The Cacophony of Heaven

September 25, 2007 | 62 comments

My wife and I cleverly decided to live in the same ward as my parents, so our small children only keep us from listening to about half of sacrament meeting. They were particularly well-behaved yesterday so I think I got in about 2/3s.

Reader Guy Crouchback has apparently left off being Catholic since his Sword of Honor days. He writes–

I follow the discussions on T&S regularly, though I
only post once in awhile. Because I can not start a
discussion, I thought I would email you about a
possible topic and see what you think.

A couple years back, we had a visitor at our ward – an
investigator. I’m not sure what has happened to him,
whether he has converted or not, but we did have an
interesting conversation one day after the service.

We have a young ward with lots of little kids, and
this investigator asked why we make the kids “sit
through” an hour(+) service. Apparently he has gone
to other churches where the parents are requested to
leave children under a certain age in a child care
type of room, while the parents and older children
attend the service.

Having a little one myself, I can certainly attest to
the distraction that the little ones create. And
coming from a ward with many little ones, it’s amazing
sometimes that anyone is able to listen to the talks
given. It’s frustrating when you have a particularly
good speaker, with a message you really want to listen
too, and your child (or the one sitting behind you) is
whining or crying or throwing cereal at your head.

It would be interesting to see what other T&S regulars
thought about this issue. Why is it necessary for
small children to sit through the sacrement? I’ve
heard the reasoning and policy from church leaders
before, and generally it’s not discussed much. But
I’m really curious what others think.

I love kids in sacrament meeting and I’d fight tooth and nail to keep them in. I like the family reunion feel that LDS meetings have. I like the way ward members get to see each other as families and parents. I like the way ward members get to see my kids and feel the same kind of responsibility for them they feel for me. I like the way it reinforces our message that salvation is by families, not just as individuals. I like the theology of being born in the covenant.

Although its a struggle for my wife and I, I think our children are learning about the importance of church and reverence much better than they might if they were kept away. Since I’ve taken to putting one of my girls on my lap during the sacrament and talking about it in three-year old talk, I’ve consistently had more spiritual sacrament experiences. Having student wards be noticeably more reverent and quiet than regular wards allows our meetings to make an extra spiritual impression during the spiritually impressionable years.

“Let the traffic of the world give way to silence and peace” is an admirable sentiment. But I’ve had a suspicion for awhile that in some sense the sentiment is more terrestrial than celestial. The problems that Guy Crouchback and his investigator friend identifies are real and I have no solutions. But I still want the kids.

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62 Responses to The Cacophony of Heaven

  1. Jacob M on September 25, 2007 at 5:04 pm

    I think it’s necessary to have the children go to the meetings, if only so when the speaker gets boring I can entertain both myself and a little one by making goofy facial expressions at he or she. A lot more fun than trying to read something! And I agree with those things you mentioned, Adam.

  2. mmiles on September 25, 2007 at 5:09 pm

    I think it’s important to take the kids to teach them the habit, and to teach them the community of worship. We all go to worship together and no one is excluded. Isn’t that a key aspect of Christianity? A couple of years ago we had a foreign exchange student. She would go with us and cry because she was sad that her family didn’t worship God together. When they did worship, it was women went for somethings, men at another time, children really didn’t go (she was from Central Asia). She didn’t understand a thing, but she liked going and seeing the community of worship (except when it made her homesick to be with her own family).

  3. Jane Doe on September 25, 2007 at 5:27 pm

    Honestly, I hate it. I think that forcing kids to sit through a whole hour of something that can\’t understand and people they can\’t even see is unfair to the kids and to those of us who want to actually hear what\’s being said. I say this as a parent myself. It\’s embarassing to bring in investigators and have them witness how irreverant our meetings are. It\’s oftentimes one big free for all in Sacrament meeting. I think it would be far more dignified and a far more spiritual experience if kids were in age appropriate religious service in the building but seperate from mom and dad. I also think it would help out immensely if our meetings were a lot shorter than three excruciatingly long hours.

    PS: I also think that it\’s sometimes unfair for us adults to sit through a whole hour + 15 minutes of some of the talks given by lay people. Some are great but more often that not there\’s a lot to be desired. I often struggle through sacrament but I keep trying to show up.

  4. John on September 25, 2007 at 5:29 pm

    I’m all for little kids in sacrament meeting if only to let my children have the same experience with their kids as we did with them (and, presumably, our folks had with us)!

  5. Julie M. Smith on September 25, 2007 at 5:30 pm

    I’m reminded of Robert Kirby describing the average sacrament meeting as sounding like a knife fight between monkeys and cats.

    I’m all for having the kids there (and I think it a decadent, too-child-centered culture that can’t expect a 3+ year old to sit more or less quietly with a few snacks, toys and books for an hour).

    But we do create a need for the child’s regular caregiver (i.e., mother) to find spiritual replenishing somewhere other than sacrament meeting.

  6. Matt W. on September 25, 2007 at 5:34 pm

    Jane, considering the lds service, I’d say you’ve never had to sit through an hour + 15 minutes of any of the talks given by lay people. You see, since that hour + 15 minutes includes 4 hyms, one sacramental ordinance, announcements, sustainings, and an opening and closing prayer, I’d guess at the normal service the most you could get is 45 minutes of talks by lay people.

  7. Ardis Parshall on September 25, 2007 at 5:41 pm

    I like kids at church too. But I’m glad kids don’t come to temple sessions.

