Where Children Aren't Distractions: From Grape Juice to Red Wine Part VIII
We snuck into padded seats in the back row of a dark, windowless sanctuary. I bounced my baby Georgie – then six months old – on my knee, relieved to have something to busy myself with while we waited for the service to begin.
My husband helped us stealthily bypass the welcome table, where we would have been encouraged to wear stickers advertising our names. I hung my head as people around us embraced and made chitchat.
A male usher wearing a crisp button down shirt approached us.
“Hi there, the nursery is that direction,” he said, motioning to the exit.
I hadn’t planned on taking Georgie to the nursery, especially since it was our first time visiting this church. I hesitated, and perhaps sensing my hesitance, the man pushed a little more.
“It’s a great program they got back there,” he said. “And church is a great time for you and your husband to enjoy a much-needed break.”
I didn’t want a “much-needed break”, at least not here, in this dark building with all these strangers. A walk in a redwood grove alone, or a few hours to read in a public library – those things would give me a much-needed break. No, this was about me making a half-hearted, awkward attempt at community. This was obligation.
But the man was so firm in his smile, his eager generosity, and his subtle explanation of the Church Rules. So I packed Georgie’s things and followed the signs to the in-house babysitting. I cried throughout the service; I wish I could tell you why.
At another church, a bright red number flashes on the projector during the service. Number 24! Number 24! I rescue my daughter – Number 24 – from a meltdown in the nursery. I’m instructed to breastfeed her in a closet by myself, so no one might be scandalized by my breasts.
Strike three was at a “hip” church full of young people where nobody said hello. Several weeks in a row, we approached families with babies close in age to our own, grasping to get into their community. But we were clearly outsiders, unable to penetrate their inner sanctum of fellowship.
At that nursery, the sharply dressed caregivers wouldn’t look at me. “Hi,” I muster some perkiness. But they are too busy talking about the women’s brunch they are planning.
“Our church is just like a family!” the pastor preaches, and the audience cheers.
I grab Georgie from the nursery and run away from it all.
We are taking a long walk, our new Sunday morning tradition. Sometimes we walk to the bakery, or to our neighborhood coffee shop. Today we walk by a church, one with stained glass windows and a giant bell tower.
The doors are open. We poke our heads in.
A few dozen people stood, reading out loud from the Psalms. We push the stroller to a middle pew and sit, wondering how on earth we ended up here. We mumble along with the recitations, we quietly sing along to the songs. Georgie, who is now a feisty 1-year-old, is shrieking and giggling and causing a scene. She is walking up and down our pew, eating Cheerios from a plastic bag and throwing some on the floor. My attempt to subdue her makes her mad.
Thinking it was a bad idea to come here today, I carry her out of the sanctuary and into the courtyard.
A woman follows us out, taps me on the shoulder, and looks me in the eye.
“What are you doing out here?” she asks. “We believe the most beautiful worship of all is the sound of a baby’s cry.”
Reluctantly, I bring Georgie back in, and she fusses and laughs and claps her way through the rest of the service. We go forward as a family for communion, Georgie squirming in my arms. The priest gently touches her forehead.
God the father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit bless and keep you all the days of your life, he whispers.
Healing tears run down my chin.
I didn’t wash up at The Episcopal Church for their theology, although now I am slowly falling in love with the Book of Common Prayer. I came because their doors were open one day; I’m staying because they welcomed my whole family.