"It's something that the communicant wants, the member is lookingfor," said Bruce Knodel, a Mobile, Ala., architect who has designedchurches. "I think in younger families that's probably a pretty seriousconsideration."
But not all child care facilities are created equal.
While all congregations want nurseries, Knodel and other architectssay, fewer are choosing to build "cry rooms." A sort of purgatory fornoisy children and their parents, cry rooms are a step removed from thechurch sanctuary but not as distant as a nursery usually is. Most cryrooms are glassed-in boxes to the side of the pews that allow parents toretreat to a suite where they can still hear the service, but theservice can't hear them.
"They became popular in the child boom after World War II, in the'50s," said Lawrence Cook, a fellow in the Washington-based AmericanInstitute of Architects.
But within 20 years, a cry room was considered a "penalty box," Cooksaid.
Its presence emphasized that a parent had to "get out of thecongregation" if a child was being less than perfect.
Larry Foxworth, whose company, Cone-Foxworth Architects in FortWorth, Texas, specializes in church design, said he has seen the callfor a place for crying children come full circle in 20 years.Previously, "it was a real big thing. Everyone wanted one then. Now,some churches want theirs removed."
In Foxworth's experience, only larger congregations still insisttheir new buildings have a place other than a nursery to take fussychildren.
"It isn't necessarily a denominational thing," Foxworth said. "Somevery progressive churches asked for them so they would be morefamily-friendly. They say they don't want to send folks off" to distantnurseries.
The churches that do ask for cry rooms don't want just any old fourwalls, or anything "too ostracizing," he said. "They've made them like aperk. Some have bottle warmers and changing tables."
Knodel said cry rooms tend to be located in congregations where HolyCommunion is an integral aspect of the services, such as at Catholicchurches.
"The cry room gives you the option to still participate in theservice ... and take communion," he said.
At Our Savior Catholic Church in Mobile, Knodel designed twoentrances to what the Rev. L. Russell Biven calls the "quieting room."Parents may enter from the foyer or from the sanctuary; the sanctuarydoor provides the opportunity not only for parents to move into the roomwhen their children become fussy, but also to depart from there forcommunion, or when their children quiet down.
"It's not meant to be a place to attend the whole service," Bivensaid.
When pastors and lay people ponder the merits of cry rooms andnurseries, the conversation usually moves to the larger question of howparents and the people around them ought to respond to noisy children.
The Rev. Arlyn Sturtz, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Mobile,said he encourages parents to bring their children to the sanctuary andsee if they can stick it out.
"They need to be in church," Sturtz said. "They learn so much, eventhough they look like they're not paying attention."
He recalled one 4-year-old boy who was playing with toy trucksduring a worship service. By all appearances, the child wasn't payingattention, Sturtz said. Yet, as Sturtz asked rhetorical questions duringthe service, the child quietly responded to each question, he said.
Other clergy members say child care facilities have their place.
"It doesn't distract me, but sometimes I can see (mothers withcrying children are) very uncomfortable," said the Rev. RudolphOverstreet, pastor of Mobile's Ebenezer Baptist Church.
If children cry loudly, Overstreet said, he might stop midservice tojoke, "Don't worry, I can holler over that." But he'd rather not have totry.
"The nursery is there to help you, not to harm you or hurt you," hesays.