  8. Jane Doe on September 25, 2007 at 5:42 pm

    Matt W:

    Thanks. Well aware of that fact. I grew up in the church and I’m 40 years old. Attention spans are generally pretty short for most people. Some talks are amazingly great. Lots of talks are really not. It’s hard for me (and I’m sure I’m not alone out here) to sometimes sit through it all. That aside, this post is about kids so back to them… it’s really rough trying to keep them quiet and I dread it. When my kids were smaller, it was 1 hour + 15 minutes of hell for me and them since I expect them to be really quiet and if they’re not, I’m on edge. Can’t understand how/why parents allow their kids to scream and be totally disruptive without rushing them out of the service. It’s most disrespectful for everyone else there. My parents ward is over the top in the noise level. My mom has mostly decided to take the sacrament and go home since she can’t hear anything so what’s the point? I wish church services were quiet, reverent, respectful, dignified and spiritual. With screaming kids, it’s hard to feel any of that. I’ve been to plenty of masses overseas and I long for that somber experience in our own wards. Won’t happen with a lot of kids and I don’t think it’s even fair that we expect them to.

  9. Adam Greenwood on September 25, 2007 at 5:44 pm

    Jane D., bad lay speakers is a very related subject and I think shows where you and I disagree. In my mind, having some bad speakers and some noisy kids is the price we pay for having a community that is concerned with the salvation of all and willing to put up with some mess and imperfection to get there. Maybe its because I grew up in a big family, but quiet, reverent meetings seem sterile and artificial to me. But I understand there are downsides to that point of view (and I do sometimes wish we had professional organists).

  10. mmiles on September 25, 2007 at 5:44 pm

    Ardis, Exactly! And I have been to church meetings that have been specified as “No kids”. Tha is entirelly different than sacrament meeting.

  11. Jacob J on September 25, 2007 at 5:45 pm

    Excellent points Adam. I like the kids in there too, for all the reasons you mentioned.

  12. Kaimi Wenger on September 25, 2007 at 5:47 pm

    Why, Ardis?

    Or rather — Can you elaborate? What is it that makes us feel that certain levels of noise or quiet are normal or acceptable for some worship, and not other worship? What markers are there that distinguish the one from the other?

  13. Adam Greenwood on September 25, 2007 at 5:47 pm

    Good point, Ardis P.

    Edit: Kaimi W., maybe the answer is that taking the sacrament is supposed to be a community thing. It’s communion, and according to our prophets its not just communion with Christ but also with everyone else who is taking the sacrament. Its the whole family of God uniting in Christ.

  14. Jane Doe on September 25, 2007 at 5:50 pm

    You really think that the only way to salvation is allowing kids in the same meeting as adults?? I wonder how many investigators take one visit to church and never come back because it’s chaotic. I wonder how many members stop attending church because the screaming kids are too much to take? We’ll never know the exact numbers but it’s probably more than we think. It was in GC a few years back (or maybe it was my SC meeting, can’t remember) that a speaker said we had a reputation of having the noisiest religious services around and this was not a reputation we wanted to have so parents, please take disrputive children out of the chapel. When I had younger kids, I would’ve sold my soul to be able to have a whole entire hour + to be spiritually edified in sacrament meeting, which was impossible to do with young kids.

  15. Adam Greenwood on September 25, 2007 at 5:49 pm

    You know, maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a service once a year or so where the kids were sent out. I think having everyone there is best, usually, but the variation every now and again would do some people some spiritual good, if for no other reason than that the novelty might bring their minds back to the sacrament, the hymns, the prayers, and the preaching.

  16. Adam Greenwood on September 25, 2007 at 5:52 pm

    You really think that the only way to salvation is allowing kids in the same meeting as adults??

    I think quiet, reverent, competent dignity is as often a hindrance to salvation as it is a help.

    By the way, I sense that you’re getting defensive, probably because everyone here disagrees with you. Understandable. All, please be polite to Jane Doe. Be respectful.

  17. Jacob M on September 25, 2007 at 5:59 pm

    I need to add something further. I’m currently in the single’s ward, and I have to admit, I love that I don’t get too distracted while people are talking. (Granted, I am usually the distracting one with my running commentary on what’s being said, but my friends put up with it.) However, on those visits that I have to my family ward, I find that there is a comfort in the noise. It feels like home when I here all the babies crying and the kids going through the snack bags that their parents give them in hopes of keeping them occupied and yes, even the rowdy kids that their poor mothers are at their wits end because her husband’s up on the stand. But, once again, I can understand the other side. After all, I haven’t been one of the ones trying to keep the kids quiet/from injurying each other and trying to listen to the speaker for several years running.

  18. Jane Doe on September 25, 2007 at 5:59 pm

    Adam: Thanks for asking everyone to be respectful but I’m not getting defensive. It doesn’t matter if everyone disagrees with me or not because I know I’m not the only one who feels the way I do. In fact, in a previous ward, the missionaries who were over for dinner expressed their dismay over how difficult it was to get investigators to come back after a first visit to our sacrament meetings. One of their investigators left after 10 minutes. So while I may be alone here so far, I’m not alone out here and I know that for a fact.

    Not sure how “quiet revererant competent dignity” is a hindrance to salvation. Repectful worship of Christ I believe is crucial to feeling the spirit and having church services feel “special” and “different” than, say, a day at Disneyland or a basketball game. Gosh, if it doesn’t matter, why not allow kids in the celestial room?

  19. Jacob M on September 25, 2007 at 6:04 pm

    I think quiet, reverent, competent dignity is as often a hindrance to salvation as it is a help.

    Adam – be careful who you tell that one to! Folks like me might take it a bit (read: lots) too far. After all, half the time I’m acting like the kid who wants but can’t get his afternoon snack (grins)!

  20. Adam Greenwood on September 25, 2007 at 6:03 pm

    Well if you’re not being defensive, please tone it down. You’re coming across as a bit combative.

    To answer your question, I think that quiet, reverent, competent dignity is a worthwhile goal, one that conduces to the Spirit. But (you knew that was coming) I think that trying to have spiritual experience can sometimes get in the way of salvation if we let our concern for having spiritual experience and the physical factors that we feel we need to have that experience get in the way of concern for the welfare of our brothers and sisters and our children. In my mind giving untrained laypersons the assignment to speak lets them have spiritual growth and we can grow spiritually as we try to make the best of it. In my mind children learn to be reverent in sacrament meeting best by being there with their parents. These are important goals, ones that sometimes conflict with our own desire for quiet spiritual experience, so a balance has to be struck. There are other important goals, the ones I outline in the post, that can also conflict and also have to be balanced.

