When I was still an Evangelical, and my first child was about a year old, my wife and I attended one of the churches in town with a view to making it our home. Our daughter wasn’t noisy at all, and I say that with many years of experience of noisy children, but as soon as the service finished a woman in front of us turned around and said that we might be happier taking our child out of the meeting in future. I think that her comments made us feel very awkward, and not very welcome at all. We didn’t return.
I’ve had many years of worship in small congregations since I became Orthodox, and I have sympathised with those usually young parents who have sometimes struggled to keep their children relatively engaged and peaceful. I have never felt that they were a nuisance. In the seven years I have been a priest I have continued to welcome families with young children. Some of the most moving experiences in my ministry have been when I have turned to face the congregation with the most precious Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus and have found a small child waiting quietly in front of me to receive communion. Often I have knelt down so that I could offer them the Holy Mysteries at their own level.
In my own experience, I have found it relatively easy to zone out any noise from young children during a Liturgy. When there is a disturbance I know that family and friends will be taking care of things as best they can, and that God delights in young children being present at the worship of the Church of Christ. They are also important members of the Body and the Church is not complete without them. It has often helped, in the places where I have celebrated the Liturgy, that we have not had rows of pews, a Western Protestant invention, and so little children have been able to sit on the carpet and amuse themselves quietly when it becomes hard for them to concentrate on the Liturgy. It has been a wonderful thing to see older people, other parents and grandparents, keeping little ones occupied, showing them things in the Church, even playing with them for a while.
I have often told parents that I would rather they turned up for the last 30 or 45 minutes of the Liturgy so that their little children had a positive experience of the service, than that they tried to make a 1 or 2 year old be still for 2 or 3 hours. But I have also told parents that unless their child is distraught and really upset, and needs to have a change of scene for a moment, I am not disturbed by a small child being a small child. Our Lord does not say, “suffer the little children to come unto me, as long as they are quiet!”
What would I hope? It is that we are an Orthodox community which welcomes families with young children, and which supports those families, and becomes an extended family to them. I hope that no parents would ever be made to feel uncomfortable because their young child made some noise. On the contrary, the noise that a little one makes is a sign that we are alive, and are a family at worship. What a sadness to know that many young children are excluded from the Liturgy. They are among the most precious participants of the Liturgy in the estimation of our Heavenly Father and we receive our Lord in the manner in which we receive them each of them.