It's happened to everyone: a baby has started wailing in the middle of the service, or four five-year-olds have decided to play a loud round of hide-n-seek in the middle of the church, or you ask a rhetorical question during a sermon and the precocious eight-year-old in the third row is not only listening, but fires off a grade-school answer that would make a sailor blush in his "outdoor" voice. Earthchick has a whole list of things: "We have certainly all been in situations where distractions happen
during our sermons - cellphones go off, babies cry, someone has a coughing fit, people enter or leave the sanctuary, a child won't settle down, etc." she says. "To me, it is the mark of a professional to be able to carry on in the face of such distractions - without calling more attention to them and/or saying/doing something to make the person/people involved feel bad."
So imagine one ringmember's distress recently when the following happened--and afterward, the family was divided about how appropriate the response was:
I went to a wedding this weekend, where I had no official duties except to sit there and be a proud aunt. My two grandnieces were flower girls--a little young-- 2 and 3 --but really cute. They did their job well and delightfully, walking down the aisle, spreading their petals. After the bride and groom had gone up onto the platform, the two flower girls went to the side, front aisle and sat with their mother and grandmother.
It was then the real show began. The two girls, after having traveled, rehearsed, and having been at the church for pictures since 10:00 a.m. (it was a 1:30 p.m. wedding) were a bit frazzled. They both regularly take afternoon naps--their schedule had been upset for the two days before the wedding. They never really did sit down when they got to their aisle seats. They moved, talked, laughed, messed around a bit. It was somewhat cute, and funny to me and my spouse. They weren't really distracting and I could hear everything fine.
BUT, in the middle of his message (about 20 minutes!) the pastor stopped and said "Excuse me a minute, would you please take the little girls out of here?" He then repeated it, I guess because they weren't moving fast enough. The wedding then proceeded, although it was several minutes before I could pick my jaw up off the ground.
My first thought, when I was thinking again, was that I should have offered to take over for the pastor, if he was getting flustered. My dad--who wasn't there-said he would have just told the pastor "No, they're staying."
Now, you can all save yourselves a lot of frustration by making sure there's a discussion about this with the bride and groom ahead of time, say the matriarchs, who are pretty much as astonished as you were. But we all learn from experience, says Karen. "I had a similar experience at a wedding recently--complete screaming meltdown by flower girl and ring bearer--who were cousins to each other and niece/nephew to the groom," she says. "I didn't ask them to leave, but I was plenty peeved that some responsible adult didn't undertake this task themselves as it was so obvious that this is what needed to happen. But I am partly to blame because I didn't give this particular bride and groom my "kids in the wedding party" spiel because the kids were a late addition to the plans and there were other crises afoot that day."
Remember, they *are* children
Karen suggests addressing the following points with your bride and groom:
1. Think long and hard about having kids younger than four in the wedding party--because those are the ones most at risk of creating a real disruption. "I had a colleague early in my ministry years who flat out would not allow kids younger than four in wedding parties he was working with," Karen says. "He was the father of a toddler at the time, so it wasn't that he hated kids, he'd just seen too many disasters. I don't go that far, but I lay out what I see as the risk factors.
2. If you really want to include your adorable toddler/preschooler in the wedding party, make sure you have designated, responsible adult who can step in if need be. And, there needs to be a planned escape route that allows for a quick getaway.
Our newest matriarch, Jacquelyn of FaithStones, also emphasizes the importance of laying it out ahead of time, and makes a further point of understanding how much kids at various ages can handle, and to consider each child's individual personality. "Some children will be able to remain in the front and standing with the wedding party while others, usually younger, children do need to do their part and then go sit with family (as they did in this case). The other piece, however, is that the pastor and the family consider the needs of the children in planning rehearsals, picture-taking and the service. It seems unreasonable to have a morning picture-taking session (or rehearsal) and early afternoon wedding and to expect young children to be present for both. I always do an early evening rehearsal the night before the wedding. At least any pictures that involve the children would be taken after the ceremony."
Jan agrees, and adds that the type of ceremony can make a huge difference, too. "If the couple really wants the children in their lives to be included, then they surely realize that little children can be squirmy, talkative, etc. Not a problem, if they want everybody there. Big problem if they assume theirs will be an elegant, sober wedding ceremony."
The rehearsal is important, though
Abi allows as how there's a line between distracting and disruptive, and it may be different for every pastor, perhaps something that should be underlined and pullquoted in every wedding magazine and planning book. Her own daughters were in a wedding recently, and while she had to signal to one daughter to quit waving the flower basket around, they mostly handled it well. (The ringbearer, she says, was another story.) "At the wedding rehearsal we worked out how the kids were to be dealt with, who would do what with them, and what was expected. Before the wedding, we even went over things with the girls again, and the big reminder about behavior," she says. "I think that is why having a rehearsal and being clear as the Pastor and the bride about what you expect of everybody, making plans for how the kids are to be handled in a wedding. I don't think a wedding is the same thing as a worship service or a sermon being preached. Kids are kids and are going to be distracting--learn to handle it. Now, kids being disruptive is a whole other matter."
Jan agrees that it's in your best interest to spell it out ahead of time, and if you are dealing a wedding planner or coordinator who's trying to boss everything from the outset, you need to assert yourself there, too. "I always tell wedding coordinators (for my own protection probably) that they are in charge of what happens before and after the wedding, and the officiant is in charge of what happens during the ceremony. Nevertheless, my jaw dropped too, after hearing this. Clearly the bride and groom wanted these children in their wedding. Clearly they knew their ages, temperaments, ability to hold it together (or not) for a lengthy ceremony. But it was their wedding, their call. The pastor could have said, "No children" at the get go. But he didn't."
It's about the love!
Earthchick sums it up nicely: "Better the pastor be flustered, irritated, or *gasp* not listened to, than for little children and their families to be made to feel bad during a ceremony that is intended to celebrate love, commitment, family, and the God who makes it all possible."
But, it should be noted, every single matriarch said, in parentheses, some variation of "A 20-minute sermon?!!?"
Now I know you guys have some great stories to share about famous interruptions you've had to deal with. After, all, America's Funniest Home Videos had long segments devoted to ringbearers and flower girls!