  21. JKC on September 25, 2007 at 6:11 pm

    Yes it’s true that some other churches have kids in a separate area during worship and are quieter. But it’s also true that some other churches have kids in the worship service and still manage to be a lot quieter than your average LDS service. I thinking specifically of some (though not all) catholic and episcopal congregations I’ve visited. Part of it is that when you walk into one of those stone-silent rooms, you feel like you’d better not talk. Part of it is that talking in the chapel just isn’t done. I think we should keep kids, but I also think we could make more of an effort to practice reverence in the chapel. Quietness isn’t just an aid to meditation, its a way to consecrate the chapel as sacred space.

    I don’t mind the length of our meetings. What bothers me is the fact that bishops are so afraid of having too few speakers that our meetings are often over-programmed and we hear 4 superficial summaries of GA quotes instead of one or two good talks that actually discuss the topic. If we’re going to insist on having four speakers and the sacrament and three hymns and sometimes a musical number and all the administrative filler, I actually wouldn’t mind having a bit more time so the speakers can actually get into their talks. Overall, I think we underestimate kids and their ability to understand a speaker.

  22. Adam Greenwood on September 25, 2007 at 6:16 pm

    JKC, its probably true that we can do more to have reverent meetings with the kids there. I’d appreciate your suggestions. But I will say that the Catholic congregations I’ve visited haven’t been any better than ours.

  23. Adam Greenwood on September 25, 2007 at 6:18 pm

    Lets please avoid a digression on the length of our meetings.

  24. m&m on September 25, 2007 at 6:19 pm

    Jane Doe, it sounds to me like you may have an unusually disruptive situation. You say: “Can’t understand how/why parents allow their kids to scream and be totally disruptive without rushing them out of the service.”

    And the answer is that they aren’t supposed to do this. Pres. Packer gently reminds us of this…there is a balance, but truly disruptive behavior should not be the norm.

    “The reverence we speak of does not equate with absolute silence. We must be tolerant of little babies, even an occasional outburst from a toddler being ushered out to keep him from disturbing the peace. Unless the father is on the stand, he should do the ushering.” (Boyd K. Packer, “Reverence Invites Revelation,” Ensign, Nov 1991, 21)

    (I like the last statement, just because it can help give momma a break!)

    I think Jacob M shares a good point…there is something unique, even special, about the family nature of our church, so some tolerance for the rustling and the little squaks of little ones is good. But if you are having truly chaotic meetings, it might be worth a ention to your bishop.

  25. Jane Doe on September 25, 2007 at 6:20 pm

    I maintain that the level of noise in many of our services is most disrespectful to not only worshiping God, but to the speakers, and to those who would like to listen. While we may think our kids are the cutest things ever and their cries/screams/kicks/et al is super cool, those around us probably disagree in droves. Before kids, I didn’t find the kids who were acting up cute or charming in the slightest. I think we as parents need to be congnitive of the fact and do everything we possibly can (since I don’t see the church changing its policy on kids in sacrament meeting anytime soon) to control them or take them out. While some kids are able to sit quietly for long periods of time, it’s not true for all kids. I think kids ought to be kids but there’s a place for them.

  26. alea on September 25, 2007 at 6:20 pm

    I wonder if the problem with investigators and our noisy meetings is not so much that they don’t mesh with their preconceived ideas of spiritual worship (since, a lot of meetings I’ve been to in other faiths have likewise been full of activity off-pulpit) but the strong sense they get that they don’t belong to the group. This has more to do, probably with the pre- and post-meeting noise of conversation, but still I know how easy it is to feel like something’s going on that you’re missing.

    Also, roughly once a month in my singles ward you’ll have someone start their talk about how much nicer it is to not have kids around because you can feel the spirit more. The problem I have here is that family wards have always felt more genuine and more like a spiritual community to me personally than any singles ward, which tend to come across as social gatherings and a desire to impress those around you. The more I feel like it’s a community, the better I feel the spirit, regardless of the noise level.

  27. Adam Greenwood on September 25, 2007 at 6:24 pm

    The more I feel like it’s a community, the better I feel the spirit, regardless of the noise level.

    Me too. There might be a temperamental divide here–people who get close to the Spirit when there’s a communal buzz and people who do better with silence and peace.

    the strong sense they get that they don\’t belong to the group. This has more to do, probably with the pre- and post-meeting noise of conversation, but still I know how easy it is to feel like something\’s going on that you\’re missing.

    Excellent point. Maybe its also that some investigators see that we’re inviting them not just to a worship service but to join a community and it scares them off.

    I also think people are more sensitive to noise at other people’s services.

  28. Ardis Parshall on September 25, 2007 at 6:59 pm

    12: For exactly the reasons you probably suspect, Kaimi.

    Look, I love kids, they belong at church, I want them there, I wouldn’t change that for anything. I like old people, and young lovers, too. But two weeks ago, I was the strong arm for three old folks (ages 90, 90, and 91) to cling to on the long walk from the Temple Square gates to the Tabernacle doors — and since none of them could hear, they spent most of stake conference talking to me, and since they couldn’t hear each other, they all talked to me at the same time. This past Sunday, the young bride on the bench in front of me spent most of Sacrament Meeting grooming her husband’s beard, popping his zits, and picking dried whatever from the inside of his ear, all about 12 inches from my face. And we have a long string of comments in this thread about what children — precious and adorable and welcome as they are — contribute to church meetings. Charity and good manners require me to make all these people welcome and comfortable, and overlook their disruptions — I can manage that on the outside, but haven’t yet managed to make it real on the inside.

