Sunday, February 23, 2014

Um... mea culpa.

When I was in elementary school, my Baptist church had a Sunday morning bus ministry. Retired school buses would drive through apartment parking lots, kids would stream out, fill the buses, and head to Sunday School. All the coolest volunteers were on their team, and the "apartment kids" were pretty much the coolest kids at church. It was a great program, even though trying to pull off a bus ministry today would probably just launch all kinds of lawsuits. (Things like permission slips, waivers of liability, and emergency contact information weren't a big deal in the eighties).

And then there was my family, ho-hum corralling into our 12-passenger van in our Sunday best, scrambling for prime seating after service. I'd watch the bus ministry kids playing outside before lunch, and their church experience always looked better than mine. They had special events, and to my 8-year-old eyes, it looked like monthly carnivals and weekly donuts, even though I'm sure it was something like Hi-C in Dixie cups with peanut butter sandwiches.

I've grown up, crossed the Tiber, and now have my own family that we wrangle into a van for church each week. But it seems like I'm still looking across the aisle, wondering why someone else is getting a better church experience than me.

"We need reserved accessible seating for families with little kids," I grumble, as we arrive 20 minutes early for a seat.

"The church should provide childcare so we can actually attend this stuff," I think, as the lector invites everyone to a new speaker series during the week.

"Why isn't there a playground for our kids to play after Mass?" I complain, as we pull our re-energized kids through the crowd of people leaving and arriving for services. 

It's easy for me to look in the mirror and see the stereotypical Catholic mom with multiple toddlers, basking in the martyrdom of how hard it is to be a parent today, frustrated with the parish for not catering more to families with young kids. Everyone in the church should designate their tithe toward a real nursery, volunteer their time in staffing it, prioritize staff and resources toward early childhood development programs, see my demographic as the most important one in this parish, and go out of their way to serve ME! Um, my family. I mean, serve my family, of course. 

Wally and I laughed as we left church on Sunday: "The Church is dying, if it's not crying!" Josh had been especially fussy, and we were pretty sure other parishioners didn't appreciate little kids throwing themselves on the floor during Consecration. (But his brother knelt where HE wanted to kneel!)

Cruciform church tantrum
Aside from the obvious -- the Church won't die, it will stand forever and ever, even without crying babies at Mass -- the people in our parishes are dying, and it's not just the martyred mommy bloggers. People are weary and tired and disillusioned, coming to the Church in search of rest, in search of the One who exchanges the burdens of this world with rest.

I've been so busy applauding myself for being an awesome Catholic that I missed all the signs that I've actually been a pretty crappy member of the Church, petitioning for it to be a one-issue, one-demographic, 20-minute delivery service instead of a universal call to holiness, universal.

It didn't occur to me that the bus ministry kids might not eat lunch, if the church didn't serve it. Or maybe they'd prefer to come to and from church with their family bickering in a van instead of the organized chaos of a bus.

Or the woman in a wheelchair who always sits by herself in the front half-pew could probably use a handicap-accessible door to the chapel, more than I need a row of rocking chairs across the back of the sanctuary.

I've spent several years asking why the church isn't doing more to make my life easier. But Jesus didn't leave us a fast-food restaurant. He didn't ask the apostles to build Playlands for families to send kids while they broke bread in the other room. Jesus spoke his vision for a Church that would be for all people in all times: feed his lambs, care for his sheep, feed his sheep.

There are parishioners facing end-of-life issues, deportation fears, living in poverty, experiencing daily prejudice, struggling in broken families, looking for jobs, love, answered prayers, an open door.

So, mea culpa, to anyone who's sighed through my mom-blogging-martyrdom about kids at church, full of whiny complaints about the church not being all about me and my super-awesome kids. I'll try to put disclaimers on future grumbling, or at least complain about more than just pre-Vatican II coloring sheets, the lack of kid-size toilets in the bathroom, or the fact that my church experience doesn't make me feel like a celebrity at a 5-star resort.

I'm just beginning to realize these aren't really good spiritual goals, for me or my family.

Jesus didn't incarnate eternity into time 2,000 years ago to establish the first family-friendly shopping mall, and he probably doesn't care whether social events provide real creamer for coffee, Cheerios receptacles in pews, close parking, comfortable seating, or expansive free childcare.

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