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Kids in church: Opinions vary on good or bad situation?

Dear Annie: I had to respond to "Frustrated with Noise," who had a problem with children crying in church. Obviously, this person doesn't have children. How are these kids supposed to learn how to behave in church if their parents do not have them participate in the services? Yes, loudly screaming children should be removed until they can calm down, but otherwise the children should remain.

As a young mother, I attended church alone with my two young sons. Once, the baby started crying, and I did not want to leave my 4-year-old in the pew, and he was unwilling to leave with me. When I later apologized to the wonderful Franciscan friar who was the officiate that day, he simply stated, "No worries. He was just singing his praises to God." We should all take this attitude toward our youngest church members. - Experienced Church Mom

Dear Mom: Our mail was divided evenly on this one. Read on:

From Florida: I am a children's pastor with many years of experience. Every church I have served in has had a fully staffed nursery with loving, trained volunteers and a well-equipped and exceptionally clean environment. But when we suggest parents take advantage of these services, some of them act as if we are trying to sell their children. It is the responsibility of the parents to realize that not everyone is overjoyed listening to their child cry, scream or otherwise disrupt the service. We are pleased to help, but we can't care for children if parents won't bring them to us!

Fargo, N.D.: As a pastor, I am keenly interested in knowing how people feel about having children in worship services. It is very important for people of all ages to be welcome during every worship service in the church. Any congregation or parishioner who feels otherwise needs to take a good look at the Bible. Did children listen silently when Jesus was speaking? Of course not. But does Jesus create a separate room for the children? Does he tell the parents to get control or get out? No. In fact, Jesus says, "Let the little children come to me!" Church is not a social club for adults. Church is a place where people of all ages are to be welcomed and loved unconditionally.

Texas: I liked your response, but here's the problem. Most churches are so desperate to get bodies in the door, they won't attempt to instruct parents in how to behave. These parents, like the children they coddle, won't see themselves in this letter. They'll say, "It's just a little crying spell, and she'll get over it in a minute." But if it happens week after week, it means the child is exerting control. Instead of raising children, these parents are raising their own little center of the universe, teaching them that if they scream enough they'll get what they want. We have self-centered parents raising another generation of kids even more self-centered.

Boston: My father was a minister. It was most troubling to him, too, dealing with this touchy subject. One Sunday morning while preaching, a child started crying. The mother got up to leave, and my father stopped speaking. A loud snore broke the silence. My father said, "I can preach over a crying baby, but not over the snoring of adults." There was applause as the mother sat back down. What happens when babies cry on airplanes? There's no place to send them, so please be understanding.

Huntington, Vt.: Be grateful that a young family is coming to your church. "Make a joyful noise." In Vermont (and probably elsewhere), we are lucky if anyone comes to church. Church is dying here. I'll take the child's loud noise, crying and screaming any day. Every town needs a church.

Annie's Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Please email your questions to anniesmailbox@comcast.net, or write to: Annie's Mailbox, c/o Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

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