(RNS) While Jesus, according to the Gospel of Matthew, encouraged the little ones to come unto him, churchgoers in modern America do not easily suffer children's outbursts. Providing space for loud, fidgety and sometimes crying children during services has long been a concern for those designing and using churches.

"It's something that the communicant wants, the member is looking for," said Bruce Knodel, a Mobile, Ala., architect who has designed churches. "I think in younger families that's probably a pretty serious consideration."

But not all child care facilities are created equal.

While all congregations want nurseries, Knodel and other architects say, fewer are choosing to build "cry rooms." A sort of purgatory for noisy children and their parents, cry rooms are a step removed from the church sanctuary but not as distant as a nursery usually is. Most cry rooms are glassed-in boxes to the side of the pews that allow parents to retreat to a suite where they can still hear the service, but the service 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 American Institute of Architects.

But within 20 years, a cry room was considered a "penalty box," Cook said.

Its presence emphasized that a parent had to "get out of the congregation" if a child was being less than perfect.

Larry Foxworth, whose company, Cone-Foxworth Architects in Fort Worth, Texas, specializes in church design, said he has seen the call for 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 insist their new buildings have a place other than a nursery to take fussy children.

"It isn't necessarily a denominational thing," Foxworth said. "Some very progressive churches asked for them so they would be more family-friendly. They say they don't want to send folks off" to distant nurseries.

The churches that do ask for cry rooms don't want just any old four walls, or anything "too ostracizing," he said. "They've made them like a perk. Some have bottle warmers and changing tables."

Knodel said cry rooms tend to be located in congregations where Holy Communion is an integral aspect of the services, such as at Catholic churches.

"The cry room gives you the option to still participate in the service ... and take communion," he said.

At Our Savior Catholic Church in Mobile, Knodel designed two entrances to what the Rev. L. Russell Biven calls the "quieting room." Parents may enter from the foyer or from the sanctuary; the sanctuary door provides the opportunity not only for parents to move into the room when their children become fussy, but also to depart from there for communion, or when their children quiet down.

"It's not meant to be a place to attend the whole service," Biven said.

When pastors and lay people ponder the merits of cry rooms and nurseries, the conversation usually moves to the larger question of how parents 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 and see if they can stick it out.

"They need to be in church," Sturtz said. "They learn so much, even though they look like they're not paying attention."

He recalled one 4-year-old boy who was playing with toy trucks during a worship service. By all appearances, the child wasn't paying attention, Sturtz said. Yet, as Sturtz asked rhetorical questions during the 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 with crying children are) very uncomfortable," said the Rev. Rudolph Overstreet, pastor of Mobile's Ebenezer Baptist Church.

If children cry loudly, Overstreet said, he might stop midservice to joke, "Don't worry, I can holler over that." But he'd rather not have to try.

"The nursery is there to help you, not to harm you or hurt you," he says.

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad