Tuesday, December 1, 2009

All are welcome, the tall and the small

I love the whole Christmas season. I love the time of Advent as we prepare for the birth of Jesus and the many opportunities it provides to spend time together with family and friends.

Several years ago a Protestant friend of mine invited my children and me to join her at her church for a Christmas concert the choir was putting on. Though, my friend had never before attended the annual Christmas concert at her church she had heard that it was a very family friendly event. It sounded like a wonderful evening and I gladly accepted. At the time, she and I had two children each and they were all toddlers. So with the four kids in tow we entered the church to find that we were the only ones with children at the event. Still, being a cradle Catholic and used to having children, sometimes lots of children, around during any and all church functions I did not think much of it. The Pastor's wife apparently did. It seems at their church children were not a part of their worship time. Children went to Sunday school during their church services and this concert was, in fact, not really a family event after all. The adults who had gathered to listen to the beautiful Christmas music were not expecting to have four giggling, screeching children as the background singers. We were encouraged, within minutes of our arrival, to please put our children in the nursery. We dutifully gathered them up and set off only to find the nursery room dark and locked up with no nursery attendant anywhere to be found. After letting the children run around on the church walkways for a little while we put them back into their car seats and set off for home. Though I could certainly understand that the concert was much more enjoyable without the children there, I remember thinking how sad it was that the kids were not welcome in the church.

This past Sunday our own church announced that they would be having an Advent prayer service followed by a pot luck dinner on Dec. 1st. It sounded so wonderful, as I had been really hoping to have a spirit filled, prayerful time of preparation for Christmas this year. Of course, Tim and I now have five children of our own and though they are not all toddlers, they are very energetic and full of youthful exuberance. In contrast, our parish, being in Florida after all, is primarily retirees and elderly people. We realized and fully expected that if we attended, Tim and I were likely to be younger than all the other worshipers. Still we really wanted to go and share in the prayer time and furthermore, we wanted to participate as a family. And so, despite our reservations, we packed the children up and set off, optimistically toting our steaming hot pot luck dish along with us. Before going into the church, we dropped off our pot luck offering in the parish hall which had several elderly people milling around. Our boys, who are 4 and 8 years old, immediately started to run, weaving between the tables which were beautifully decorated in purple tablecloths with candles glowing in the centers. So far, it wasn't looking like it was going to be the peaceful, prayerful evening I was hoping for. Nevertheless we went into the church which was dark, quiet and filled with the scent of burning incense. We took a seat not far from the cry room, anticipating that we would end up there in short order. As I looked around the church I noted that we were one of only a few families there, and the only one with five small children along. Almost immediately a women got up and approached me from the end of our pew. "My name is Sister Deborah," she said, " I just want to let you know that if your baby fusses do not worry about leaving, it is music to God's ears."

Now, I probably don't have to even tell you how the rest of the evening went. My heart was filled with such joy to be so blessed to be a part of the Catholic church, a church that encourages big families and supports and welcomes us all. The children, though not perfect, were fairly well behaved and the baby made only happy little cooing sounds but I suspect I would have enjoyed the evening just as much had they been less than pleasant. I appreciated the fact that we were all there together and that each and every one of us was welcome there. I could feel that our beautiful Church was overflowing with the love of Christ, alive in the tabernacle and in hearts of all those around us. What better way to celebrate this joyous time of year.

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