A couple of local residents called the Daily Press this week with complaints that, while they might not be typical fodder for a newspaper enterprise piece, are familiar to every person of faith: extremely disruptive children in church services.

Regular church-goers know all too well the tendency of their ranks to swell for Christmas and Easter services. Sometimes, the crowds bring with them more noise than usual.

When children are especially unruly in a sanctuary, it’s usually a sign they’re what old-time fundamentalists used to call “unchurched.” They may not know how to act with reverence because they’ve never been exposed to the environment, if their parents only show up to services on major holidays. But that’s not always true. Sometimes, children misbehave in church – and everywhere else – because their parents don’t set standards for them, and they’re willing to bet that in a religious setting, everyone else will be too polite to complain.

Yet a couple of distressed folks did complain, with one suggesting the parents in his case might not realize just how obnoxious their son really was.

That’s hard to believe, since the child was running to and fro in front of the altar and grabbing personal belongings of other congregation members. But perhaps these parents haven’t stopped to think about how they’re damaging the sacred atmosphere for the other people sitting in the pews.

Some churches have a “cry room” where babies can be taken when they act up; others have nurseries where other church members watch over those who are too young to attend the service. But many parents won’t use these facilities and are determined to keep their children with them at all times.

Sometimes, these parents even see outrageous conduct as “cute.” Another problem is that many smaller churches – and there are many like this in Cherokee County – don’t have the space for cry rooms and nurseries, the money to build them, or the folks to staff them.

When people attend religious services, most of them presumably do so to nourish their souls or fulfill another spiritual need. Only an extremely selfish person would allow her child to scream, cry, run up and down the aisles, talk loudly and incessantly, kick the pews, throw toys, or act up in any other way that disturbs people nearby who are trying to listen to the sermon or participate in the ceremony.

To be clear, we’re not talking about occasional mischief, fitful crying or occasional words spoken just a little too loud. We’re talking about the kind of behavior that makes it impossible for anyone else in the building to think about anything else.

Over the years, polls have indicated one of the reasons people stop going to church is because of distractions that tend to heighten stress and destroy the proper frame of mind needed for worship. The vast majority of the time, those distractions are caused by children whose parents are too rude to remove them from the setting, although boorish adults do their fair share of damage.

Until a child is old enough to understand what’s going on, he probably won’t derive any meaning from the service. Instead, he may become bored and act out. That’s not his fault; that’s just what kids do. It’s up to parents to use good judgment about whether their children’s behavior crosses the line.

If it does, they should be courteous enough to temporarily take the child from the sanctuary, rather than insisting on making some pharisaical statement about their piety.

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