Cry Room Evangelists

There’s a space in every church, hidden away in corners and behind pews.  It’s the place where tiny little Catholics get taken because they are too noisy or distracting.  It’s a room of pure chaos, noise, snacks, and understanding looks.  You may know it as The Cry Room, The Quieting Room, The Parents & Toddlers Room…

But, I know it as “My Own Personal Hell.”

That's probably not how the babies feel...but, you never know!

I seriously hate the cry room with a burning passion.  During this first year of my son’s life, my husband and I have had an ongoing discussion about what to do with our son during Mass.  Because of my position as youth minister, we sit in the very front row of the church with the teens, directly in front of Father and the rest of the congregation.  Not exactly a convenient location for “easy escapes” with an overly active child.

Initially, having him at Mass was no problem – he mostly slept.  Then, he began getting mobile…and noisy.  Trips to the back of the church or the cry room became more frequent.  Now, at 14 months, one of us has to sit in the cry room with him because he can’t even make it through the processional hymn without trying to dive from our arms onto the floor.

Not only does the Mass we attend not have the nursery available, but we want to have our son at Mass with us (see “I Am the Monkey Bars” and “Taking My Kids to Mass, An E-Mail Response”).  So, I’m coming to terms with the fact that the cry room is going to be our home for the next few years.

But, over the past several weeks of spending Mass in the Catholic penalty box, I’ve come to realize something – cry rooms have a serious need to be evangelized.

Yes, I’m talking about evangelizing within the church itself.  Seems weird if you’ve never spent Mass in the back of the church with a child.  If you have, you are aware of the serious lack of participation and, perhaps even a little apathy, that exists inside the church building.

You see, it’s not always parents with babies or toddlers who make that space their home on Sundays.  Sometimes it’s single adults, older people, families with kids who are old enough to be in the church, or teens.  Suffice it to say, it’s not always people who need to be back there who are occupying seats.

(Side note: I fully understand and appreciate that the people who are tucked into the back corners of the church are, at least, AT church.  And, I AM truly thankful that they made the choice to be at Mass rather than somewhere else.)

But, it’s difficult for me to understand why anyone would want to be in a space that has, in my opinion, terrible spatial dynamics  (low-lighting, bad sound system, and a fish-bowl feel).  These design choices make me feel practically disconnected from Mass.  I have to make a conscious decision to pray and engage in the celebration, generally something like, “Yes, Lord, your servant is trying very hard to listen!” while grabbing my child by the pant leg.

This is pretty much the exact view from our cry room

However, many people with children and without voluntarily sit in there.  And, though I don’t get it, I know it’s not my job to be huffy or annoyed about why they can’t walk past the cry room and take a seat within the sanctuary like everyone else.

Instead, I’m coming to realize that it just might be my mission, as a member of the Church who deeply loves the Mass and who 100% prefers sitting right up front to being in exile, to bring the same amount of fervor and participation I give when I’m in the sanctuary to the spaces adjacent to the sanctuary.

And, believe me, it’s not an easy thing to do.

Despite all the noise and chaos of babies gone wild in the cry room, it’s deafeningly quiet when it comes to singing and responses.  For example, I’ve always known I don’t have a fabulous singing voice, but in the cry room, I realize just how bad it is.  I can blend fine with the crowd when I’m inside, but not so much when I’m in the back!  Or, if I accidentally slip up and throw out an “Also with you!” (because I’m trying to wrangle my son and am distracted), I might as well be cheering at a football game – because the whole room hears my new translation faux pas loud and clear.

But, I’m coming to terms with my X number of years sentence to the cry room.  Because, maybe instead of it being a “personal hell” situation, it’s an opportunity for me to fulfill my call to be an apostle.

Maybe what the people crowded in the cry room need is one voice that’s not afraid to sing out (albeit, badly), pray aloud, or mess up on the responses occasionally so that they don’t feel alone when they do it.  Maybe the other parents and parishioners in the back rooms need to be encouraged to be part of the community of prayer, even though they might be feeling slightly disconnected.

And, maybe that’s why God gave me and my husband a squirmy child – so that we could be Cry Room Evangelists.

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12 comments

  1. michael james mette · February 7, 2012

    I appreciate your situation. Prayers on your family and ministry

  2. sara · February 7, 2012

    nice post Rebecca… I LOATH the cry room myself and have been banished there by terribly misbehaving children from time to time. I’ve also learned that around 18 months the misery subsides and resuming position in the front row is possible- with crayons, paper and paci and a few loud peeps every once in a while- the front row is the best view for the little ones when it’s possible. Anna Kate’s preschool teacher stopped me yesterday and told me I was so brave to sit up there on Saturday evening- but I have to say- they often behave better there than anywhere else in church.

