One of my biggest pet peeves is talking during movies. I can’t stand the whispering, the questions, the conversation, anything that distracts me or others from fully entering into the story being told on the screen before me. Which means that I can’t stand watching movies with kids. Kids are so inquisitive, so unable to sit still.
When it first came out, I went with my family to see Mary Poppins Returns, a beautiful tribute to the original film. Much to my chagrin, as we climbed the steps to our seats, I saw that we were boxed in by families with children. It’s okay, I told myself consolingly. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll get lucky, and they’ll be fine.
Nope. The smaller children in front of us were fine, but the kid behind us – this kid was beyond old enough to know how to be silent and sit through a movie without talking, yet he ran his mouth the whole time.
“What was going on?” He had to know.
“What was she doing?”
“Why did she say that?”
“IF YOU’D JUST BE QUIET AND WATCH THE MOVIE, YOU WOULD KNOW!” I wanted to turn around and snap; I’m honestly impressed with myself that I managed to go the whole two hours without spinning around in my seat and verbally smiting the kid for distracting me from a story I cared about. And, if I’m being honest, there was only one thing that kept me from doing just that. I didn’t want to be that one adult who, in being so focused on her own experience, yelled at a kid for experiencing the movies in his own way, and out of my anger, caused this kid to have a distaste for the amazing experience that the movies offer.
I don’t say this out of such a high regard for myself, but out of the realization that little interactions can stick with us for years after they occur. I don’t think that I am the only one who can’t help but recall a nasty interaction every time I drive through that one parking lot where, as a young driver, I committed a minor traffic flow faux pau and the offended driver held down their horn for a solid ten seconds while staring me down the entire time. I can’t be the only one who avoids that certain coffee shop like the plague because I won’t risk running into that one barista who kept nagging me to buy a drink because he didn’t realize that I was there with friends who had all bought coffee. I didn’t want to be the ghost of a nasty memory that this kid had to work to forget each time he sits down in a movie theater.
I love movies because I love stories. I love being captivated by them and detest even the most miniscule distraction. As much as these things drive me absolutely crazy during movies, I had a shocking realization one day. I was reflecting on the reasons that I love my church, a far more important gathering centered around a far more important story, and was struck by the fact that the presence of noisy kids in service doesn’t bother me at all.
Rather, the complete opposite is true! One of my favorite things that our church does is Intersection Sunday. Perhaps I just haven’t been in the right place at the right time, or I have selective hearing, but in my five years attending Valley, I have never once heard the main service called “grown-up church,” or “adult church.” I’ve heard it called “big church,” but never the former two.
Call me a lover of semantical games, but that is significant to me. When I first started attending Valley, the concept of Intersection Sunday wasn’t anything new to me; I grew up in church, and many churches that I had previously attended had a similar function, so it didn’t really throw me for much of a loop. “Grown-up church,” “big church,” “adult church” – they were all synonymous in my book. I’ll never forget, though, the first time that the curtain was drawn back one Intersection Sunday morning and Pastor Roger shared with the congregation point-blank what this Sunday was really all about.
Intersection Sunday was more important than a week off for the team who served in our weekly Kid Min services, he said, first addressing the parents and to the adults of the room. He told them the statistics of those who grow up going to church and then stop attending once they graduate high school, and said, “Folks, if we don’t want young people to leave the church, or to walk away from their faith in God, then they need to know that they are welcome in this room.”
Enter Intersection Sunday.
“From toddlers to seniors,” he asserted, “everyone is welcome in God’s house.” It was then that he turned his attention to the second party in the room. “Kids,” he said, “you are welcome here.” (If you don’t think that our kids pick up on the significance of this messaging, come and find me, or anyone who serves in children’s ministry. I served our kids as a small group leader for two years in high school, and the things that kids pick up on are astounding). This declaration sets a precedent for our identity and functionality as a church. This declaration was about so much more than nuclear families getting to experience church together – which, for the record, is incredibly important and valuable. The primary place that I learned to love and revere God, and where I learned to view church as an imperative of the Christian life, was from my parents.
But the vision of Intersection Sunday, as I see it, goes far beyond that. It looks beyond the nuclear family to the mysterious reality that we as believers in Christ all enter into: we believers are the family of God. God’s family is comprised of all races, ethnicities, socioeconomic classes, genders, and political parties. God’s family is comprised of all ages.
It is easy to spout off trite, idealistic sentiments when we talk about the family of God. But when I come home from college, the sight on Sunday morning that I always look forward to most is turning during worship towards the far side of the sanctuary with the floor to ceiling windows that overlook the valley and seeing the dad who is in the open space in the back of the sanctuary wearing one pacifier-mouthed baby in a carrier as he gently herds his toddler who is waving a flag, and his elementary-aged daughter who is dancing to the music. One of my favorite occurrences to happen on a Sunday morning is when one of our pastors begins to teach and a baby starts babbling back. I can’t help the upward tug of my lips when a mortified parent flees from the room hushing a hysterical child, because it tells me that at Valley Christian Center, “family of God” looks like everyone being welcome and wanted in God’s house.
The irony is not lost on me that, when it comes to lesser stories in lesser gatherings, noisy kids drive me crazy. Yet in God’s house, where sinners made saints come together to form the most important gathering around the most important story, that which I find to be the greatest annoyance at the movies becomes in God’s house one of the greatest beauties. And if I am hesitant to get angry at young stranger for experiencing a movie in theaters in his own way, then who am I to respond in anger when a child in our family of faith engages the living story playing out in God’s house?
This is where we as the church have the potential to severely misstep if we lose sight of the open invitation to the weekly gathering that God has given; when church becomes about my personal experience with God, and when my personal experience requires another person’s experience to be stifled, we have violated what is possibly the most beautiful feature of our weekly gatherings. Especially if that other person is a child.
Yes, kids have a tendency to be rowdy. They often don’t like to sit still (being little bodies fueled by unsurmountable energy and imagination who already have to sit still in school all week, can we really blame them?), but kids are incredibly intuitive. They pick up on things, and unlike the rest of us adults, they haven’t learned the concept of a filter, so they experience things honestly and unashamed. Our little ones pick up on nuances and implications of thoughts and actions – both in regard to the words and actions of God, and in the words and actions of his people.
Notice that I said “our little ones” – that was intentional. While each of these kids have been entrusted to caretakers ordained by God, we as their family of faith have a role to play in their upbringing, too. I certainly have no desire to be the ghost of a nasty memory from “that one time at church.” And if the least I can do to contribute to a child’s spiritual development is to take a deep breath, put my experience in the backseat, and offer an encouraging smile to the father in front of me when his daughter just can’t sit still and keep quiet for her life, then I will sit back and ponder the beauty of what it means, even as a child, for everyone to be welcome in God’s house.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Alyssa Simonson
Alyssa Simonson was born and raised in the Bay Area and recently transplanted to Portland, Oregon to study at Multnomah University with a desire to pastor at a church. She loves baseball, Star Wars and books.