Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

No Top Down Solution

Last night was our parish's Pastoral Council meeting -- a body which has the dubious honor of having me as a part of it. And at the meeting, someone brought up an announcement which had been made for the last several weeks before mass along with the usual "Please turn off all cell phones and pagers". This additional announcement was to the effect of: "For the parents of young children, there is a cry room available if your children become noisy. Please respect the worship of those around you."

Given that some of the other local parishes have a very aggressive "please leave your kids at the parish babysitting center -- if they make noise we will give you the evil eye" policy, and that our parish has generally been pretty family friendly, this announcement was not making any friends. And indeed, at the meeting, nearly everyone (most especially parents) agreed that it gave a negative impression. (It was decided to change or get rid of the announcement.)

However, a minority demanded, "If we can't have an announcement, what can we do about the occasional family where the parents shows no inclination at all to make their kids be quiet or take them out?"

This, I think, underscores a fundamental sort of problem that many communities face in regards to enforcing behaviors, especially positive behaviors or virtues. There is simply no effective way of quickly and effectively enforcing virtue.

Let's look at this issue of quiet in church as an example. Now when you get down to it, it's not just quiet that's at issue. The church would be quiet if no one was in it, but that's not the goal. Rather, the goal is that everyone have sufficient respect for the mass to remain quiet and pay attention, and teach their children to do the same (while taking small children out temporarily on those occasions when they are not persuadable.) So the goal is best summarized as: Everyone in the church should have a strong sense of the sacredness of the liturgy, and convey that sense to their children.

Now, there are lots of increasingly draconian things one could do to enforce silence. One could tell the ushers to escort out the family of any child making so much as a peep. The priest could stop saying mass and glare at offending children during mass. One could simply ban children from the church. However, none of these would foster that sense of the sacred -- indeed, quite the opposite. Such practices would deeply offend families, turn the mass into a battleground, and (through banish children from the church) completely fail to teach children anything about the mass.

Trying to force the desired results of virtue not only fails to cultivate the virtue, it actively frustrated the development of the virtue.

So what is one to do?

It seems to me that is exactly the issue. There simply is no way to quickly force through, without exception, the development of a virtue. And if you try to force the effects, you will often end up assaulting the very virtue you seek to cultivate.

And yet we very often find it emotionally impossible, in our rush to "do something", to recognize that the best thing we can do is not take drastic action, and work through the long process of educating and moving the community culture to where it needs to be in order to achieve our desires.


Literacy-chic said...

Such practices would deeply offend families, turn the mass into a battleground, and (through banish children from the church) completely fail to teach children anything about the mass.

Not to mention completely failing to teach the c/Church about children! I seem to remember that we're supposed to be able to learn something from the little monsters...

Literacy-chic said...

That is, perhaps children can help OTHERS with the cultivation of virtue. Forbearance, for example, or patience.

Incidently, I have a problem with the size, cleanliness, and misuse of cry rooms--not to be confused with play rooms or dead cereal graveyards. I swear I saw cheerios from 1985 in there...

If parents had to keep their children in the pew, perhaps we wouldn't have 8-year-olds playing with HotWheels in the narthex.

Anonymous said...

I assume from your comments that everyone in the parish agrees that, in principle, small children are welcome and the community is expected to have a reasonable amount of patience when they become disruptive. Then the problem isn't with families or children, it's with the small number of individuals who don't take their children out when they should.

So now the issue is really in the category of, How does the parish handle obnoxious members of the community? You know, like the ones that make it their business to tell everyone else that everything they do is a sin or who disrupt the liturgy with their special rituals?

I think families who don't take their kids out should be approached charitably outside the liturgy, by someone with some authority (a deacon, the priest, or perhaps if things are stretched thin, a lay person such as the head of the ushers). They may not realize their children are as bothersome as they are, or they may think they don't have to follow the rules until someone tells them to.

I like your posts; they make me want to write. Sometimes I hesitate to click on your new post because I don't have time to write the response I know I will want to make!

Melanie Bettinelli said...

In our parish the most disruptive individuals tend to be the little old ladies who talk during mass rather than families with small children. Oddly enough some of the worst offenders are daily mass goers. When I used to go to daily mass, it was always a bit of an ordeal to ignore all the gossipy old women. The worst was the few times I took Isabella and they wanted to tell me how beautiful and well-behaved she was in the middle of mass!

Unknown said...

What about a mass-buddy program of sorts? Pair up a family of older children or empty-nesters with a family of youngsters. Everyone learns patience and fosters community. Aren't the complainers are those without kids of their own or those who have forgotten those trying years of formation? I'll be the first to sign up my family for weekday masses, and any when DH is singing in the choir...

Rebekka said...

At the church I go to, there is a very dynamic congregation with lots of young people, including families with young children. It is standing room only Every Sunday. Seriously.

There is no cry room. Instead, the kids who are older than two or so sit on cushions on the floor at the front of the church with a couple of parental chaperones for the whole group. Here they are remarkably quiet, have an unobstructed view of what is going on, and occasionally the priest when so moved adds a small kid's sermon for them (our priest is amazing). Occasionally a baby or very small child will cry, but this doesn't seem to be a problem for anyone -- and I have never seen one of the kids at the front need to be escorted out. It's only the kids who insist on remaining in the pews with their family who "act up" and need to be marched out in the middle of mass.

Anonymous said...

Dear Darwin,

Is your parish council saying that babies cannot worship Jesus in their own manner?

(That's the comeback of my mother on this topic. I grew up in a small rural parish. Cry rooms don't exist.)

Anonymous said...

Someone could also quietly and in a friendly way, offer to assist the parent with the noisy child. One winter Sunday when I had 4 of my grandchildren (6,4,2 and infant) with me, the 2 yr old bumped his mouth on the back of the pew and immediately began screaming. The 4 year old saw the blood and added his screams. I had the baby in my arms, 5 coats and a diaper bag to deal with along with the 2 screamers. Of course this happened during the Consecration (when else) Thankfully, a couple of women nearby helped me gather everything and everyone up and get out as quickly as possible. Terentia

Anonymous said...

Jesus said: "let the little children come onto me"

Our church was made up of white heads who designated the "family mass" as the only one where children were welcome. For the rest of the masses, they wanted their peace and quiet.

Well, that is not how community is. That is not how inter-generational fellowship and community works. A parish that does not know its youth on a first-name basis is one which is cutting off its future.