It was while at a church’s regular Sunday gathering recently that I heard a child most definitely being “shushed.”
What I found interesting, although not that surprising, was that the one doing the “shushing,” was not an often wrongly stereotyped unsympathetic old person or some other disgruntled member of the congregation.

It was one of the child’s parents.

To clarify, the “shush” is not some ancient almost forgotten art form of a few centuries back.

No, it is the moment often within a corporate gathering, where a child is deemed to be making too much noise and should thus pipe down.

Now, obviously sometimes there are individuals (and not just children) who create a scene, make an unnecessary amount of noise and perhaps do need to lower the volume, taking on board the wider situation they are part of.

But I wonder has a culture of noise control and appropriateness developed within church life – almost without realizing it – that is unhealthy, inappropriate and certainly not welcoming to any newcomers?

The topic of wider all-age ministry and more specific worship services within the life of our churches are something that have and will no doubt continue to produce much debate and comment.

One of the dangers I believe of such discussions is that they can, in some, encourage the mindset that all-age is something for one Sunday a month and an activity that we can opt out of if it’s not quite our thing.

The challenge surely needs to be one of getting to grips with the wider opportunity before us as the Church.

How are we meeting together, supporting one another, developing a culture and environment of purposeful encouragement and acceptance?

One cannot be sure, but I would not be surprised if the parent “shushing” their child that Sunday was doing so because they felt an expectation from others to do so, to control their child and keep them quiet.

For my part, I don’t think the child was doing anything wrong and certainly wasn’t being unruly or making too much noise.

I imagine some might suggest though that as a parent of three young children, someone who works as part of a children’s evangelistic charity and is heavily involved in ministry among children – that was almost going to be my bias.

Whatever our view, I believe the bigger issue is how are we going to move forward, growing together, welcoming everyone, encouraging all ages to be who they are – not who we think they should be.

Some thoughts to consider as to how we can move away from a culture of “shushing.”

â—      Is there a culture of “shushing” within your local expression of church and, if so, what is your response to it?

â—      What are the ways that parents are being supported and encouraged in the role, both within church activities and more generally in life?

â—      How do you seek to engage children and young people in the corporate times you spend together as a church?

Ed Jones is a Baptist minister based in Basildon, Essex, and is the executive director of Arise Ministries.

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