It was Sunday morning and I was in the church nursery again. There was a new kid in the nursery that week. I’ll call him Tristan. Tristan was a bit older than the kids that we usually have in our nursery, but his family was new our the church, so we bent the rules.
It was immediately clear that Tristan was a runner. As he familiarized himself with his new environment, he spent no more than a couple of minutes in one spot, moving from toy to toy, leaving a path of destruction in his wake. Tristan continued this pattern for about twenty minutes, until he noticed the door.
And Tristan was off. He ran out the door, up the stairs, through the lobby, and straight down the aisle into church as the pastor was delivering the sermon. I ran after him, trying to be discrete--as discrete as a person can be while chasing a three year-old in a sanctuary where four hundred people are worshipping. “Tristan!” I whispered, crouching as I jogged down the aisle, “Tristan!” But I was too slow.
A couple of people tried to grab him. Tristan was, apparently, training to be a quarterback. He slipped by, running back and forth across the front of the sanctuary, until, finally, Karen came to the rescue (Karen is the mother of four). She caught Tristan as he tried to run down a side aisle. I met her in the lobby, out-of-breath, as Tristan’s mom walked back to join us. I introduced myself to the woman whose son I just let run through worship, and who, miraculously, allowed me to bring him back down to the nursery. It’s been about a year since this incident, but my friends at church will not let me forget it.
I was a “stay-at-home” mom for my first seven years of parenthood. My husband worked full days, then went to Council meetings and choir practice in the evenings, while I cared for our three children. Like chasing Tristan, it was exhausting. Back in those days, I looked forward to nothing more than worship on Sunday mornings.
In our congregation, parents with nursery-age children run the nursery, with a handful of other volunteers from the church filling in the extra slots each week. Because of my years as a “stay-at-home” mom, I hold a firm conviction that those of us who don’t have small children should be serving in the nursery. This is not only because it gives parents of young children time to worship, but it’s also where we learn kids names, get to know their personalities, and fulfill our baptismal promises by showing them the love of Christ.
I serve in our church nursery about every six weeks. In the week prior to serving, I find myself looking forward to it--looking forward to Mabel’s infectious smile, to Maya’s undivided attention when I read the story from God Loves Me, and to conversations with Miles, even though I only understand about half of what he says. It is also a time to connect with other volunteers in the nursery to hear about their families and work.
Do I get sick after I serve in nursery? Usually. Do I miss being part of the larger worship service with the congregation? Definitely. Do I enjoy changing diapers? By no means. But to me, serving in nursery is worth it’s downsides, including chasing Tristan.
The church nursery is where I first met Jenn, fifteen years ago when her family moved back to Grand Rapids. Just three years old, she thoroughly impressed me by counting to ten for me, both in English and in Spanish. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to watch Jenn grow up at our church. I went on a mission trip with her a couple of years ago, and more recently, we have connected as part of an intergenerational group of women. I feel privileged to call Jenn a friend.
And it all started in the church nursery. In many ways, it epitomizes what the church is about: Knowing each other. Living life together. Chasing each other when necessary. And allowing no one to forget the God who loves them.
As we talk about weighty issues in preparation for and at our denomination's annual Synod meeting, let us not forget the baptismal vows that we have made to each other, the love that God calls us to show for one another, and humility that Christ calls us to emulate as those who once toddled (or ran) our way around a church nursery once upon a time.