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Little People And Big Meetings
By Aaron Johnston August 9, 2004

I've often heard stories of investigators visiting our church and being thunderstruck by all the noise from the congregation.

"Golly, you people are loud," a friend of my wife's once said. This was back in high school and she had invited him to a sacrament meeting.

"Loud?" she asked. "What do you mean?"

"All those babies crying. It was hard to concentrate on the speaker."

My wife was very perplexed by this. As far as she was concerned, there weren't any babies crying, not any more than usual anyway. And if there were a few noises here and there, she hadn't found them disruptive.

What my wife didn't know at the time was that she, like the rest of us, had developed an aural immunity to babies. She had become so accustomed to their occasional wails and whimpers that she didn't even notice them anymore. Her mind filtered them out like static.

I didn't fully realize this principle until I went to BYU and attended a single's ward. I was shocked by how quiet it was. And I mean QUIET. No babies, no rattles, nothing. It was almost eery.

When the summer rolled around and I went back home to my family ward, I immediately noticed the noise. Babies crying, children sniffling, crayons scratching.

It was incredibly distracting. I had become so accustomed to the quieter version of sacrament meeting that my spoiled ears had a tough time readjusting.

No one's to blame for this, of course. Not even the kids. Few children, I believe, are intentionally disruptive. They're not trying to distract anyone. They're just kids. They make noise. That's what kids do. Especially the tiny ones; they can't talk, so they cry.

This doesn't mean, of course, that we parents shouldn't make an effort to minimize the noise. In fact, we should do everything we can to keep them as quiet as possible.

I've seen several different strategies for doing this: books, puzzles, Cheerios, crayons and blank paper. I've even seen some parents simply hold their child. They don't bring any amenities like those mentioned above, they just sit and, in theory, train the children to listen to the speaker.

Wow.

But whatever quieting tactic you implement, one fact remains: sooner or later that child is going to make noise. And when that happens, you have to decide, Can I quiet this child relatively quickly or do I need to take it out into the foyer or the cry room or wherever it is you prefer to take loud children?

Different parents have different philosophies. I've seen some parents rush their children out of a meeting at the slightest hint of a noise. And I've seen other parents keep their child in the meeting even when it's obvious the child is distracting the rest of the congregation and making quite a scene.

My wife and I are currently trying to convince our twenty-month-old son that staying in sacrament meeting is far more enjoyable than going out. So, if he does make a lot of noise and needs to be taken out, we don't let him run around. We hold him.

He hates that, especially if he sees that broad, empty gym floor while he's in my arms. He looks at me as if to say, "Why are you holding me when there's so much beautiful, polyurethaned flooring to run across? Let me down, weasel."

I feel particularly bad because running and sliding through the gym always sounds like a good idea to me too.

So knowing when to take the child out is tricky indeed. Parents want to be courteous to others, but they also want to teach their children that sacrament meeting is where it's at. Children are slow to believe this, however, and usually meet such thinking with resistance.

The Sacrament

I know of two philosophies concerning little children and the sacrament.

1. Children under the age of eight years old are not baptized members of the church and therefore do not and should not partake of the sacrament because it is an ordinance intended for those who have made baptismal covenants.

2. Allowing young children to participate in this ordinance teaches them to respect it and recognize it as a special event during our worship. Plus kids like imitating their parents. and it's easier to let them partake of the sacrament than to explain to them why they can't.

I learned recently that it's a good idea for parents to agree on these philosophies. My wife, for example, leans toward the latter of the two. She gives our son the bread and water.

I lean toward the former since our little one usually spills the water on himself anyway and takes forever to drink it. Plus he's not technically a member yet.

But since my wife is usually holding him during the passing of the sacrament, he's always taken it. This past week, however, was different. My wife had to speak in sacrament meeting and was on the stand throughout the meeting. So the little guy sat in my lap.

When the bread tray came around, I took a piece for myself but, because of my opinion on the matter, didn't give him one and handed back the tray.

This was a bad idea. My son, who clearly saw the tray and knew what it contained, became very upset that I would jilt him out of his bread.

He can't talk yet, but it was obvious from his whining that he wanted to say, "Hey, what's the big idea? Am I invisible here? It's not like it's caviar, Pop. Let me have my scrap of bread. Sheesh."

It didn't help matters that the priesthood lined up near our pew to return to the sacrament table and my son thought it still possible to reach out and get what he wanted. In fact, if I hadn't restrained him, he might have jumped out of the pew and tackled the unsuspecting deacon.

I would have liked to have seen that, of course. Every father is proud to watch a son pull off a dangerous stunt. But since it was the chapel and since someone would have had to clean up the bread thrown from the tray during the assault and since that someone would likely have been me, I decided to I spare the deacon and took my son out before he could launch himself.

Needless to say that when the water tray came around to the foyer, my son got his very own cup.

It's not easy being a parent. Knowing how to handle children during meetings is just one of those learn-as-you-go kind of lessons.

But whatever your philosophy, one thing is for certain: children belong in church. They bring light to our worship services, joy to our meetings.

I'm not ashamed to admit that my favorite sacrament meeting of the year is the primary program. That's when doctrine is presented in its simplest and most direct form. That's when the speakers are truly humble -- and oftentimes, when the Spirit is the strongest.

It's no wonder Christ invites us to be like little children. They're innocent, pure, and full of the love of Christ. But I wonder, when Christ made his invitation, was he thinking only of quiet children? Or does he mean for us to be like children in all respects?

I can only assume he meant reverent children. Which is a shame, really, because I'd really like to slide across that gym floor in this suit.

Copyright © 2004 by Aaron Johnston

 
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