Welcoming churches embrace old and new

Published February 1, 2003

My family and I used to sit in the narthex, wedged into one of two rows of pews with other families with small children – an area we parents call the petting zoo. The interior back wall of the church is mostly glass, so the young families sitting or standing in our area could see the service through the windows. Hearing the worship was another matter. Often, the din of the children – who, by the way, love to go to church to see their friends and exchange the peace – became a dull roar and the noise crept into the church proper. It was often at this point that the ushers or ‘ministers of welcome,’ as they are known at my church, closed the heavy oak doors between us and the rest of the congregation. The sound system was sometimes up to the challenge of broadcasting the service at a sufficient volume. Frequently, it was not, and those of us who chose to sit apart from the congregation were denied even the parts of the service that would filter through the two doors when they were open.Some of us parents who felt lucky just to get the family out the door on a Sunday morning and who were trying to keep the children reasonably quiet would clench our teeth when the doors were closed; we would exchange a roll of the eyes or grumble briefly and guiltily, feeling torn about thinking uncharitably about our fellow parishioners. Perhaps some of them had unkind thoughts, too, about us and our children’s noise while they tried to worship in peace. Eventually, we gave up on the petting zoo. We now sit in any old pew we like. Now old enough, our eldest child goes downstairs for the kindergarten program while her younger sister sits with us and – separated from her church friends back in the zoo – reads, colours or plays (mostly) quietly with a toy. I have been mindful of this in recent weeks as Journal readers wrote in response to our recent two-part series on children in the church. Some of the letter writers are much like me and my family – just trying to do the best for their families by introducing them to their faith. It is, therefore, all the more maddening when that introduction is met with less-than-welcoming behaviour from the church and its members. It was heartening to read in that series about churches that not only recognize children and their parents as valued members of the faith family, but encourage them to be full members wherever they can. These are churches that place as much emphasis on serving existing members through innovative programs as they do on attracting new members. These welcoming initiatives to include all of God’s children are encouraging. They join the recent release of a hymnal in the Kwak’wala language (see story p. 1) and last year’s completion of an Inuktitut translation of the Bible. The latter, a Canadian Bible Society project, was a labour of love for more than 24 years for a handful of Inuit Anglican priests and one bishop. The Kwak’wala hymnal, a smaller but no less ambitious project, will help not only in the preservation of a gradually-ebbing language, but will allow young and old Kwakwaka’wakw people on north Vancouver Island to sing from the same book. The symbolism cannot be lost on anyone. Now that churches are finally holding the line on their numbers (after three decades of steady decline, according to numbers released last spring by Canadian sociologist Reginald Bibby) they need to be mindful of ministering to those already within their walls. Would that they put as much energy into offering new resources and programs to old members as they are in attracting new members to existing programs.


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