Church can be an issue for me. Not that I don't want to go to church. But I'm guessing some churches don't want me and my squirmy, loud, stimmy, and very cute children in attendance. Right now we aren't exactly the model of quiet reverence. We have two volumes: loud and 11. And my children frequently do things that make me utter pearls of wisdom like "You can't put your finger in the space for the telephone jack and expect it not to get stuck, so please stop crying while I go get something to make you more slippery." Not a direct quote, but you get the point. Despite how great they look in church clothes, my children are not great material for a pew.
I was raised as a member of a United Methodist church. There are many things I dig about being a Methodist and there are a lot of great things about the small, community church I grew up attending. As I write this, my parents are having dinner with a group of friends and family that attend the same church. We affectionately call them "chicken group" because they began their Wednesday night ritual, meeting at a local restaurant to have the special..........you guessed it, pot roast. Kidding of course. These friends of my parents are really like an extension of family to most of us second-generation chickeners (chickenettes?). They have traveled together, celebrated weddings and births together, suffered and comforted one another through tragedies and losses, and have stuck together for countless Wednesday night chicken and Sunday noon meals. So I figured if anyone was going to suffer through a church service without asking my loud and obnoxious children to leave, it would be these kind people.
Sweet Girl, Little Man and I have attended four church services at home. Nana and Aunt Carrie get the unenviable task of sitting with us in the back and helping with the distractions. Papa sits up front when he's liturgist, which can cause some consternation for Sweet Girl and was the subject of her escaping up the side aisle. I suppose since he's doing something for the Lord I should forgive him not sitting with us. And I will. Eventually. The key to distracting Little Man is snacks. If his mouth is full of gfcf/Frito's goodness, then he can't be full volume. Though he does make a food song in his throat when he's really enjoying himself. At least it's not the loud constant babble that has been around for about 16 months now. (Apparently sometime between the womb and bringing him home he escaped to Ireland where he not only touched the Blarney Stone but crawled on top of it, rolled around all over it, and tucked a piece of it in his onesie to keep forever. Should I ever find that pebble that granted him his gabbiness, I'm going to hide it in some vegetables where he's sure never to find it as he won't go near them.) He's also pretty smitten with Nana, which may or may not have something to do with the fact that she'll give him things to eat and hold him all he wants, so sitting with her works well too.
For Sweet Girl there is the iPod Touch with the sound turned off. She can usually entertain herself for quite awhile like that, even though it really kind of takes the 'oomph' out of Angry Birds. She also gets snacks of the same variety as brother's. She loves music and so she stands up and "sings" along with the hymns. Much like her father, she is less concerned with lyrical accuracy than with enthusiasm. We went through a spell where she cried at the end of each hymn because she didn't want it to be over. While it warms my heart that she is such a fan of music, having to quiet a crying pre-schooler three to four times a service can be daunting. Thankfully she seems to have grown out of that stage. Despite the distractions, there is the inevitable shushing and keeping of feet off the pew which always makes me sorry for those around us. So when we arrived at the latest service we attended, I was even more concerned when I saw the Communion set-up on the altar.
As I mentioned before, I'm a Methodist and therefore don't believe one has to wait for a First Communion event to take part. All are welcome at the table in a Methodist church (one of the things I dig about it-no one on Earth is more deserving than any other person on Earth of partaking - Christ's sacrifice was not done to discriminate), so that means Sweet Girl could come up with me and receive Communion. Sometimes the ushers disperse the elements throughout the pews and sometimes we all partake by Intinction, where we walk to the front, receive the body, dip it in the blood and have the option of kneeling in prayer at the altar. This is also what my sister and I, in borderline blasphemous fashion, refer to as Drive-by Communion; an apt description even if it does make our parents cringe. At this particular service we were doing neither of those options and instead were going to the altar, kneeling, and receiving the elements one at a time before receiving a blessing. I didn't know if Sweet Girl could act somewhat appropriately through the whole thing, but at the same time I know that the more we do something the more she understands it. And the concept of an omnipresent but invisible God can be hard to grasp for any four year-old, let alone one who has a really hard time with abstract thinking so this is going to take a lot of practice. But I want Sweet Girl to know that there is an example of perfect love for us to follow, and that this is one way we can feel that perfect love and show our appreciation for it. So I took her hand, said a different kind of Communion prayer (Please Lord, don't let her think now is the time to run all over the altar, or sing, or scream, or have Papa tickle her. Oh, and if she could not make me look like a deranged woman with a nervous condition during this sacred ceremony I would be eternally grateful. Amen.), and headed for Papa at the altar.
Sweet Girl was pleased to be headed in Papa's direction ("Let's go get your Papa!") and then stood in front of me taking in the altar scene. About 20 seconds in she says in a dramatic stage whisper, "Birthday candles! Blow out the birthday candles, Mommy!" And then she proceeds to attempt that from our position 5 feet away. She's a little squirmy while we wait for the elements to be dispensed, but again happy to see Papa as he passes. As I receive the piece of bread that symbolizes the body of Christ, I go to take one for Sweet Girl until I realize what I'm doing. What the bread symbolizes transcends earthly designations, but the bread itself is gluten-filled, and I have learned that even a small infraction can cause some big behaviors for Sweet Girl. So we skipped that part. When the juice came around as the blood of Christ shed for us, I got one for me and one for Sweet Girl. Everyone else quickly drank their thimble cups and bowed their heads. Sweet Girl on the other hand, slurped once and says, "Mmmmmm! Mmmmmmmmm!" and takes two more LOUD slurps. I quickly took her cup to prevent her from attempting to lick every. single. drop out of the cup and we received a blessing. We headed back to our seats after a quick "Bye, Papa!" Sweet Girl may not have understood the significance of the ceremony, or even participated fully, but I can assure you that no one up there thought salvation through Christ tasted as sweet as she did.
I know many people don't think children should participate in Communion until they understand the symbolism and the meaning of the elements. I understand that line of thought. But I'm also not sure any of us truly comprehend it ourselves. If we did, we might find it easier to accept others as they are instead of who we think they should be. We might find more things in common with others rather than disparities. We might be able to give more of ourselves to others without looking for something in return. Those are hard things to do, and we're only human. Sweet Girl has no way of understanding that, and she may never be able to, but I want to give her the chance. And like most of us, it takes a lot of practice for her to get things right sometimes. I pray that having her partake in Communion is the right thing to do and that eventually she'll come to have at least an inkling of understanding, even if we will have to find a gluten-free body to practice it with.