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Reform Magazine | February 26, 2017

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Suffer the little children?

Suffer the little children?

A changing mat, wipes and a box of toys… It’s a good start, says Aileen Few, but being a toddler-friendly church goes a bit deeper

On a successful Sunday morning – one where I have managed to get both myself and my son washed, dressed and fed before 10am – I turn up to church, with an effervescent toddler for company. I’m not trying to get him into a church school and I don’t feel any moral obligation to attend, so why do I attempt this ambitious feat? I go to church to seek communion with God, and for a sense of community. But for parents of pre-schoolers, Sunday services can feel more like a containment exercise than an act of worship. Generally, I’ve accepted this as a church parent’s lot and gave up long ago trying to keep my 20-month-old boy in his seat. I don’t care how loud he laughs or chats, as long as he doesn’t break into a blood-curdling scream during a moment of “silent reflection”. Somehow though, I get the sense that not everyone in the congregation agrees with this laissez-faire approach.

In many ways, churches today are much better at providing a welcoming environment for young families. Changing facilities are widely available and, while there may not be the resources to run a toddler-friendly Sunday school, a box of toys at the back of the worship space is usually on hand to entertain. These practical touches are important, and very welcome, but they are also where many churches stop: Changing mat and plastic Noah’s ark – mission accomplished! The wider implications of welcoming all the mess and noise and change that young families bring are often ignored.

Take, for example, the box of toys at the back. A little child-friendly nook or corner with games and drawing material is a great idea, but how it works very much depends on the attitudes of the wider congregation. Is it a space where kids can sit and play, or a space where they should sit and stay? If it’s the latter then the onus to contain these energetic young children falls on parents, who are effectively relegated to the background of the Sunday service…

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This is an extract from the September 2015 edition of Reform.

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