The problem of children making noise in church is not a new one, but an ancient one. In THE SAYINGS OF THE DESERT FATHERS we find the following quote attributed to Abba Poemen (4th Century AD):
“Abba Peomen’s brethren said to him: ‘Let us leave this place, for the monasteries here worry us and we are losing our souls; even the little children who cry do not let us have interior peace.’
Abba Poemen said to them: ‘Is it because of voices of angels that you wish to go away from here?’”
Indeed if the noise of children causes us to want to leave the church, how would we stand if threatened with martyrdom? Many Christians remained faithful to the Church even when the cries and noise they heard was that of those who came to silence them and even kill them because of their faith in Christ.
It may be that the distraction of noisy children in church puts us to the test. The real test however is whether we can overcome our anger, impatience and judgmentalism. St. Paul does warn us that if we engage in enmity, strife and anger, we will not inherit the Kingdom of God (Galatians 5:20-21). He never says that children being noisy in church will lose their salvation, no matter how damnable we feel their behavior is. When we lose self control and allow wrath, anger and hatred to take control of our thoughts, emotions and lives, we drive the Holy Spirit away from our hearts. For St. Paul tells us:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
Indeed, the feelings of anger and annoyance at the behavior of others might in fact be a normal human reaction in the world of the Fall, but we are to be guided by the Holy Spirit, and so are to strive to overcome our sinful inclinations. That is the very purpose of our confessing our sins in church. The noise of the thoughts which arise in our hearts and minds – our anger, wrath and malice – are much more offensive to God than the noise of little children.
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:30-32)
An old Christian saying: “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” It is better for us in love to find solutions to parish problems, to create a worship space in which all can be blessed by God.
I am addressing these words to those who struggle with impatience and anger as they experience noisy children in church.
To the parents of children, there is another wisdom needed, that of love for one’s fellow Christians – we can exhibit that in our own dealing with our children and being aware when it is time to take them out of the church nave because their behavior is disturbing others. Parents too have to learn patience and perseverance in bringing their children to church and having to deal with them during the Liturgy. Your child is not preventing you from experiencing the Liturgy, but rather is giving you opportunity to do the work of love – raising your children – within Christian community. The word “Liturgy” is often said to mean “the work of the people.” The parents work is to patiently deal with their children while persevering the faith. Not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination. Denying oneself is something each Christian must practice and we also thereby set an example for our children.
See also my blog The Angelic Voice of Children.