When I travel to different churches throughout the Iowa Conference UCC, during worship I usually bring greetings to that church on behalf of the conference. I almost always say that these visits are one of my favorite parts of my job. I get to visit a new church nearly every Sunday and experience the diversity of people who are worshiping God in UCC churches. I’m not kidding — I really think this is one of the best parts of my job.
This past Sunday I found myself in the pews at Ankeny UCC in Ankeny, Iowa, a suburban area just north of Des Moines. This is a small, but lively congregation that has recently attracted a few younger families. I was delighted to see small children crawling around the sanctuary and adding life to this already lively congregation.
One of the best moments came during communion. In a typical, reverent (and somewhat somber way) people were coming to the table to receive communion. During that rather quiet moment, one of the babies in the sanctuary began to giggle. His giggles kept building upon one another and the sanctuary was filled with that joyful sound. I could have listened to him all day long.
While listening to those giggles during communion, I realized that baby’s attitude is the one we should have during this important ritual. Indeed we are remembering the painful sacrifice that Jesus made in his crucifixion. We are also remembering the salvation and liberation that came out of his death – and, later, resurrection.
I’m pretty sure that Jesus would not want us to treat this important ritual like a sacred funeral. I don’t think he’d find anything wrong with hearing shouts of joy or ecstatic giggling or even upbeat music during communion.
That small child really taught me something last Sunday, even though he was completely unaware of what was happening. This situation wouldn’t have happened if he had been shuttled off into a nursery, far away from the sanctuary. This experience reminded me that we should embrace having young and old present in worship – we learn from each other in all kinds of wonderful and unexpected ways.
So, I encourage you to bring and/or welcome babies and small children to church. The noise they make can become deep spiritual lessons that can only emerge from the innocent.