One of the most challenging parts of being a Vicar's wife so far has been the fact that we rarely get to attend church as a family.
Although it should have been obvious to me that Sunday was about to become a busy workday for Josh, somehow I never realised the true consequences for myself before he was ordained. Where-as we used to arrive and leave church at the same time, sit together (for the most part) and look after Ivy together now Josh has to attend several services on a Sunday covering four different churches and quite often we don't even go to the same service.
The main challenge I have is parenting Ivy at church. Although we all love services and meeting people there, keeping an energetic toddler entertained single handedly every week is a challenge and I feel like I rarely get to just sit and enjoy being taught. Josh tries to help as much as he can but most of the time he has to be in 'work mode' and it's simply not appropriate for him to be sitting with us or chasing Ivy around.
Anyway, I've been thinking about it a lot and it got me thinking about children in church and how even though it can sometimes be an absolute slog it's so important that as Christians we not only bring our children to church, but that we parent them well while we are there.
Children in Church are necessary
It is easy to see children in church as an inconvenience - they're noisy and don't want to sit still and can be distracting - but it's so important that we don't view them as such. They are a vital part of our church family and need to be both welcomed and included in our services, not just tolerated or ignored. Jesus celebrated children so we should too. As a parent it's sometimes easier to avoid church altogether, but a church family that is working well will try and integrate children into their services as much as possible.
Children are not the main attraction
Although children make up a vital part of the church family things shouldn't revolve completely around them! It's sometimes so easy as a parent to simply 'get through' a service and be completely distracted by the children but we need to try and remember that we're all there to worship God, even if it's difficult.
Parents also need to be mindful that their child may distract others during the service. A certain amount of noise is to be expected but children shouldn't be allowed to run wild and unchecked! (says the woman whose child repeated ran to the front of church last week!)
Church should be a training ground
I firmly believe that children should be taught how to behave in church from an early age; and that doesn't just mean teaching them how to sit still. If we simply take children to church but don't help them to interact with the service then we are missing out on such a great training opportunity. Although it may be difficult (and they may not get it straight away) I find it so helpful to keep explaining to Ivy what's happening in the service (we're singing to Jesus now, we're talking to Jesus now etc.) and to try and get her to interact. Yes, sometimes she's scrabbling around under the pew looking for raisins but sometimes she's holding her hymn book and 'singing' along - and it makes my heart happy.
I've also had to remind myself to make sure Ivy sees me interacting with the service. It's so tempting to keep my eyes open during prayers, not to open a bible or not to sing because I'm trying to keep her quiet, but the best way that she will learn is to see what I do.
Ask others for help
The church is a family and that means you have lots of other people to help with your children! (great!) Although parents should take care not to distract others from worship there will be many people in the congregation that have 'been there and done that' and would be more than happy to help out if things just get too much. It is important that we get decent spiritual nourishment too in order to be good parents.
Crèche and Sunday Schools are also a great option - Ivy has started going to Sunday School in the last couple of months and it has done wonders for my sanity being able to relax and listen to the sermon without watching her every move.
As I write this I realise I am relatively ill-experienced in the world of parenting in church, and do not even pretend to be an expert! In fact I'm pretty concerned about what will happen when we have a toddler and a newborn come April - it will be so much more difficult to keep Ivy contained with a tiny one in my arms! Has anyone got any words of wisdom?!
Seeing Ivy flourish in church has been an absolute joy. Although at times it has been stressful and frustrating not to be able to interact with the service in the way that I want I try to remind myself what a privilege it is to be involved in shaping her little life. When I see her singing, worshiping, dancing and praying it makes every moment worth while and I look forward to what the next years bring.
Linking with Mommy Moments