Wall Street Journal Article on Children in Worship
John Witvliet is quoted in a Wall Street Journal article on children in worship.
One Sunday in February 2008, I faced a dilemma. After being cooped up all week with a sick 9-month-old baby, I was desperate to get out of my apartment. I wanted to go to church. But I didn’t want to expose other children in the church nursery to my son’s germs. So I decided to bring him into the pew with me and my husband—only to learn that my church had chosen that Lenten Sunday for a very solemn service, full of soft chants and contemplative silences. You can guess where this is going. My baby made joyful noises at inopportune moments. An usher asked us if we would take him out. My husband brought him home. I spent the rest of the service in tears.
We all recovered soon enough, but the experience got me thinking: Should children be in church? This turns out to be a major topic of discussion in a growing number of churches.
For much of American history, notes John Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship in Grand Rapids, Mich., “church was seen as an intergenerational experience,” albeit a rather stern one. The Puritans expected their little ones to be seen and not heard during services. By the 20th century, Americans had developed more progressive notions of childhood, which gave rise to Sunday school and age-appropriate children’s programs.
But the net result was de facto segregation—an uneasy state of affairs, theologically, if you view Christians of all ages as being one in the body of Christ. And so, “in the last 10 years or so, there’s been a renewed interest in intergenerational community,” Prof. Witvliet says, with the idea of “8-year-olds and 80-year-olds sitting next to each other.”