How can we be more welcoming to young families?

I walked into Mass that Saturday evening with excitement. This would be the first time in our new parish where our family would serve as greeters. I had visions of my 3-year-old daughter, Margaret, handing out worship aids and flashing her dimples while she said hello to parishioners as they entered the church.

By Amber Walling

Only minutes into our greeting responsibilities, my daughter was running off. I shared a quick hello with a familiar parishioner and saw my husband, Aaron, running after her. The two took a short break to remind Margaret of the task at hand, and soon we were all back handing out worship aids, smiling and greeting. Success!

After a few more greetings a parishioner, Meg Klecker, pulled me aside to ask me a few questions related to an upcoming parish event. As we were chatting, I noticed my daughter wandering off and making her way upstairs to the balcony. I had to cut Meg off and tend to Margaret instead. Frustrated, I walked away from the conversation to catch up with Margaret.

I knew the vision I had for our service to the parish community would not happen, and it was time to surrender to our pew as Aaron finished greeting.

After Mass began, Aaron joined us and, before the Liturgy of the Word could begin, Margaret made it clear to me and to everyone around us that she did not want to be at Mass. Soon, we found ourselves in the back of church — me feeling defeated, Margaret screaming.

Every time I instructed Margaret to sit by me, she screamed. What was I to do? I did not want to give Margaret the impression that when she screamed, we went to the gathering space for her to run around. She continued to cry and yell when I placed her on the bench next to me.

People turned around to look at us. One lady even made a spanking motion to me. Although I offered a smile to them, I just wanted to escape.

I got Margaret into the stroller, went through the doors and stopped. I knew it was not right for me to walk out with her. Margaret is a gift from God. He entrusted me to teach her about him and share the celebration of the Mass with her. I knew being a parent was not going to be easy, and now it was time to stomach the embarrassment I was feeling to show Margaret the importance of the Mass.

So, she screamed, and I quietly cried.

Amber Walling and her daughter Margaret enjoy the stools made by the Knights of Columbus in St. Joseph. (photos by Dianne Towalski/The Central Minnesota Catholic

We walked home from Mass that day, and as I cried, I talked with Aaron. I told him how sad I felt that I could not fully participate in the Mass like we once did as a newly married couple. I told him how embarrassed I was knowing that Margaret’s screams echoed in the church and disturbed everyone, and I told him I was unsure about the right way to discipline Margaret at Mass. We talked of taking turns attending Mass to avoid bringing Margaret, but I still did not feel confident with that decision.

My feeling of defeat continued into the workweek. As I entered work at the parish office, I shared with co-workers how I went to Mass with such hope and left feeling terrible. As we talked, Tom Klecker entered.

Tom shared how he has been making stepstools in his free time and asked questions about how many toddlers were in our parish family. He said it was his hope to give a stepstool to every family with a toddler as a gesture of welcome, and as a reminder for them to have at home to encourage them to bring their children to Mass. Then he said, “I have one for your daughter, too.”

I looked at Tom and said, “Meg [his wife] must have told you how Margaret misbehaved at church when I was talking to her.” His reply: “No.”

I was in awe. I told Tom that he may not realize it but the Holy Spirit was working through him. I shared with Tom what happened at Mass only days before. And that he, walking into the parish office that day, with words of encouragement and a spirit of giving, saved me. I knew, no matter how difficult, Aaron and I would bring Margaret to Mass.

Tom, along with other parishioners, and the support of our Knights of Columbus chapter, made nearly 70 stools for families. These were given to families after Masses, shared with two other parishes and will be given to children at the time of their baptism.

I know it is not easy when there are kids, both big and little, distracting you from prayer at Mass. But, my hope is that when you see a parent who is — I assure you — trying their very best, please offer a quiet prayer that the Holy Spirit can work through you, just as it did through Tom, to offer words of encouragement, love and support.

AMBER WALLING is the business administrator at St. Joseph Church in St. Joseph.

Author: The Central Minnesota Catholic

The Central Minnesota Catholic is the magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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