Church attendance and participation
I know that my tone in this one may come off as a little bit more stern than I would like. I want to make clear that I’m not making accusations or ungrateful of parents and all they do. I’m not undermining how difficult parenting is, or how hard it is to keep up with the pace of modernity. I am still, though, calling out trends that are seen. This topic in particular I care about, because so often I see parents running into problems with their children, when they’ve neglected the most important aspect of our lives: Eucharist.
Vespers has become a joke. It’s become almost laughable to suggest that people should come to vespers. Why? Why is it suddenly unimportant to prepare for Liturgy? The Church day is eve to eve, just as it always was. The tunes, the icons, the praises – everything changes from the eve of the next day until the even of the next day. Our new Sabbath is Sunday. Why are we devaluing this day and teaching our children to do the same?
A parent may respond: This is the only time I have to [insert activity other than vespers here: socialise, relax etc…]. This is the time where we finally get to entertain or relax or do anything.
I would respond, generally, with a question of: why? Why is this the case? Why is Saturday night the only night that you can do these things? Vespers is 35 minutes long tops. Why is that a crazy amount of time?
If Saturday is the only time you have to socialise, it means that you have filled your time the rest of the week with “other things”. Where you put your time, shows what you value. Saying you cannot go to vespers because your time is filled with “other things” means that vespers doesn’t even make your personal list of things for which time should be budgeted.
If the “other things” are mostly work, then you need to be honest about how much work is right and holy for you to do. I remind you, I’m speaking generally, but I hope each of us self-reflects. The keeping of the Sabbath in the Old Testament was a commandment, not a suggestion. People came together during that time. Families spent holy time with one another. That was not equated with “boring”. So why is your time consumed by work, and what does that say of your value of the time spent with your family in prayer? If your “other things” are social, then Saturday night is clearly not your only time for socialising. This says something.
If your “other stuff” was your kids swimming lessons or other activities, then are you saying to your kid that it’s okay to schedule their lives and homework around these activities, but not around the Church? What are your decisions teaching your children? That’s the question that one needs to self-reflect upon. I am not accusing, I am sincerely asking.
I am aware that there may be individual circumstances, and hence why I keep repeating that I am speaking generally, but I would exhort each person to be honest about those personal circumstances and be faithful in trying to be members of the faithful in prayer as community.
Today, I see parents who want their children to be tonsured as altar boys (aka “deacons”). They often vehemently fight for this. Shortly after their desire is fulfilled, the children are arriving at Liturgy very late. Or, sometimes, the parents have someone pick up their kid to get him there on time. If someone suggests that a kid shouldn’t be tonsured until he’s at least learned the responses, parents get upset and think we are spurning their children.
A parent may respond, ”‘Dressing as a deacon’ will keep my child interested in the Church! Haram not to let my child have this when he clearly wants it!
I would respond – and I want to make it clear that I’m not discussing whether or not the age is right or not, but just the attitudes – do you think that wearing special clothes and saying random things is going to make your child appreciate Church? If you do, take a look at most churches and see if it worked for the majority. A child who ‘dresses as a deacon’ does not, from my personal limited experience, show that they are any less likely to do ‘bad things’. It does not show that the child is more likely to stay in church and/or love church. Why? We do not come to Church because we are ‘deacons’. We come to Church to encounter God – to commune with Him and one another. If I make Church about being a deacon, then I have contaminated the truth of Church. I’ve made it about things that it is not.
What has this attitude done?
– Alienated girls, because we make it seem like the point of church is for little Philo (or insert Coptic name here) to wear a tunic and say stuff
– Has given young boys a sense of entitlement in Church
– Has made the tone of sanctity and liturgy diminish because instead of having a firm, clear instruction from the deacon to “Be attentive” (aka, “Let us attend”)to a 5-year-old making it sound like a cute suggestion (I’m not being sarcastic; I love these kids!)
– Has made Church itself devalued because it’s so random – it’s lost its point
So parents, be aware of what Liturgy means! Be aware of what a deacon is! We’re supposed to be fellow-workers in this building working to the same goal. There is an order to things and we should try and learn what things mean, not insist on things we just want.
If you, as parents, do not understand what the Church is for and the roles, you will wrongly instill them into your children as well. So, instead of getting angry if someone opposes your desire, try and find out the meaning of that thing and the purpose of it, so that we can have real discussion and growth, so that your children are raised properly.
Forget now the “deacon” part. I’m talking about Sunday attendance in general. I have seen trends that parents think they should harass their kids to go to Church, but often do not go themselves. Or, they will say they need to go by the Gospel, and then even be late for that. So, the parent either does not go, or goes late, but wants the child to do the opposite. This is not reasonable.
A parent may say, Because my kids have exams, it’s okay not to go to Liturgy for a week or two. Or, We have visitors coming today, so we cannot come to Church because of preparations.
I would reply to this: how many schools will allow their kids to skip class because they are studying for an exam? How many jobs will allow you to come in late because you are cooking for guests? Church isn’t a school or a job, I get it. It’s supposed to be voluntary. But as discussed previously, what are you teaching by making these decisions? What love are you showing when you consistently choose anything but Liturgy! You are saying, knowingly or unknowingly, that there are things more important than the Body and Blood of Christ. You are saying that my fellowship and Communion not just with Christ, but with all of the believers, is not worth my time as much as [insert excuse here].
This is disturbing. Our Lord said that if you do not love Him more than these things, you are not worthy of your calling. This is not egotistical. Imagine if you told your spouse you love him/her but always choose other things over him/her. You’re not worthy of that person’s love if you trample all over it. To add insult to injury, going back to the Christian education concerns, some people want their kid to learn how to be Christian from Church, but now you are not even bringing the child to learn anything. So, what is it that you want or desire for your kid? Are you showing it in your decisions?
I know these words are sobering, and I am not accusing all parents of being horrific. Again, I’m asking each person to reflect on what they are doing and what it means to the children that they are supposed to be training and rearing in the reverence and love of God.
Parents, you need to know why you go to Church and why you need it. If you have this within you, your kids will not fight and scream about Church because you will know and understand what their concerns are, and you will know how to respond to them. You will be able to speak to the Church about your struggles and then the Church which is made up of everyone: parents and non-parents of your kids, can work together to remedy it. What I am asking, though, is to be part of a solution, not a cause of a problem. If we positively approach Church, it will grow because there’s love – there is self-denial.
If it’s not real to you, it will not be real to them. To participate in Christ is to be in Communion. There is no personal unity with God without the rest of the Body, even if individual members also have a personal relationship with the Head. If we do not love one another and be there with one another – what are we actually professing, what are we living, and what is it that we believe?
We must be in Communion.