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.”
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.
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.