The Christmas season holds a special place in my heart since I was blessed with the gift of motherhood and my husband and I announced it to our families on Christmas day five years ago. I’ve learned that the true joy of Christmas is found in experiencing the wonder and celebration of Jesus’ birth through the eyes of a child.
My children look around and are simply amazed by the Christmas lights, the carols, the presents, the nativity and the impossible miracle that happened one night in a little town called Bethlehem more than 2000 years ago.
As we try to focus on Jesus and what really matters in the face of so many distractions during Christmas, we planned to attend Christmas Eve services with family while we were traveling out of town for the holidays. I’ve attended services at this particular church before and I was expecting a wonderful service with great music and a heartfelt message.
I didn’t expect to be refused entry to the church because I have a small child and I didn’t expect to be shunned, embarrassed, harassed and escorted out during a Christmas Eve service.
Yes, there were signs at the door stating the church’s policy that children under two were not permitted into the sanctuary. And there was a friendly and compassionate pastor to explain that the excellent children’s ministry and the family viewing area where we could watch the service on TV were not just options available to us, but the only way that we would be allowed to hear the good news of Jesus Christ that day.
I know, we disregarded the church’s policy and found seats in the balcony with less observant door attendants. I’ll admit that my 19 month old was in awe of the lights and the music and said “oooohhhh” and “ahhhhhh” and “wwwwoooowwww!”
Rest assured that the volunteers charged with removing offenders who did not remain silent did an excellent job of hovering above us with a watchful eye just enough to make us uncomfortable without actually saying anything. And yes, the polite, yet firm man who ultimately asked us to leave did his job well. As un-Christian and unbelievable as it sounds, I’m still in shock that we were kicked out of church at Christmas.
I understand and am sympathetic to the technical aspect of producing a quality service for TV and live-streaming, but surely there is a better solution than preventing families from attending church together. Out of your SIXTEEN Christmas Eve services, perhaps one service could be designated for families? Or there could be an area where the acoustics are less audible for families with children to sit? Or maybe just have one service for TV and the others can be for those who are there in person? A good solution will be guided more by the spirit of Jesus than the spirit of Hollywood, pop culture and marginalizing families with small children.
I know that my family is just a few little fish in the big, big pond of your mega-church, but judging from the faces of every single other family relegated to the “VIP” family viewing room, I’d say that we’re not the only ones who left your church upset that evening.
From one little fish to the supposed fisher-of-men, I’d love to share why my family needed to be in church that day.
It’s been three years since we’ve had a church home and while the ups and downs in our lives haven’t taken us completely away from Jesus, we have been struggling. Philosophical differences drove us to leave the church where I grew up, where my husband and I got married and where our first baby was baptized. During the time we were attending different churches and looking for our new “home,” our family suffered an unimaginable loss. During an ultrasound to reveal the sex of our second baby, we learned just how precious life is. With a microscopic error somewhere on the human genome, our sweet Eliott’s brain wasn’t able to form properly and he was born without ever taking a single breath.
The loss of a child is Earth shattering. Darkness and sadness cluttered our thoughts among the anger and resentment at a God who would allow such terrible pain. The dark clouds have lingered in our lives for years, but on the other side of the storm, we found a rainbow.
The next year when we welcomed a healthy baby boy into the world, I found peace and a reconciliation with God. Even through life-threatening complications from the delivery, I knew that he was our miracle. He’s the hope we needed to find our way back to the light. We’re still traveling that path, finding our way with stops at some fantastic churches, many prayers and inspiring Christian examples in our lives.
This Christmas, our path led us to your church and we were turned away. My miracle baby wasn’t welcome to worship within the walls of your church. My faith has solid roots so thankfully your unwelcoming church isn’t the end of the road for us.
Jesus said “Let the little children come to me,” and it is my hope that my children will flock to him. We’ll keep on traveling this faith-filled journey until we find a church that welcomes our whole family, embraces the joy of a child’s giggle and knows the value of inviting any and all people into worship.
Everyone has a story. Everyone has gone through something that has changed them. My prayer is that my story inspires change in your church so that you can inspire change in more young families like mine. Because we need church too.