    In the temple, inside and outside are the same.

  29. Jane Doe on September 25, 2007 at 7:20 pm


    Oh gosh, the whole beard/bride/zits comment made me queasy, and right before I head out for a meal tasting for a large work event I’m planning. It’ll help keep my caloric intake down this evening so thank you!

  30. Costanza on September 25, 2007 at 7:25 pm

    On my last visit to Carthage jail–about 4 years ago–the guide told everyone that crying kids would not be tolerated. He said that people came to the jail to have spiritual experiences and crying children disrupted that. I can’t say that I disagree, but it was jarring given the fact that I have never heard such instructions given during meetings in which we partake of the emblems of Christ’s body and blood.

  31. Tatiana on September 25, 2007 at 7:37 pm

    I love the kids in sacrament meeting. It’s one of the things that showed me I was in the right place when I was investigating. It gives the meeting so much warmth and humanity that it would otherwise miss, I think. I love kids anyway, and think they add to the company, they don’t detract. So I’m very glad we welcome them in sacrament meeting, and I don’t mind the distraction. It gives me good practice concentrating. And if the speaker is ever boring, the kids never are, as others have pointed out. =)

  32. paula on September 25, 2007 at 7:38 pm

    Yeah, thanks Ardis, you’ve given me an indelible image for at least the rest of the day.

    You also touched on what I had planned to comment. Some people are more deeply affected by the noise than others, for example, elderly folks with hearing aids. My dad can’t tune out the noise from screeching kids. And when the ward before them gets out, they’re literally afraid of being trampled trying to get into the chapel by all the kids who aren’t kept under control, and by the grownups who don’t seem to have common courtesy left. Or if someone’s prone to migraines, or has a hard time sitting long, sitting next to a lot of noise makes it even worse.

    In my parents’ ward, when I was little, it was seen as fairly normal for small kids to stay at home with one parent, while the other parent attended with the kids who were old enough to understand something of the meeting. (Sacrament Meeting was at 7:30 PM for many years.) Of course, this meant that many women didn’t go to SM for a long time– but at least they’d still have RS on a different day. And that leads me to another point– church was more child-friendly then. Many of the old buildings had a “cry room” where little kids could be noisy without bothering the main congregation. The meetings weren’t three hours long, and Sunday School was a little more child friendly too, with more songs just for fun, and much shorter. (And never scheduled over lunch, as my ward has been for that last 7 years.)

    I often leave SM feeling kind of ill, if I’ve been unlucky enough to sit next to a really noisy family. I do understand that kids make noise, but I don’t understand parents who don’t do anything to try to teach the kids better. For example, a couple of years ago, two thirteen year old boys crawled on their bellies up through the congregation under the benches, until someone stopped them and quietly but sternly told them to get up and go back. Their parents thought it was cute and funny.

    I’ve taken two non-LDS friends to church in this ward, and both commented jokingly about the level of din in SM. I’ve basically decided never to invite anyone back.

  33. Adam Greenwood on September 25, 2007 at 7:51 pm

    I’ve taken two non-LDS friends to church in this ward, and both commented jokingly about the level of din in SM. I’ve basically decided never to invite anyone back.

    That’s going too far. There are the Tatiana’s of the world, after all, and there is the Spirit.

  34. Visorstuff on September 25, 2007 at 8:04 pm

    I was just thinking back to the old days when we used to have stake primary meeting during stake conference seperately from the adults. I definitely like today’s world much better.

  35. Ray on September 25, 2007 at 8:11 pm

    One of my favorite aspects of the Church is that we insist on teaching the ideal as we continually fall flat on our faces with the implementation. I wouldn’t trade having children in our meetings for anything, and, as bluntly as I can put this, they aren’t the problem. The adults are, and I say this from the perspective of quite a few years sitting in front of the chapel looking out over the congregation. Here are a few of my observations:

    1) Children who see their parents or other adults talking in Sacrament Meeting will learn to talk in Sacrament Meeting. This is particularly disheartening during the actual administration of the sacrament.

    2) Children who are not taught to be quiet outside of Sacrament Meeting, as a foundation of reverence, will not be able to be quiet during Sacrament Meeting. I know my wife and have been blessed with children who do not have difficult issues that make being quiet particularly difficult, but we also took time each week when they were pre-nursery age, at home, to sit with them on our laps for extended periods of time (while reading or talking quietly at first and then simply “thinking”) – specifically to help train them to be able to sit silently during the administration of the sacrament and quietly throughout the service. They aren’t perfect little angels, but they don’t distract from the spirit – even when my wife was alone with all six of them.

    3) Parents (or mothers alone) who struggle to control the chaos of a disruptive child and others they simply can’t leave alone need others (adults and/or teenagers) who are willing to ask privately if they can help – either by sitting with the family throughout SM or moving to them when the parent(s) needs to leave with a child. The screaming child isn’t the issue; the mother or father not feeling like s/he can leave is.

    4) Husbands and fathers need to take a few slaps upside the head and stop acting like dealing with the kids in SM is their wives’ job. There is a heavy dose of repentance necessary for many.

    There are more examples I could give, but I believe firmly that the issue is not kids in sacrament meeting but rather adults abrogating their responsibilities for those kids. In our ward now, our last Bishop focused a lot of attention on humbly and gently teaching the adults to take responsibility for reverence in the chapel, especially during the administration of the sacrament. The difference in our ward over the past few years has been nothing short of amazing – even with plenty of children in our midst.

  36. Mike on September 25, 2007 at 8:52 pm

    Ray (#35), you stole my thunder. I don’t mind kids in sacrament, it’s the adults that are distracting. Yes, if kids are being loud and can’t be immediately calmed, they should be taken out. By the way, I was taught that it is the Dad’s responsibility to do that, when possible, and I try to do that as I think it’s a priesthood responsibility to make sure his family is able to be in sacrament meeting being spiritually fed. But I digress…

    But I am much more distracted by adult conversations.

