Everyone knows the crying baby in church

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 21, 2008

You have to feel for the preacher and the soloist.

The scene is the sanctuary of any American church on a springtime Sunday morning. It’s a beautiful day. If it’s a smaller church, maybe the windows are open to let in the Springtime, and whatever its size, the congregation is dressed in its Sunday best.

The service begins on time and without a hitch.

But before long the kids n the little kids n in the congregation begin to get a little restless.

And there are a lot of little kids.

The restlessness seems contagious. First there is a lot of movement. Then a few whispers. And, finally, a baby cries.

Then, just about the time the soloist stands to deliver the masterpiece on which he has worked for the past two weeks, a lot of babies join in.

You just have to feel something for that poor fellow as his melodious voice mingles with the wails of those babies who would really rather be someplace else.

The preacher encounters the same situation.

He has worked long and hard on his sermon. He has his phrases down pat. His gestures and his words combine to draw pictures in the minds of his congregation.

But it seems that just as he reaches a point of emphasis n every time, without fail n a baby somewhere in the sanctuary simply cannot stand it any longer and must scream out his frustration.

My father was a pastor.

He always said that such situations never disturbed him.

He contended, in fact, that he never even thought about the crying babies in any congregation.

Maybe all preachers are like that.

I’m not trying to make any kind of point. I have no anti-kid proposals to push. (In fact, with three of my own, I’m pretty well established as being pro-kid.)

The crying-baby-in-church situation is just something with which we all can identify.

And so can our parents.

And their parents.

And their parents’ parents.


Maybe I’ve just discovered a point after all.

Everybody, at one time or another, has probably been a crying-baby-in-church.

And worse, the parent of a crying-baby-in-church.

Ah yes, the poor parents.

Can you remember?

There you are with your wife (or husband) and the other kid (or kids) and the baby. You’re just about in the middle of the sanctuary and the second hymn has just ended. Everyone is settling in to listen to the pastor’s message.

Suddenly a chill races down your back as the baby n who had been sleeping peacefully n begins to move.

And then she opens her eyes.

At first she just makes little cooing sounds.

You try a bottle. No luck.

The ring of plastic keys. No luck.

The furry little bear. No luck.

And the noises the baby is making are growing louder and louder until finally they reach her maximum volume.

Is everyone in the sanctuary really looking at you or is it just your imagination?

If it isn’t the worst predicament for a young parent, it is certainly the most common. And it’s frustrating because there is no satisfactory solution.

But I wish I had written this column 30 or 35 years ago because in writing it I’ve made a fascinating discovery.

Assuming you are that parent, even if everyone in that congregation really is looking at you, it’s not because they’re thinking evil things about you and the crying child.

It’s because they’re empathizing with you.

They’ve been there and they’re remembering the helplessness you feel.

That’s what the lady sitting behind you is trying to say when she leans forward to offer you some trinket for the baby to play with.

And besides, didn’t someone once say, “Suffer the little children to come unto me…”?

David Sullens is publisher of the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald. He can be reached at david.sullens@r-cnews.com