While it is a beautiful image to think of lovely children all sitting attentively during services, the reality is often a little less perfect -- and a great deal louder. It isn't always easy for children -- or parents -- to sit attentively through an entire hour or more. This week's clergy discuss the issue.
Manmeet K. Lamba, general secretary, Gurdwara Sahib Sikh Temple, Glen Cove:
We have a school in the building, as well as a special room for younger children to keep them entertained, but both are religiously based. As long as you have the right team of volunteers to take care of the children, it can be a positive experience. Classes start at age 5, and we start grooming them to come into the main service at that age. We also have a special children's service during the main service.
While you don't want the children to disrupt others, they have to learn how to behave in a religious service. But, we also want children to be children.
During a service, we say the prayers, then have people who chant poems, known as Kirtan. We also have someone speak on the life of our gurus during each service.
Another option is our religious school, which has about 100 children enrolled. They can learn much until they are ready to join our nearly 500-member congregation. We do have parents who keep their children with them during services. We encourage that as a way for parents to teach their children how to behave during services.
The Rev. James Barker, Bible Baptist Church, Elmont:
Our church has a nursery. If a baby is fussy, the ushers will walk over and quietly invite the mom to take the baby to the nursery. We have workers there to help. She can leave the baby in the nursery and go back to enjoy the service. The mother also can stay in the nursery with the baby. Or, the mother can sit with the baby on one of the benches in the hallway.
We also have children's church for ages 4-6. They have preaching and songs geared to children that are fun and easy for them to absorb. At 7 years old, they should be able to sit through a service and understand what is going on.
Being able to sit through and absorb the service starts at home, not at the church. As parents, if you have devotional and prayer at home and explain to your child how he or she should act, they will act that way when they come here to service.
I know there are some clergy who don't mind children fussing or crying during services. I kind of see it like a fussy, crying child in a movie theater or at a restaurant. Nobody really enjoys it. Church is the same thing. One of the nice things about the nursery is that those mothers who think they can't come to church because their baby is too young to sit quietly have an option that allows them to attend service.
Randy Ellen Sheinberg, Temple Tikvah, New Hyde Park:
As with so many things, this issue is a question of balance. Congregations need to broaden their standards of "decorum," and parents need to take responsibility for their children's behavior. There are times when a child is engaged with what is happening in the congregation -- intently listening to a story, or involved in a prayer or a particular song. And even so, they may be acting in ways that are considered unruly by some -- clapping too loudly, talking back, even dancing or squirming in their seats. I have all the patience in the world for this kind of behavior, and I think that congregants need to learn to accept it as well. If the behavior becomes too uncontrollable, it is fine for parents to walk in and out of the service with a child whose attention span is limited.
Parents also need to take responsibility for their children. Most importantly, they can model appropriate behavior. If adults check text messages or converse with neighbors during the service, children will get the message that services aren't really important and won't be motivated to pay attention.
Finally, responsibility also rests with the clergy to create worship that is engaging and moving for participants. Even if children don't always understand what is happening in a service, they can sense the "electricity," and will be more attentive if we keep worship meaningful and joyful.