    When I was in college in a student ward, I remember being very distracted by audible conversations going on in sacrament about who was dating who or whatever. That was much more distracting than crying children in my current family ward, because adult conversations actually fight for our attention, rather than just make it difficult to hear occasionally.

    I am also annoyed that when it becomes necessary to take a child out, I often have to battle to hear the service over the intercom as there are loud conversations going on in the foyer between people holding children who are perfectly well-behaved.

    In regards to investigators, it can be a problem, but we are a Church that embraces children and family, and an investigator needs to get used to that culture. I think some might even find it refreshing that we value our children enough to have them with us. As a missionary I always advised investigators to sit near the front, and now with my family I tend to try to sit near the back.

    There is also the practical problem of where else are they going to go? Should we give callings to watch all the kids separately, like other churches have separate rooms? So those people don’t get to go to sacrament meeting? Or are the parents just supposed to keep them out? If that happened, there wouldn’t be many people left in sacrament meeting, at least in my ward.

    Overall, I think it’s very important we have one meeting were everyone is together, including children, for all the reasons given by previous commenters.

  37. Marie on September 25, 2007 at 8:59 pm

    I am a mother of two boys under four and my husband is a not a member and doesn’t come to church. Back when my oldest son reached the age when it became impossible to keep him quiet I spent a lot of time wandering the halls with him. I eventually stopped coming to SM all together because it seemed like there was no point. I didn’t get to hear any of the talks and since he wouldn’t stay put in the lobby any more than in the chapel so I frequently missed the sacrament too.

    A few years ago I decided that I didn’t really care what other people think and I was going to bring my kids to church and make them learn to sit and be quiet. I started sitting with a single friend who would hold my baby for me so I could focus on my more disruptive son. Unless my kids are really, really noisy I don’t take them out and when I do they have to sit very still on the couch with no toys until they are ready to go back in. I figure that since there is no provision made for women with small children to attend the meeting without disturbing others (like the crying room with sound and a window into the chapel at my parents building) that this is the best I can do. It does help that I have a very supportive ward and constantly get loving comments about how impressed people are that I keep trying to come and teach my kids a little reverence. I figure if you are offended by my noisy kids you can come and sit with me and help since the woman who I used to sit with got married and moved away.

  38. Marjorie Conder on September 25, 2007 at 11:15 pm

    When I was a young mom with a two year old and a baby and my DH in the bishopric, I was told by a crusty dowenger (sp?) that children did not belong in Church. I was dismayed. I was really trying my best, but of course did not know nearly as much as I do now about child management techniques, or about being assertive in the face of such comments. We did however keep coming to Church. We did have a cryroom in those days, however I absolutely understand why they were eliminated. Every one I was ever in was much worse than any foyer for actually trying to listen. They became primarily a hangout for adults and teens who had no intention of listening–much worse than any of the kids there.

    Now days my husband and I are usually surrounded by young families in Sac. Mtg. I am very impressed with the real efforts most parents are making to teach their children proper behavior and especially during the sacrament itself. I try to make it a point to make positive comments to at least one of these parents every week, especially anyone in an especially challenging situation, like lots of kids and managing alone, or even just having a hard Sunday. Good for them for just being there. I”m glad they are there. I’m glad we get to sit next to them.

    One final thought. It might be counterintuitive, but our experience was that the closer you sat to the front the better behaved the kids were. All eight of us sat on the very front row for many years. When the last of our kids became a teenager, we moved several rows back and explicitly “willed” the row to another family with lots of kids. They occupied that row for about 10 years and now after numerous occupants of that front row have come and gone, one of their son’s families, occupies those same seats.

  39. Sarah on September 25, 2007 at 11:49 pm

    I think it’d be nice to change things up a little bit, at least on occasion. It’s asking quite a lot of a 4 to 7-year-old to spend one hour (and only one hour, without any other practice) sitting quietly while spectacularly boring things s/he can’t see are happening. It’s also asking quite a lot out of moms and dads and 12-year-olds that have finally started figuring out the “why we bother with all this effort” side of Sacrament, to spend what should be worship time being toddler wranglers. I don’t think my stepbrother or I spent a full Sacrament meeting in the chapel from our sister’s second through seventh birthdays. I don’t mind the noise or commotion, nowadays — but I also have a station, nestled against the wall on the far right side in the second row, which means that I only see my own family and whoever is on the stand. I’m enough of an introvert that I mostly learned to tune out the presence of people who aren’t touching me a long time ago — though if I ever attended a meeting in the Tabernacle, I’d probably have a panic attack from the crowd.

    Also, didn’t things get done in a totally different way before the condensed three-hour block was introduced? I’ve heard they did the Sacrament in Junior Sunday School, and didn’t tack on an extra two hours of quiet, somewhat boring, mostly sitting still time to the stoicism required in a normal Sacrament meeting — and went home for lunch — amongst other things. Did everyone bring their toddlers to those stand-alone meetings?

    (Full disclosure: in the UU church I attended as a child, everyone under 6 left after the first ten minutes, and everyone under 18 left at the half-way point in the main service — we had a fun canned-good-collecting procession on behalf of a local women’s shelter on the way out the door. The first half of those meetings is where I learned how to sleep with my eyes partially open and respectfully directed toward the speaker’s podium. A useful trick in many different situations, I assure you.)

  40. Zina W on September 26, 2007 at 12:34 am

    My first reaction was the same as one of Mike’s comments: where are the children supposed to go if they’re not in Sacrament Meeting? It’s one thing to miss Relief Society for a few years because you’re called to the Nursery, but a whole ‘nother story for the adults to have to take turns missing taking the Sacrament (which, as I understand it, is the most important purpose of worship services.) Should we hire non-members to staff our nursery? It just seems to me that there’s no way to take the young’ns out of SM without losing some of the egalitarian nature of our Sunday services.

