A Parish that Does Not Revere Children is Suicidal

Baby looking to camera
Photo by Filip Mroz via Unsplash

A Parish that Does Not Revere Children is Suicidal


I love showing up late to parties, and in this post I am showing up quite late to the party that was the Catholic Twitterverse debating kids at Mass.

Fr. Michael White, pastor and author of Rebuilt (of which I am a big fan) several weeks ago made comments critical of small children making a fuss at Mass and of the parents who seat them at the front of the church and feed them cheerios, making a distraction for the pastor and liturgical ministers.

“I cannot begin to tell you how incredibly difficult it is to try and preach over a crying baby,” he said.

He also questioned whether small kids are able to receive anything of value by taking part in the liturgy with the adults, and cites their approach to offering kids programs outside the body of the church.

I saw some responses challenging his take, some questioning his theology of the liturgy, some defending the presence of kids during Mass, and of course, some talking about what a terrible distraction and disruption kids are.

Even as I write that last line I get a little bit angry…

I am not writing this to take Fr. White to task. I am a fan of his and had the chance to meet him a couple of years ago. He was kind and humble, and clearly puts a great deal of thought into the way he pastors, and pastors others pastors.

But I do want to challenge the idea that we are entitled to some kind of Mass experience that is free from the gritty distractions that small kids supply. I also want to argue that many parishes treat kids as a hindrance, and they do so in contrast to the Gospel and to their own peril.

We were at Mass in southwest Florida a few months back and we had a deeply upsetting experience.

We arrived at Mass with a few minutes to spare, and I, my four school aged kids, and our baby set up along a pew at the back. I noticed an older lady looking at us with obvious displeasure, and she quickly relocated herself in another spot a pew forward.

When my toddler asked me a question she shot me daggers with her eyes. When my 5-month old daughter in my lap gurgled, she turned around and actually shushed her angrily. When she gurgled again the lady turned to me and asked, “Are you just going to stay there??”

In disbelief I responded, “Ma’am, she’s just a baby…”

She shook her head at me and turned around. But poor little Phoebe crossed her again with another coo sound, at which point she turned around and upbraided me for being so selfish for not being in the crying room (where my wife already was, with our 2 toddlers).

I told her in a hushed voice that she should show some charity. She angrily assured me she already was, and finally I sullenly got up and took all of our children to the crying room.

It was like getting sent to the penalty box for… having kids.

I was so upset. My wife could see it on me. I didn’t notice a single line of the readings, I was just sitting there thinking what kind of thing you should say to someone who treats your family as an inconvenience to their worship of God.

I wanted to tell her that she was the problem, not the kids. The parish is not some kind of adults-only resort; it is supposed to be a family affair. If you wanted a place of total silence, conducive to your spiritual ecstasy, you probably should have joined a convent or monastery.

This parish is supposed to be a field hospital.

I wish she wasn’t the personification (at the extreme end) of the parish culture families sometimes experience.

Firstly, young families today already feel a bit out on a limb. The culture constantly questions their decision to be open to life, especially once a family has more than 2 kids.

How painful is it when the parish, implicitly or explicitly reinforces the ethos of a culture that values barrenness over fertility?

How painful is it when the parish reinforces the ethos of a culture that values barrenness over fertility?


How does a parish reinforce this culture? In things like ushers ushering families with strollers to the back of the church (it happens). In co-parishioners who make a point to stare when small kids make small noises. In not having a break out space for taking kids who get rowdy where one can still hear and (if possible) see what is going on in the celebration of the Mass.

In turning a deaf ear to parents who articulate the challenges of tending kids in the parish (like the usher who told me that our parish “wasn’t really built for kids”, or the pastor who recently told a friend that if he didn’t find his parish hospitable to kids he was welcome to shop around elsewhere).

The Church is often described as a loving Mother; it is a huge disconnect when the parish feels like a distant, cranky uncle.

If we don’t live out the motherhood of the Church at the parish level, our parishes will experience a real barrenness. People who are not as deeply connected to the Church will take the hint and stop coming around. And it will be a tragic dereliction of our duty.

Ok, having laid out that argument, what can we do to make our parishes truly hospitable to young families? Here are some ideas:

1. Give them options

My main contention with Fr. White’s article is that it suggested that kids should not be in the body of the church for the liturgy. I think they should have that option, being sensitive to take kids out if they are causing undue distraction (I realize that the line between minor and undue may be a bit subjective).

I also applaud that his parish offers alternative formation for the children during the Liturgy of the Word. If this is canonically allowed, why not? For my kids, some would want to take advantage of that and some would prefer to stay in the pew with Mom and Dad. Options.

2. Offer break out space

This also is an option, but I wanted to give it some focus. Does your parish offer space where parents can take a loud child out and still perceive what is happening in the Mass? This could be a crying room, but it can also be a narthex that has speakers, and even a TV showing the sanctuary if possible. This could also be in the parish hall.

I heard of a pastor once who permanently locked up the parish crying room in order to communicate that crying children are part of the community. While I applaud the intention and the message, I would argue that this is not the right move, as it takes away options from the parents (sometimes a crying room is as much for them as it is for the kids!).

Yes, I argue against forcing parents into a crying room, as the cranky lady did to us. But I also think it’s nice to have it there if needed.

3. Think of amenities

What? Amenities?

Yes. Things like diaper change tables in BOTH the men’s and women’s rest rooms.

Funny/gross story, I was at a recently built church that had no change table in the men’s room. Then I noticed a chair in the toilet stall. Then I noticed the stains on it and put two and two together (i.e. #2).

Sometimes dads change diapers, too!

Contrast this with a parish I visited in Michigan where they not only had the change tables, but also spare wipes, and diapers of different sizes!! Do you have any idea what a meaningful token that is to a stressed out parent? It’s HUGE!

And speaking as a dad who recently, after running out, had to fashion a make-shift diaper out of paper towels, this speaks volumes.

If you’ve ever visited a big Evangelical church, they often have the equivalent of a day care centre. Play areas, staff, etc. Maybe that’s way too much for your parish, but what amenities can your parish add to make the lives of young parents easier?

4. Tell them you appreciate them

After one particularly tough Mass with the kids, I recall the pastor starting the announcements by thanking the parents present for bringing their kids to Mass, even when it’s tough. He told us that young children are gift to the community, and their presence deeply appreciated.

These kinds of messages go a long way. They counteract the bad messages we might be exposed to.

This can also be done through signage, special blessings, etc.


Remember that when the disciples rebuked people for bringing children forward to Jesus, he said:

“Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 19:14)

Let’s always remember these words when we feel irked at the presence of little kids, our own or those of others.

And recall the saying: “If the kids ain’t crying, the Church is dying.”

Heaven forbid!

This article was originally on my Medium page.  

It was like getting sent to the penalty box for… having kids. — Josh Canning

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