Over the past several years, I have heard some humorous names used for the cry room in our church building, names such as, “the penalty box,” “romper room,” and “the torture chamber.” My favorite, however, is “purgatory.” Like the purgatory of Roman Catholic dogma, the cry room is a place where souls suffer until they are ready to enter into God’s presence and the assembly of the saints!
While the doctrine of purgatory is false, the potential suffering of those using the cry room is a reality. Any parents who have spent numerous Sunday mornings worshiping in a cry room with their infant or toddler can tell you about the challenges. It can be noisy. It can be crazy. It can feel like purgatory—without the flames.
I sympathize, therefore, with parents who, at times, may feel discouraged and perhaps frustrated with life in the cry room. As a pastor of souls, I do not want my parishioners to feel disheartened about attending the means of grace. For this reason, I hope to encourage parents who, with their little ones, make their way to the cry room each Lord’s Day. I also want to encourage everyone in our congregation to be supportive of those in our covenant community with young children.
A Place for Training
Though we typically call it a cry room, it may be more appropriate to describe it as a training room. As parents, we have the responsibility to train our children, to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). This includes teaching our children the meaning and importance of the worship service. As baptized members of the visible church, our children belong in the worship service with us. They are to grow up learning and singing the songs of Zion, confessing the creeds of Christ’s church, and praying the Lord’s Prayer. Most importantly, they are to grow up hearing God speak to his people through the preaching of the gospel. In the worship service each Lord’s Day, God condescends to us to announce his promises and renew his covenant. It is in this divine act, which is unlike anything else we experience in this life, that God ushers us into his heavenly presence so that we might receive from his open hand (Heb. 12:18–29)—and he ushers our children with us.
While the cry room might seem inconvenient to us at times, we must realize that theology, not convenience, informs our worship. One of the central tenets of our theology is the covenant of grace. God makes his covenant not only with those adults who can make a credible profession of faith in Jesus as their only comfort in life and in death, but also with the children of believers, who cannot yet make such a profession. Throughout redemptive history, God has included the children of believers into his visible covenant community. Baptized children, therefore, are entitled to the worship service as much as their parents are. It is where they belong.
The cry room, then, provides a place of training for our little ones. It is far more in line with our theology than a nursery room. In a nursery room, baptized children are, in most cases, dropped off by their parents and completely removed from the assembly of God’s people. When this happens, these precious heirs of the covenant are denied exposure to and training in the vital act of corporate worship. In a nursery room, infants and toddlers are deprived of the opportunity of hearing mommy or daddy confess their sins, sing the doxology, confess the creed, pray the Lord’s Prayer, and partake of communion. As inconvenient as the cry room may feel at times, it nevertheless provides a setting more conducive to parental training than a nursery room. In the cry room, parents are preparing their children to become active participants in the worship service.
A Place for Transition
The goal of our training and preparation is for our children to graduate to the main auditorium (i.e. “sanctuary”). The cry room therefore is a place of transition. As our infants grow into toddlers, parents can begin making excursions into the service with their children. Explain to your little one beforehand what you plan to do. Preparation is the key here. Explain to them on Saturday night (and perhaps again on Sunday morning before worship) that they have the opportunity to sit with the congregation for the first part of the service.
I have found that many children become very excited about this. Estimate how much of the service you think your little one can handle, have a plan, and give it a shot. If they begin to squeal and shriek, you can always take them back to the cry room. At first, they may only be able to sit still up to the first hymn. In time, it may be up to the song of preparation before the sermon. Eventually, with a lot of training and perseverance, children will make the transition into worshipers.
This transition does not end once our little ones are sitting through the whole service quietly. The goal is not merely for our children to sit still and be quiet. The goal is for them to become mature worshipers, to become active listeners who eagerly receive from God in Word and sacrament, and respond to God in song, prayer, and giving.
Yes, it requires work. There is no plenary indulgence offered to families so that they can spring a suffering soul from the purgatory of the cry room! Rather, it takes much planning, effort, and perseverance to make the transition. But the transition can be made; it is not impossible. And the cry room helps to that end.
A Place that is Temporary
The Word of God endures forever, but the cry room does not. It is only for a season. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Of course, for a family with several small children, that light might seem rather dim at times; when one child finally graduates to the main auditorium, another is born! With the joy of a child’s birth can come the potentially gloomy prospect of spending more years in the cry room. Nevertheless, the cry room is not forever. Like all parental responsibilities, training our children in the cry room is only for a season. Eventually, this too shall pass.
In the meantime, some parents may find it helpful to trade off services with their spouse. If mom trains the baby in the morning service, then perhaps dad can do the same in the evening service, allowing mom to be freed up to receive the means of grace without distraction. This is yet another good reason for having two services on the Lord’s Day.
It is only for a short period that we have the opportunity to train our children in the instruction and discipline of the Lord. May God make us faithful stewards who use wisely the time we have been given. And may we encourage one another in the congregation as we see parents engaging in the hard and sometimes frustrating work of training and preparing these little heirs of the covenant. May we be patient with one another and pray for each other, asking the Lord of the covenant to bear much fruit in these children of his promise.
Rev. Micheal Brown is the pastor of Christ United Reformed Church in Santee, CA.