    While on my mission in Belgium, church members who’d joined the church in Congo shared with me how difficult it was to keep attending meetings in Belgium, where the meetings felt stiff, formal, somber, rigid — or, in other words, what a lot of us equate with “reverent”– whereas at home in Congo, their church meetings had been characterized by very warm and friendly greetings, energetic and enhusiastic singing, passionate bearing of testimony, etc. Obviously there are cultural divides as well as personal divides in peoples’ ideas of what constitutes worship and reverence and in what settings are conducive to feeling the Spirit.

    Personally I’m probably a bit more towards the warm/enthusiastic vision of reverence, but I definitely believe in keeping my kids as quiet as possible in SM, out of respect for my own culture as well as out of a genuine desire on my own part to hear the speakers and feel myself a part of the meeting, and of course to teach my kids appropriate behavior. With 4 kids, the youngest of which are a VERY lively three-year-old and one-year-old, it’s a huge struggle most of the time, one that takes much thought and creativity, in trying to decide what definitely requires taking a child out, etc. (For example, last week my one-year-old hit his head on the bench and screamed at the top of his lungs. Of course I didn’t hesitate to take him out, and of course he immediately quieted once I was out — so do I then parade back in, or stay out in the foyer with my now-silent child? Maybe to others the answers are always simple, but to me it seems like there are a lot of fine lines that are a bit tricky to navigate.)

    I also hate it when the adults in the foyer or mother’s lounge strike up conversations with me, or with each other in loud distracting voices — in one ward, it seemed assumed that the mother’s lounge was the place for chatting, whereas I sincerely wanted to be able to hear the piped-in talks while I nursed my baby.

    I seem to have just written a novel, but I do have one more story, which was that when President Monson spoke at our last regional conference (which we watched broadcast from the Marriot Center to our Stake Center) he repeatedly said things about loving little children, and at one point even said, “Don’t worry about the little children running around in front!” I thought that was hilarious because of course nobody (I would think!) would actually let their children run free at a meeting with an apostle — but I was so grateful for his expressions of strong, warm, kind, tolerant love of little children, and it made me feel a little less anxiety about my own struggles to balance teaching my children reverence and my wish to hear the meeting, versus trying to protect others from my kids’ occasional misbehavior. He also reminded me of Mormon, who said he loved little children with a perfect love, and of a quote from Brigham Young in which he said that he had observed children being treated rudely by adults in SM (I think he said that the children were being asked to give up their seats and being made to stand so that adults could sit) and how that kind of thing ought not to be. (Sorry, I don’t have the reference, it’s somewhere in the Brigham Young manual.) And then, of course, we have the example of how the Savior welcomed little children, and the many scriptures which talk about the special gifts of small children. So, all these things taken into consideration, I think maybe we ought to worry less about not offending investigators (who, if they join the church, will have to learn all kinds of tolerance,) and maybe worry more about not offending children?

  41. JA Benson on September 26, 2007 at 1:23 am

    I am torn on this issue as I have sat thru a family ward Sacrament meetings without children. It is really very nice Years ago in a ward in Dallas, Texas there was a Catholic lady who tended the younger kids during meetings. I understand she was none to please to lose her job when they stopped the practice.

    When I was a child we weren’t on the block schedule; either my Dad or Mom attended Sacrament meeting and one stayed home with the kids. We children started attending Sacrament one at a time as we became eightish. We felt that it was an honor and a sign of maturity to be allowed to attend Sacrament meeting. Not every family did this. I think that my parent’s laid back attitude played a part in why (so far) all of their children have stayed active as adults. My kids think that Sacrament meeting is akin to torture until they are twleveish. They are extra active (3/5 are ADD). We allow drawing and very small toys provide that none are turned into missiles and hurtled at unsuspecting ward members (this has happened).

    Our Stake used to have a separate service at Stake Conference for children under eight. The children’s service was run by the Stake Primary Presidency. My children were a lot happier in the children’s service than in Stake Conference. It was hard when they turned eight and then had to sit thru Stake Conference.

    Then again I would miss my kids if we weren’t together every week. Heck, I would be one of the adults in the nursery anyway( I’ve. been in Primary for the last five years). I think, in my perfect world, that it would be nice to have the Sacrament together and then split for the talks. Nice Catholic ladies would mind the little kids and everybody would be happy.

  42. Kyle R. on September 26, 2007 at 6:01 am

    My wife and I have visited two different LDS wards here in Britain, on several occasions. A large number of kids but they weren’t making a noticeable din. Cry of a baby here and there perhaps, but that’s about it. The speakers were perfectly audible. Is it a cultural thing rather than an LDS thing? I’m trying not to say, “Good grief American children are noisy!”. Oops, just said it.

  43. Adam Greenwood on September 26, 2007 at 8:02 am

    Zina W., I agree wholeheartedly with everything you say, from respecting one’s local culture to the annoyance of adults who want to chat in the foyer and, in short, everything. One minor point: adults who were out babysitting could still get the sacrament, its just the meeting they’d miss.

  44. Kristin on September 26, 2007 at 8:17 am

    It is not a cultural thing. I have attended four different wards since I have lived in England and the two outside of London have had the noisiest Sacrament Meetings in my experience. They even top the noise levels of much larger southern Utah wards I attended growing up.

  45. Kyle R. on September 26, 2007 at 8:20 am

    Hm Kristin, it must just be here in London, where children like everyone else are too exhausted to make a racket; and in Scotland, where of course they beat them with birches and feed them on curdled oats to keep them quiet

  46. Mike on September 26, 2007 at 8:40 am

    #42: I’m sure it varies from ward to ward, but also I think it has a lot to do with the age of the children. Even small differences in age can make a big difference in terms of how difficult they are to manage in SM. So when you say the ward has a lot of kids, it depends on if you’re talking about babies, toddlers, 3-5, 6-8, etc. I would guess it has more to do with that then the culture. Although I can see that culture, along with a number of other factors, might have some affect.

