Every Sunday I think about that Huffington Post article written to parents of young children in church. And every Sunday I am unconvinced by it. We have no creche or Sunday school but each week at church, people say to me, ‘It’s fine for him to run around,’ ‘We don’t mind the noise,’ ‘Being curious is natural for children’. However, they also shush him if he’s noisy, move him if he’s playing with the spare microphones, pick him up if he’s on the stage, etc.
Tanzanian children of Elliot’s age are able to sit still on a chair or pew for long periods of time. That’s what they do during church if they’re there, though often they’re simply left at home, or they come to church but spend the whole time outside under the supervision of an older child. We have no ‘older child’ to look after Elliot and since he’s not as compliant as a Tanzanian child, I don’t feel it’s fair to ask one of the older children to do so.
So I bring a bag of activities and snacks for Elliot to do in church. Sometimes we last less than 5 mins in the actual service; other weeks we get through almost an hour. We always end up outside at some point. Then there is a new set of challenges. The other children are drawn to us (and my bag of tricks). Elliot pushes the kids who press around him, and he’s angry if I pay attention to the other children.
By the time church finishes, I am fantasizing about creches, cry rooms, or play corners.
There is no morning tea or chat afterwards. Everyone leaves immediately to go home.
I leave feeling frustrated with Elliot that he is more unsettled than he normally is. I am cross that the church is so inhospitable to my child. I feel stupid that I haven’t worked out a way to tolerate the cross-cultural tension, and I am tense and short-tempered for the rest of the day.
So I want to stay home. Arthur can go to church, and Elliot and I will stay home.
We are outside for most of it anyway. I think to myself, ‘I might as well be reading this Bible story with him at home, without having to mediate between him and 20 Tanzanian children.’
When we are inside, he is having a parallel experience to the service and disrupting everyone else while my blood pressure sky rockets.
We are not learning, we are not worshiping, we are of encouragement to no one.
We go because we want it to be part of our family rhythm to meet with God’s people each week, but it’s more about the rhythm than the actual ‘meeting’. I oscillate between feeling that this is valuable in itself, and feeling that it’s tokenism. Whichever it is, for me Sunday is the worst day of the week.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.