I’ve come, I believe, a long way from there since then. Over time, as I have worshipped in many different settings during college, seminary, and even now as a pastor—encountering all kinds of noises in worship and watching how others in each of those places responded (or not)—I began to look upon “unplanned young outbursts” differently. I can remember on internship talking with my supervisor about how to grow in my liturgical leadership and preaching with confidence, so as to respond not with shame or guilt toward others but continuing forward through the inevitable babies crying, cell phones ringing, and doors slamming. Many times (and it still happens), I would lose my spot or become greatly frazzled by some sudden sound; yet, my hope remains that the focus can stay on the focus—Jesus Christ. I find it somewhere between interesting and disturbing, when talking with colleagues near and far, how others deal with unexpected noises in worship. Some clergy publicly affirm it, others ignore, and yet more than a few have responded with outright shaming. While it may be difficult for me to exercise one end of that spectrum, the other end is, in my opinion, completely inappropriate, a disgrace, and damning to the whole body of Christ. Recently, more and more I have come to see the sanctuary as a place of holy worship that is not immune or removed from normal everyday life—nor should it be. I struggle, off and on, through the sounds—whatever they may be, however, knowing that the absence of those unique sounds would speak gravely to the nature of an individual congregation. My role is not to limit or control the unexpected sounds, but to lead, serve, proclaim, and demonstrate God’s love in, with, and under (good Lutheran theological prepositions) whatever noises may arise.
Yet, even as I became more confident in spite of the stirrings of others, my personal congregational heritage tugs at my heartstrings. It’s tough not reverting back to the way I was “taught” regarding silent reverence. Having our toddler, Aidan, in church these past few years has proven to be a new, even more difficult lesson in serving through familiar sounds. I know his particular sounds—what sets him apart from other children—and, though it shouldn’t, it irks me even more than others. As Terrible Three’s commence, and his inability to whisper or sit still coupled with his eagerness to participate increases, I find myself on sharper edge—at times wanting to pull my hair out quicker than it can fall from atop my head. It may sound shocking to hear it, but my congregational heritage of where I grew up is torn—whether right or wrong—when my son, in his most-of-the-time innocence, gets loud and distractive. To be completely honest, I’m not sure I have any compelling wisdom to offer with regards to this topic. Somedays it bothers me worse, somedays less. I raise this whole subject, not to be rude or judgmental toward others with young, rambunctious children, nor to imply such attendants should be asleep or absent—may it never be so where I serve—but only to speak honestly in a public means about a deep-seeded struggle I have, one which (ironically) often greatly reminds me of my younger self. The church will never (correction: should never) be free from noises—its part of the beauty of how this sacred place is interconnected with our daily lives beyond those walls. Likewise, we (me included) need to be more understanding of the short attention spans of our younger attendants. Perhaps, this is just one of those aspects of worship I—and we all—will have to continually wrestle with over time, compassionately hanging on for the rough and rowdy ride as the Holy Spirit leads and guides us through what it means to be the church, noises and all.