  47. RoAnn on September 26, 2007 at 12:00 pm

    Ray #35) You expressed my feelings exactly, both with this sentence,”I believe firmly that the issue is not kids in sacrament meeting but rather adults abrogating their responsibilities for those kids,” and with your suggestions and observations.

    Having lived in many different wards (in England, Latin America, Utah, and the East Coast of the U.S,) as our six children were growing up, we saw that the attitude of the leaders made a great difference. If the bishop stressed reverence in the chapel, it tended to become a priority. If he didn’t, things tended to get noisier over time.

    I believe that children belong in Sacrament Meeting, but I also believe that small children (and older ones) can learn to sit quietly for an hour and ten minutes.

    Small children can easily manipulate their parents into letting them run around in the foyer or halls by making noise in the chapel. Our oldest was doing this, and an older member called it to our attention. He then gave us a sure-fire method of avoiding that manipulation. Take the disruptive toddler to a place in the building (an empty classroom, if you don’t have other wards using it) and hold the child so that he/she is facing the blank wall, about a foot away. Stay there until the child realizes that it will be more interesting back in the chapel. Sometimes it took more than one visit to “the wall” for each of our six to learn the lesson, but they all eventually did. :)

  48. Jonovitch on September 26, 2007 at 12:46 pm

    Anyone in a ward with kids (whether they’re your own or not) should read Orson Scott Card’s excellent, albeit lengthy, essay on civility in sacrament meeting, and how everyone is a part of it:

    If you don’t have kids of your own, chances are you’re distracting someone else’s kids and you might not even know it. Read it. Really. It takes a village, and you can help (please help!).

    I have a rather energetic and strong-willed three-and-a-half-year-old boy and an adorable one-year-old girl. I have taken OSC’s advice to heart and, many times, ushered my boy out — past the foyer!! — into an empty room until he calms down. When we return, he is required to sit facing forward — not on the ground!! — and be still and quiet. Sometimes we intentionally sit a couple rows from his closest friends. It ain’t easy to keep them civil for that long in that situation, and it’s a lot of work, but the payoff is immense.

    Our meeting starts at 1:00 pm this year — right in the middle of his nap — which makes it that much more challenging, but most of the time it works — if he starts an early enough nap — and he’s turning out to be all right. Sometimes, though, I’ll stay home while he naps, and my wife goes to ward choir practice and sacrament meeting. (For those shaken their heads, you don’t know my boy — if he doesn’t get at the very least a solid hour’s nap, he’s a wreck. He can easily sleep two or three hours in the afternoon — and he needs it.)

    In another few months, I’m going to have to tell the adults behind us to stop making faces at my little girl so she, too can learn to sit on the bench, facing forward, next to her brother.

    Also, it’s often dead silent during the passing of the sacrament, and during some musical pieces, and during some good talks (when the speakers understand the value of varying their pace, tone, and volume), so it is possible to have children (and adults!) listening together — at least in small chunks.

    I think it’s unreasonable to expect all small children to sit still for an hour, facing forward the whole time, while quietly reading a book when there are so many potential distractions, yet I sympathize with Jane Doe. On the other hand, if some people would simply lower their expectations for those small children in that situation, and if some adults learn how to train fussy children and teenagers (not the foyer, people!! not the foyer!!), everyone involved would benefit from an increase in civility.


    P.S. Seriously, read Orson Scott Card’s essay (and pass it along) — it’s not perfect, but if you are (or will be) in a ward with kids (even if you don’t have any), you’ll get something out of it:

  49. Jonovitch on September 26, 2007 at 12:51 pm

    Ray and RoAnn, you’re right on. Take the incentive away. Make the meeting more interesting by taking unruly kids to an empty, quiet room. But be consistent/persistent in the rules for being in the meeting (sitting on the bench, not standing, not on the ground; facing forward, not playing with friends behind them; etc.). It works, people! One more plug, then I’m done — Orson Scott Card’s essay has all this and more. Read it:

    I’m done now.


  50. Chad Too on September 26, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    Re Adam, #14:

    If it’s done right, the 5th Sunday combined RS/Priesthood meeting under the guidance of the Bishopric fills that spot for me quarterly. I’ve found that meeting to be incredibly spiritually fulfilling, I get to attend with my wife, and the kidlets are down the hall in Primary.

    I’ve also had occasion where it was obvious the Bishopric forgot to plan anything and threw something lackluster together at the last minute, so I place emphasis on the “if it’s done right.”

  51. Kristine on September 26, 2007 at 1:20 pm

    Justin, Ardis, other historically savvy folks–anyone know when it became standard practice for children to attend Sacrament Meetings? There’s the famous quote from Brigham urging that they be left at home, but did that happen in practice?

  52. WillF on September 26, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    From the parent’s perspective, part of the problem is that some children see the foyer as a better place to be than being inside the meeting. These children are intentionally disruptive so they can get out of the chapel. So taking the child out of the chapel is “giving in” and makes the parent worried that the child will “whine themselves out of the church” by never getting used to sitting in the chapel. It becomes a power struggle between the parent and child, and taking them out of the room is a loss for the parent.

    So, what is important in helping children prefer the chapel is to establish what goes on in the foyer. Requiring that a child sit in a chair or on your lap while in the foyer is one basic strategy that reduces the appeal of getting out into the foyer. If they know they will get to run the halls if they can only get themselves out of this boring meeting (in their eyes), they will cause enough commotion while in Sacrament Meeting to gain their freedom.

  53. Guy C on September 26, 2007 at 2:14 pm

    Adam… Thanks for posting this topic. The thoughts, opinions an related stories have been most interesting to read through. I must apologize for not identifying myself more clearly when I emailed you about this potential topic. I am not Guy Crouchback. Apparently my first name and last initial were not enough to be unique.

