Monday, 27 June 2011

Suffer the Little Children?

Just over a week ago I spent a very pleasant weekend in Lincoln together with such luminaries as The Vernacular Curate, Daydreamer and others. For those of you familiar with the great Wogan, this can be described as something like a TOGs outing but in this case, a bunch of church enthusiasts spent a weekend in the company of each other and a very BIG church – Lincoln Cathedral. Splendid.

There were many good things in this weekend but the highlight for me was the Sung Eucharist on Sunday morning in the Cathedral. However, when out of one’s own place of loveliness, one sometimes sees different things or sees the same things differently (blog on the virtues of travel in preparation and will appear when I have half a mo).

Allow me to detour for one short moment. My earliest memory of ‘Church’ is actually of being chucked out! I would have been two or three, taken there by my Mum who was herself newly-confirmed. When she went up to receive Communion, I and one or two other under-age non-confirmed sprogs-in-best-clothes were removed by the Sidesmen and put out in the porch without so much as a by-your-leave. Apparently it wasn’t considered proper for children to witness the taking of Communion by their elders and betters. I remember being quite scared at being expelled in quite so stern a fashion. I am still offended by it now and the experience has informed much of my adult attitude to children in church.

Back to Lincoln. We were made very welcome and comfortable by the good people of the Cathedral and the matched pair of 4-year-old girls in our party (known to all elsewhere as the Twins Aculae) were offered the possibility of Sunday School. Ooooh yes please, off we go with Mum. As the service progressed, it only got better and better, floating as it was on the odour of sanctity and with music piped, I am sure, directly from Heaven. I remember thinking that it was a pity that the Twins’ Mum had missed most of it.

Later, though, as I thought more about it, I thought what a pity it was that the Twins themselves had missed it. Sure, they’d had a lovely time and made lovely pictures but they missed all the splendour of a Festival Mass and the glories of Mozart’s Missa Brevis in D sung by a very good choir.

Now, call me odd if you will, but my little sprogs got taken to Church. There wasn’t a crèche and it wasn’t always easy keeping three under-fives happy single-handed and they didn’t always appreciate the finer points, but it seemed like the right thing to do at the time and, just as I didn’t want to miss it, I didn’t want them to miss it either. (I used to bribe them into silence with teensy little bits of Milky Bar administered at the necessary intervals. They still have their teeth and they mostly still go to church.)

For nearly thirty years since then I have gone along with the conventional wisdom which seems to range between ‘keep the little brats out where I can’t hear them’ and ‘the children should have a Ministry of the Word tailored to their own particular needs’. I have even gone into battle with the people who ‘do’ things like crèches to convince them that there should be a crèche even if they are not feeling inclined to run one.

I’m no longer sure which way is the right one. The answer probably lies, as so many answers do, somewhere between the two. I would appreciate other opinions.

What I am sure about though, is that no children should be compelled to go to the crèche/Sunday School and that old dear who leaps from her seat at the sight of a ‘new’ family, blocking their way in and almost demanding that they use the crèche/SS facilities so graciously provided because she’s SURE they’ll enjoy it more – must be discouraged (or, if all else fails, Promoted to Glory!)