We have a question -- one of those weekly niggles that I suspect we all know, and I hope some of us have found a solution for. Just when you think that the weekly liturgy is safely in the bag -- the challenges of the Intergenerational Coffee Hour!!! Our enquirer is anonymous. Here you go:
I am the pastor of a 75 member church. We hold our fellowship hour in a large hall. We have several members over the age of 70 who use canes, walkers, etc for stability. We also are blessed to have several children under the age of 8 who delight in running around full speed during fellowship hour. Parents and grandparents are present but don't instruct their children not to run or scream. Occasionally I will say "Don't run," and have intervened when a child is running with a toy in his mouth or directly towards a fan but feel uncomfortable disciplining a child when their parent or grandparent is present. A child ran into me while I was holding a cup of coffee and some spilled on his head, fortunately he has thick hair and wasn't burnt. My concern is that sooner or later one of the children is going to knock down one of our seniors and someone will be seriously hurt. We have one activity going on for children during coffee hour-they gather in a section to practice singing but it is hard for them to focus for more than 10 minutes. Occasionally a few older members have complained about the screaming that goes on but no one else has raised any concerns about safety.
I have thought of a few alternatives-establishing an outdoor play area for warmer months and clearing out a room adjacent to the fellowship hall to create a play area, or perhaps designating a parlor as a place for those who want quiet conversation. The potential spot for an outdoor play area is far away from the fellowship hall and would require families to take a fairly long walk. I do not have children of my own so I would appreciate the perspective from matriarchs who have raised or are raising children in the church. I want us to have an environment that is safe and enjoyable for both children and seniors.
Our first response this week is from an old friend -- much food for thought here !!
Is it only in churches that a blessing can so easily become a curse? Many churches despair over having few young families, then respond negatively when children are actually among them. This is in part because the code of childhood public behavior has changed drastically in the past 30 years, and the place where it collides with other human expectations most dramatically seems to be in church. In our faith communities, the head-on conflict is simply this: older generations still view church as something one must do, while middle and younger generations view church as something one might do from time to time as a fully elective activity. If those of us who view church as required set up too many rules and barriers for those who elect church, they will elect (a) other churches or (b) Sunday brunch at the IHoP or (c) Pajama Day for the whole family.
I resist the idea that segregating the children at Coffee Hour is the answer. One of the gifts of a multi-generational church is just that; church is one of the few places you have a chance to bring children together with a wide range of other ages in a world where most of us don't live near our extended families. Knowing dear, older people and being loved by them has been a gift to my children who have a paucity of grandparents. In one church I served as an interim, the ladies who put on the coffee hour, by their kindness to her week in and week out, helped my then middle school-aged daughter to believe she really was an attractive human being. In another church, the constant encouragement for a similarly-aged musician supported his desire to make music his career. He also learned important skills such as making palm crosses. All three of my children learned how to have a conversation with a non-related adult, as well as the crucial spiritual value that people of other generations matter to God just as much as their (appropriate developmental narcissism be d@#*ed) own selves.
Careening around, however, endangers everyone. It may be time to administer a gentle corrective. Please consider the word "gentle" as if in all caps for its importance but note that is is not in all caps because that would suggest an approach less than polite and loving. Struwwelpeter cautionary tales will never do in this enlightened age. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Struwwelpeter) We must try, instead, an approach that is both developmentally and socially appropriate for the context, which is to say applying the concept broadly enough that no one feels accused of bad behavior at the same time everyone feels commissioned to good behavior. I would recommend a Children's Moment about the ways we greet one another in Christian love. Give the children a formula for greeting the older folks, Commission them to say hello to someone at Coffee. Commission their parents to oversee the interaction if they prefer to do so. Commission the older folks to look around for a young person coming to greet them.
In other words, get them all looking around for each other as conversation partners rather than hazards. Follow this up with a newsletter article or email item (whichever is better-used in your context) that repeats the formula and once again encourages the greetings be given. Children who are occupied at Coffee Hour will be less likely to endanger others (however well-meaningly).
Blessings to all involved,
Martha blogging at Reflectionary
One more response this week from a slightly different angle -- with our thanks --
I have never had children but I believe that is incumbent on the pastor/priest to set the tone of the church when it comes to safety. Perhaps a coffee hour in which parents and oldsters can talk about this might help. But I have no problem in correcting children in the church. It is my job! Children need to be taught by the whole community and parents need to know that.
In one parish we had a very rough little 4 year old who ran everywhere and when he pushed a senior man just home from surgery, it was not only time to speak to the boy but for him to understand that he had hurt Mr. ____. The boy just needed to learn. The Church is certainly the place where we want our children to learn. Often our parents have not been parented enough to know how to correct their children in ways that won't damage them, but teach them respect. It is part of the Church's job to be that village where children can know what is expected of them.
Muthah+ blogging at Stone of Witness
Thank you "all both" for your responses -- and now --
Ok, one and all -- what have you tried? what works? I am still chuckling over "appropriate developmental narcissism"...and trying to remember the aphorism about how a problem is never solved at the same level at which it is occurring, but at a higher and more comprehensive level--does anybody remember the source, or the precise wording?
We look forward to your observations -- and solutions -- and, of course, your further questions about our most peculiar calling. Please address them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peace and plenty, y'all!