    While I do agree with many of the posters in that the community/family feel of SM is important, I must say that in this discussion I can definitely relate to Jane’s view. Not all speakers give great talks, but when one really catches your attention, it can become frustrating when the message/spirit is lost amidst crying, screams, kicking of benches, food flying through the air, etc. Maybe I’m just to easily distracted.

    Also, if you happen to be the one that has an unruly child, how much time is spent fretting over how your children behaves. While most members are tolerant, I can tell you not all are. When our son was 2 he was pretty tough to control, and occassionally we got some looks that were not difficult to interpret!

    On the funny side of this topic….
    When our boy was 2, a child sitting behind him gave him a little toy car to look at, which our boy promptly threw, beaning a poor sister 2 rows back squarely in the forehead. I was absolutely beside myself when it happened, and really worried that the sister may have been hurt. I looked back to her and she just smiled (genuinely) and I realized she was ok. After sitting my boy down squarely facing the front, I looked up to the podium and saw the Bishop was struggling to suppress his laughter after witnessing the sequence of events.

  54. WillF on September 26, 2007 at 2:33 pm

    Another contributing factor to problems of hearing speakers is the sometimes poor acoustic design of our chapels. In our current building if you are not in the pews, you can hardly hear the speaker, even when all children are silent (or theoretically when all children are silent). I think this conversation has motivated me to raise this issue with someone.

  55. Mark B. on September 26, 2007 at 2:39 pm

    WillF makes a good point. I well remember my father taking my little brother out of the chapel when he was little and disruptive, and bringing him back shortly afterward sniffling and teary-eyed. It made the rest of us children realize that he hadn’t been out there for a break and a romp in the halls.

    And, I’m with Jane Doe. We can do much, much better at teaching our children reverence–not just quiet, but reverence for God. Maybe someday we’ll hate irreverence as much as we seem to hate the objective case.

  56. Andrew on September 26, 2007 at 4:17 pm

    Those who are understandably bothered by the noise level of our Sacrament Meetings would still do well to remember this wise Chinese proverb:

    “It is easier to put on slippers than to try to carpet the world.”

    Noisy Sacrament meetings can paradoxically be a much needed opportunity to develop and exercise charity.

  57. Marjorie Conder on September 26, 2007 at 6:30 pm

    A historical note.
    The 20 years or so after WWII were a time of transition in Sac. Mtg. attendence. Rates were generally abysmal (15% or even less was common–so I’ve heard.) Apparenatly it occurred to someone that maybe the reason so few people came to Sac. Mtg was because they had never really been SM attenders. As I mentioned earlier, in the early 60s I was taken to task by an older member of my ward because I brought my kids. I realize now that her attitude was definately “old school”. Obviously some folk felt strongly that children did not belong in Sac. Mtg. while at the same time the Church was trying to boost SM attendance, and all this in the early Baby Boomer years. On another post I shared this story of a disasterous outcome while trying to work around children coming to Fast Meeting. Here it is again–

    Around 1949-50 when I was about 8 or 9 years old, someone decided that children did not belong in Fast and Testimony Meeting which was right after SS. (Very few children came to Sac. Mtg in the evenings.) So it was decided to show movies in the Jr. SS room to those kids who didn’t go home after Jr. SS. (Our parents insisted that we be at the Church.) The knucklehead who supplied the movies worked for the county and brought police training films of BAD automobile accidents. To this day I can still see a virtually decapitated woman from one film. My brother and I were seriously traumatized (but silent) about this experience. We never talked to each other about it until just a few years ago, but both of our memories were still vivid. These movies went on for about 3 months until someone (I have no idea who) put a stop to them and we all returned to Fast and Testimony Meeting.

    Cry rooms were another innovation of this time which seemed like a good idea, but just didn’t work. All in all I think it is much better for all of us to be in Sac. Mtg together. No matter what our age or current family configuaration we can all help and contribute in various ways (not the least of which is setting a good example and exercising charity).

  58. Carl Youngblood on September 26, 2007 at 7:01 pm

    I think the kids develop good habits eventually (much sooner than if kept somewhere else), and they glean things from the meeting even at their early age. There are a lot of unspoken things being communicated in sacrament mtg.

  59. cchrissyy on September 27, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    “It’s one thing to miss Relief Society for a few years because you’re called to the Nursery, but a whole ‘nother story for the adults to have to take turns missing taking the Sacrament (which, as I understand it, is the most important purpose of worship services.)”

    Zina (40), some of us parents do exactly that- rotating who may come to church with who must stay home. We’re going on 5 years that way… not everybody is blessed with kids portable, healthy, and adaptable enough for church.

  60. Kristine on September 27, 2007 at 2:13 pm

    Marjorie–thanks! If nothing else, the historical perspective ought to remind us that many things change in the church and we shouldn’t get too attached to our pet form of worship service or anything else. And, even more importantly, it ought to remind us of the dictum attributed to Luther–”in principles, great clarity; in practices, great charity.” There are few things more painful than having your parenting philosophy, skills, or degree of success judged by ward members who don’t take the time to know you or your children before condemning their “irreverence” or your lax parenting.

    It’s also interesting, though not surprising, that the post-WWII rise in children attending Sacrament Meeting corresponds with the beginning of our current usage of the term “reverence” and the first attempts at inculcating it in Primary.

  61. cchrissyy on September 27, 2007 at 2:29 pm

    “In Scotland, where of course they beat them with birches and feed them on curdled oats to keep them quiet”

    Kyle (45)- does it work?


  62. Guy C on September 27, 2007 at 3:57 pm

    Kristine #60 said…. There are few things more painful than having your parenting philosophy, skills, or degree of success judged by ward members who don’t take the time to know you or your children before condemning their “irreverence” or your lax parenting.

    DITTO That!!!!


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