    • RRMM · February 7, 2012

      Good to know there’s hope for the future! Of course, as more kids come along, i guess i’ll be cycling through there again…sigh.

  3. Nancy · February 7, 2012

    T.J. was pretty good in Mass, but Amy let her presence be known. I even had to walk down the aisle to receive the Eucharist with her screaming at the top of her lungs! However, as Sara said, it does get better soon. We used to sit in the front and she knew that Father could see her, so she was always good.

    We didn’t have a cry room at the church we went to in Dallas – when they built the new church, they were working under the philosophy that “everyone should worship together”. However, in the narthex, where I would have to go when they acted up, there were people out there with their kids, talking about their plans for Sunday afternoon. Used to drive me crazy! I stood as close to the doors as I could so that I could still hear and respond to the prayers.

    At least they were there, but I wonder why.

    • RRMM · February 7, 2012

      What, Amy screaming? NEVER! Ha ha! Even in the cry room i’ve had people want to talk to me about child rearing and asking questions about my child…i’m like, “um, MASS, not good timing on wanting to chat about life!”

  4. ymkbird · February 7, 2012

    I think the cry room is the worst thing to have happened to the Church in the past 50 years (okay, well it’s maybe not quite THAT bad)…after all, crying is one universal language and a child crying in Mass should not be a source of angst but a source of joy and a moment for everyone to connect with the most primary of human emotions.

    That being said…we did about a 6 month stint in the cry room for each of our kids. 15 months – almost 2. It was when my 2 year old started asking to go “in the back room” that I realized he’s old enough to tough it out in the front with the rest of us.

    Great point about evangelization. I once took a group of non-Catholic and barely Catholic teens to a Holy Thursday Mass. We sat in the cry room so I could explain to them exactly what was going on – it was an amazing Mass for all of us. They were asking questions and I was trying to take advantage of all the teachable moments. Now…how to translate that same feeling to the adults who sneak in back there…

  5. Tim · February 7, 2012

    Perhaps you should pick up the book called Bringing up Be’be’. It seriously looks like some reasonable advice on child rearing.

  6. Fr. Paul · February 8, 2012

    I agree totally. Jesus said, “Let the children come to me” not, “hush them up and stick them in an uncomfortable room.” So I promote always, “children gone wild” in the church. Nothing pleases my ears more than to hear a baby cry, laugh, gurgle or any other noises a child makes. These noises simply mean to me – the Church is full of life. I would so love to be in the crying room during one of the masses and kick those out who don’t need to be there. When young parents come to me with their complaint of “misbehaving” children I invite them to sit up front. There are more distractions going on in the sanctuary to keep a child entertained than sitting in the back simply staring at adults’ backsides. Let children be children and rejoice in their song!

  7. Jolaine · February 8, 2012

    Great article.

    We have a one year old and have from day 1 (or day 15) sat in the front row of church, with her facing forward on my husband’s lab…people think we are crazy!! If she cries or fusses too much he takes her out, calms her down, and brings her back in. I current “dilemma” is that she loves to “talk” during Mass (especially the homily) and she’s got her daddy’s voice-volume–LOUD…we get her to quiet down, but don’t like to take her out because she’s not being bad or fussing, just being one. People seem to understand and laugh, but it’s hard on us!! (And I see the “loving” looks from those that don’t appreciate her homily notes.)

    Hopefully, she will continue to be good…and we don’t jinx ourselves with the next one(s) and be forced to the “fish bowl” (as my coworker calls it).

  8. Steffanie Williams (@ym_steffi) · February 8, 2012

    Amen.
    The cry room has become our complete and total last resort-specifically b/c it irks me that the other people in there don’t seem to want to actually participate. Hello? It’s Jesus, people!
    Thank you for making me see my role as an evangelizer when I am in there. I’m ashamed I hadn’t thought of it myself.

  9. Sarah · February 8, 2012

    I liked what you sad about how your singing voice sounds in the crying room…too true! Often the parents can be just as bad as the children in the crying room. I mean I’ve seen what looks to be almost an entire lunch taken out of a diaper bag and then passed around to everyone in the room.

    Wonderful perspective and thank you for sharing it!

  10. Pingback: The Morality of the Cry-Room: In Defense of the Rights of the Diaper and Bib Crowd (and their parents) | Catholic Moral Theology

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