, she started working on the hair of the young woman sitting next to her.
I genuinely wanted to lean over, tap her on the shoulder, and suggest that she do her hair styling in the bathroom. Honestly, as a former student of anthropology, I felt like I was seeing two chimpanzees grooming one another for nits.
Probably not the best option. I could just hear her afterward saying, “You won’t believe that that nasty church lady said to me. That’s the last time I’ll be in church. Ever.”
A screaming baby at least elicits more sympathy, if not for the baby, then for the parents.
Honestly, every parent is embarrassed when this happens. If you know the parents well, offer to give them a break and see if they will let you try to take the baby out and soothe her. If they refuse, your best choice is to find every ounce of compassion within you, grin and bear it, and be glad it is not you.
When I was a pastor, I would go ahead and acknowledge the situation, as that generally releases tension in the congregation. I also told people that it does us well to recognize that baby sounds, and they are hardly limited to screaming, are also their prayers and we should welcome them.
Frankly, none of us knows when we might unknowingly be a distraction to someone else. Your best bet is to cut others a lot of slack and hope they do the same for you.
Dear Thoughtful Pastor: “Christy, what’s the big deal about the communion cracker with gluten?! Can’t you bring your own cracker? Why are you obsessing on this?” ~A Non-Obsessive Reader
Dear Non-Obsessive, Yeah, well let me try to describe to you what happens when I eat something containing gluten. On second thought, those are probably details no one needs to read in a family paper. Let’s just say I get VERY SICK, even with a tiny amount of contamination. Be grateful you don’t have the same reaction.
So why don’t I bring my own? If I were attending my own church, and they could not or would not make provision for those like me, I probably would. Or maybe I’d just say, “Really? You can’t be that hospitable?” and go elsewhere.
But this past year, I was attending a different place of worship each week. I went as an observer, not an actor or as part of the worship. I was especially looking for ways that the outsider was treated. I wanted to know if I would be greeted, how children were cared for, what were the lines that marked “this person is in and that person is out.”
Because of my particular sensitivity, my welcome at the Sacrament of Holy Communion became a central focus point. If I were in a wheelchair, I would have been particularly aware of disability and accessibility issues. When I develop the nearly inevitable old-age hearing loss, I’m going to be looking for hearing-assist devices.
And if I had babies, I’d be looking for a cry room where I could do necessary infant care and not be excluded from worship.
[Note: this column is slated to run in the September 4, 2015 edition of the Denton Record Chronicle]