Recently, the Adventist Review put out an article called “Help! My Child Can’t Sit Still in Church. What’s a Parent to Do?” After reading it, it got me thinking about the evolution of my experience sitting through church with my babies.
When Israel got a call to pastor in the U. P, our firstborn, Imanuel was 6 months old. Prior to that, both Israel and I would sit with the baby (if he wasn’t preaching). Now, Israel was preaching every Sabbath…and 3 times at that. It was fine with one baby. Newborns are actually pretty easy. It’s when they become toddler age and are incapable of reasoning (and whispering), and when you’re in your last trimester with another one, when things get difficult. There were some difficult times, especially since Israel left to preach at the first church before 8am. I not only had to worry about getting the boys ready to go to church, but I knew Israel would be unavailable for pretty much the whole rest of the day. After church, he had prison ministry and sometimes more visits.
But my overall church experience has always been so positive because of Grandma Karen. I’m so thankful that she decided to invest so much in my 3 boys. And that’s where I had an epiphany. I realized that in order to help our kids love the church and to be active participants, it takes investment. To be honest, at first, I thought it was a little over the top that Karen would switch out books and toys every single Sabbath from the Sabbath bag – for a 6 month old. I mean, she even switched Sabbath bags from time to time because she thought maybe the boys would like the pockets on them. She put in countless time, money, and thought, not only into teaching them for Sabbath School, but also into ensuring that the boys sat quietly and were engaged and happy during church. Even when the boys were babies, she observed them and knew what each of the boys preferred to play with and what they struggled with. But Israel and I truly appreciate what that was worth. They responded to her. With calm, loving-kindness, she taught them to not only be quiet, but to be reverent, which is essential to church. Over time, she taught them how to participate in all of the preliminaries before the actual message. She taught them to be active worshipers and most importantly, to love church.
It got even crazier when she would give a friendly reminder to the pastor when sermons would just go too long. She would say, “Pastor, you need to think about the children…your children!” I would just laugh. Why should the pastor modify the message just for the children? He should think about the other church members. But it’s true. I realized that church should be just as much for the young mother and her children as it is for the middle-aged members whose children are out of the house. Church is a place for members of all ages and it should consider the growing families as well.
While we are nowhere near perfect, I thought I’d share where we’re at in our family’s church experience. I definitely feel blessed, and I’m thankful that my boys are at a place that allows me to actually hear the message too. I’m hoping I’ll be able to look back on these days with fond memories of when our boys learned how to give and gain the most in the Church.
Here’s the weekly grind:
– Friday night, I gather everything I need to bring to church for me and for the kids: Bibles & SS lessons, tithe & offering, diaper bags, quiet activities/books, water/snack etc.
– Upon arrival to church, distribute Bibles & offering and give pep talk about reverence – even in Sabbath School. When they behave, I try to make it a point to affirm them for making Jesus happy.
– Sometimes we pray before church starts if they need extra reinforcement.
– Boys and I go to the bathroom before church starts.
– The babies always sat on a lap during church until they were ready to sit on the pew by themselves.
– We’ve always had them sit on the pew and face the front. No playing on the floor or walking around.
– Church is always a quiet time with only whispers when necessary, even when waiting for church to start.
– Sabbath bag had only quiet toys and books and were different each Sabbath. (I included a list of the boys’ favs below.)
– To encourage participation in service, Sabbath bag doesn’t come out until after children’s story and when sermon starts. They never know what’s in the bag, so they look forward to the surprise.
– We encourage them to stand/kneel/sing when the church does. No exceptions, even with pregnancy or with a newborn. Karen had a mini-hymnal for the boys that she would always bring. They loved using the hymnal when it was time to sing. Once they got the hang of it, they knew when to stand, what to sing, and when to kneel. After time, they were able to sing along with all of the doxology/call to worship songs. Sometimes we practiced the songs at home.
– No playing with any toys during prayer.
– As the boys got older, they bring their Bibles to church and I help them find passages in the Bible at least for Scripture Reading.
– If Israel is preaching, it’s nice when we know what he will be preaching about and which songs will be chosen for opening and closing song so the boys can know ahead of time. That makes church more engaging.
– The boys didn’t do it often, but there were a couple times when they participated in special music with a children’s group. Manu has been practicing a song on the ukulele for over a year now and he hopes to play and sing for church.
Ramos Boys’ Fav Sabbath Bag Items (through the years):
– lift-the-flap books
– little flashlights
– connecting toys with magnets (when they stopped putting everything in their mouth)
– stickers/markers and notepad – they like making cards for someone
– silly putty with plastic animals or stamps – by far their favorite.
– Bible activity notepads: dot-to-dots, puzzles, coloring pages
Imanuel is slowly weaning off of the Sabbath bag activities. I find him listening to the sermon more and more as he gets older. When I see this, I try to talk to him about the message and get an idea of what he is hearing. Sometimes he likes to fill in the blanks if there is a sermon worksheet. And when Israel isn’t on the road preaching, he is sitting right there with us. Added blessing is his lap makes Ty narcoleptic. Before, Sabbath was such a stressful, tiring day. Now, it is our happiest day. If any of you have any of your own Sabbath tips, please feel free to share. Sabbath can never be too happy.