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A Welcome and a Framework

The Rev. Daniel R. Heischman, D.D.
March 05, 2012
At our recent retreat for chaplains and parish day school rectors in the Pacific Northwest, Bishop Hanley of Oregon made mention of a new, emerging trend, “home churching.” Like home schooling, this phenomenon has its roots in a family’s dissatisfaction with what institutions provide or do not provide, as well as an interest in offering some spiritual and moral framework for children whose parents are not particularly interested in church going, or perhaps seek to carve out their own approach given their varied religious or non-religious backgrounds. It also appears to have an organic beginning in most homes: what begins as a day of the week set apart without television or internet then gives way to grace before meals, Bible study, singing songs, family discussions, and planning for the week ahead. Before one knows it, a pattern and ritual have emerged. As some of these parents report, “Church really did not work for us,” and this provides for them a spiritual alternative.

One of the ways that “church really did not work for us” is the discomfort these parents can feel having their children in church, including the seeming lack of welcome they can experience for bringing their children in the first place. When the children make noise, these parents claim to receive a lot of “nasty and disapproving looks” from the older folks around them in the pews.

I don’t think the church does a particularly good job of addressing the expectations it has for the behavior of children in worship. On the one extreme, there are those churches where the nasty looks abound, where the implicit message to kids and the parents who bring them is, “Not welcome;” on the other hand, there are those churches where children can seem out of control, admittedly making it hard for many adults to focus on the liturgy. It encourages me when parishes intentionally seek to welcome children “as they are” in worship, although children—like all human beings!—need help with what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior, even in a sacred space. It is a struggle that many parishes face: how to blend welcome with needed guidelines.

Here is where I believe our Episcopal schools do such a good job with children and worship. Our chapels are welcoming places for children, where we center our message and tone to their world. At the same time, we help our students learn how to act in a sacred place. They are given a framework, something they all seek and need. In some cases, they ultimately have a better sense of how to be in a sacred place than their parents when they show up to chapel!

A welcome and a framework: the two go hand in hand when it comes to having that most important part of the Body of Christ in our midst. In this way, among many, we have something of real value to offer to our churches.