On Sunday, we took Oliver to church for the very first time. Oliver, mom, dad, and grandpa (who was visiting from out of town) met at Trinity Lutheran Church, Long Island City to worship with our congregation and introduce Oliver to church for the first time. And he was a hit. People loved him, gathered around him, gawked at him, and he was the center of attention during his first day at church. And he took it like a champ. He flirted with the pretty ladies, cried when he wanted to be walked around, and he did what he wanted to do. Basically, he acted like he did at home. The place didn’t freak him out in the slightest.
We arrived at Trinity, magically, before the service started. Now, I say that our arrival was magical because, with our move into Manhattan last year, it now takes us close to an hour and a half to commute to church on Sunday morning. Yet, it seems our little guy is a good luck charm because we didn’t wait longer than a few minutes for our trains on Sunday. Oliver woke up as we walked into the Nave and became the star of the show. The old ladies gravitated to him like moths to a flame. Everyone seemed to notice how much hair he had. And, of course, my lack of hair was pointed out as well. I hope Oliver keeps his hair as long as possible – and doesn’t start losing it when he is finishing up high school like I did.
The service started and he feasted. Oliver wasn’t going to let some sharing of the peace get in the way of his third breakfast. After that, he flirted with the pretty women behind us (because he has good taste), and he ended up in my arms so I could take him up for his first children’s sermon. Now, since I didn’t grow up in the church, the “children’s sermon” is a strange beast for me. The few young children, and their parents, wander up to sit on the stairs before the altar and face the congregation. Oliver was a little fussy as we sat on the stairs; he kept trying to worm himself away. He cried a little, grunted, fussed, and did not pay attention at all to the sermon that the pastor prepared. I know he is only 3 weeks old but, come on kid, show a little respect! At the end of the little sermon, as we bowed our heads in prayer, he emptied his bowels on my lap. And he cried. Now, he was wearing his diaper and everything was caught but no one told me that you would know when your baby pooped. I thought it would be the smell that would signal his need for a new diaper but, oh no, that is second. His bowel movements are a force of nature. They are also hilarious. Trying to keep a straight face through the “amen” was one of the hardest parts of my fatherhood experience so far.
The children’s sermon, in general, is an odd beast. I understand why it is there. Children should be seen, and treated, as equal members of the congregation. They are part of the body of Christ. In the baptismal covenant and the covenant of creation, they are not less than adults or teenagers. The cross is for them too. And I get that the Children’s sermon is all about highlighting that reality. But it is just strange. It never really seems, in my limited exposure to them, to actually be viewed as an integrated part of the service. The actual moment seems to do the exact opposite of what it is trying to do. It interupts rather than includes. But that could be an experience that I’m feeling because I’m not use to it being included in services. When I returned to the church, there was no children’s sermon at Trinity because there were no children in the congregation. When I started my field education, the children’s sermon was changed into something else entirely. I don’t experience it as a congregation solidifying event. So as I sat up there, the alienness of the entire concept of the Children’s sermon was highlighted for me. There’s got to be a good way to handle the Children’s sermon – I just haven’t seen it yet.
But there is more to being a dad in worship besides just the children’s sermon. I experienced the entire spectrum of the child experience. I was the dad who walked around in the back of the church because his kid was fussy. I experienced walking out of the service and into the dank dungeons of the bathrooms to use a changing table twice during the service. I experienced coming in, and out, of the service, at different points. I was distracted the entire service because of Oliver – and that is a new experience for me. In many ways, the most challenging part of having a kid for me is being distracted by his presence. This isn’t a bad thing – I actually love having him in my life. But I’m not use to handling this kind of distraction in my life. My tradition of hyper focusing for a few hours on a service, or writing a sermon, or building a website, no longer works because there is a kid sleeping next to me who might wake up and need to be fed. He might need his diaper changed. He might need a binkie. He might just need to be held. I’m always slightly turned on, ready to reach out, and meet his need, even if I hesitate sometimes, trying to see if his crying will stop on its own. There’s a part of my brain and focus that is permanently devoted to his presence and, how I’ve previously wired myself, I can’t seem to take care of him and take care of what I’d like to do at the same time. This is different than multi-tasking I think. Or at least different from what I understand multi-tasking to be.
I’m glad I’m having these experiences, including being a church member rather than a leader, because, in less than a month, I’ll be a full-time intern and Sundays will be a work day. Oliver won’t be around all that much and I’ll have other responsibilities to take care of. I won’t have the experience of trying to worship as a parent. Instead, I’ll try to experience what it is like to lead worship as a parent with a kid in the congregation. That will open up an entire new can of worms that I’m excited to find out.