Pros, Cons, and Considerations from Amber Metz
Many young families bring books for their children to read during Liturgy. Let’s face it, Liturgy is long, and it can make our lives easier as parents.
Or does it? Will bringing books enrich our children’s spiritual lives or distract them from the majesty of the service?
How do you choose if letting your children read during Liturgy is right for you? I asked Orthodox mothers this same question and received many answers. I’ve outlined their responses to help inform your choice.
Reasons to let them read at church
- Deepens their faith – Reading Christian books during Liturgy helps children appreciate the richness of their faith. Children become interested in Church life when they make connections between the Liturgy and what they are reading. It also helps reinforce the stories and values they learn in Sunday School and at home.
- Keeps them focused – Picture books engage young children, preventing boredom. They are also less likely to run around if they have something to occupy themselves with. Liturgy is long and even a few minutes of reading can be the break they need when their attention is waning.
- Keeps them happy – Children will associate the Liturgy as a fun, safe place to be if they have a productive way to occupy themselves. They may be more willing or excited to come to church. Also, the less you have to worry about your children being content the more you can enjoy the Liturgy.
- It’s (relatively) quiet – It’s a peaceful activity that can teach children to be quiet in church. They are less likely to try to talk to others when reading.
- Keeps them close – If children are reading in the pew next to you there’s no need to bring them into the vestibule, nursery, or another quiet space. It’s also better than not bringing them to church at all.
Reasons not to let them read at church
- It’s distracting – Kids can get rowdy when books and other activities come into the picture. They may huddle around each other, talking and arguing over who gets what. This proves to be distracting to the parents as well as the rest of the congregation.
- Doesn’t prepare children for church life – Reading during church keeps children in the Church but doesn’t teach them what’s expected when they are older. It’s good to teach children to follow along to the Liturgy at a young age.
- Difficult to wean off – If children can bring books when they are young, it may be hard to take the books away and instruct them to focus on the Liturgy when they are older.
- It’s loud and messy – Your children may ask you to read to them, try to read to their siblings or drop their books. The books may go all over the place and it’s one more bag to keep track of at church.
- It’s entertainment – Children need to learn it’s okay to be bored. Allowing reading during church teaches them to expect entertainment all the time. Church is a place for worship, not amusement.
Deciding if you want your children to read during Liturgy is not an easy decision. Many factors determine whether it will be best for your family’s situation. Here are some other things you may want to consider:
- Age of children – Most women I surveyed believe reading during Liturgy is appropriate for children infants through five years old. Once children reach reading age most prefer they follow the Liturgy. The age to wean children off of books was somewhere between 3-8 years old, with 5-6 years being average.
- Personalities and other needs – You know your children best. What works for other families may not work for yours. Consider the uniqueness of your children. Can they stay attentive during Liturgy? Do they have any traits, habits, or disabilities that prevent them from listening? Are books distracting or helpful?
- Church culture – If other families are bringing in books then your children may want to read them to. Will you let them read books that other families bring? If your church is in favor or against reading during church will that change your opinion? It’s good to talk it over with your husband and decide what will be right for you. Just because other people are doing it doesn’t make it right – or wrong.
- If you’re new – Are you a convert or have you recently changed churches? If so, bringing something for your children to do may help them adapt. Otherwise, they may have difficulties adjusting to the Liturgy and begin to resent it.
Tips for everyone
Here are some ideas, no matter which side of the book debate you land on.
If you don’t want your children reading during Liturgy…
- Let them read at other times – If you attend services beyond the Sunday Liturgy (such as Matins, Vespers, and Presanctified Liturgy), consider giving them something to read during those times. It can be difficult for adults to make it through these services, let alone children. Give allowances for these occasions.
- Only use service books – You can bring a children’s prayer book and have your child recite the prayers before Communion. Or you can let them look through A Child’s Guide to the Divine Liturgy. Only choose books that relate to the service.
- Provide other options – Some mothers feel that their children listen better when they are coloring. You can provide a coloring book and crayons or a blank journal with a prompt to have them “draw what they see or hear”. This can be a great way for children of all ages to engage with the service. As a bonus, you will have a sketchbook of memories of your child’s spiritual formation.
- Choose your seats wisely – Choose seats to help your children focus on the Liturgy. Sitting near the front so your children can see what’s going on can be a good option. Or you may ask your Sunday School leaders to have the church school children sit together so they all feel a part of the service together.
- Get them involved – Let them stand next to you if you sing in the choir, bring them with you to light candles or hand out baskets for collections. If you have boys 7 years or older, get them involved in altar service. Keeping busy within the service can help them pay attention (and there may be no need for books).
If you’re going to bring books to church…
- Ask your priest – Talk to your priest about starting or expanding upon a children’s bookshelf. Get input from your parish about appropriate options for children.
- Separate your children – Sit between your children. This can help them to focus on their books, without worrying about what their siblings are doing. (If you have a large family, recruit other adults they trust to sit in between them as well, such as their godparents).
- Give them limits – Books can be a great option to engage children’s attention, but they are not flawless. Take them away if they become distracting.
- Teach the Liturgy – If your children are busy reading they may miss some important parts of the service. Teach them the importance of standing up during the Gospel reading, the Little and Great Entrance, the blessing of the gifts, the Creed, the Lord’s prayer, Our Father, and Communion. (Try to begin this with children 3 years and older).
- Have an end date – Bringing books to church is a way for young children to participate in the Liturgy without running around. It’s a necessity for many. As they mature, it’s good to be on the same page with your husband about how you want to wean them off. Whether it’s an age or when your whole family is ready, decide what will work for you. (Many mothers decide that their children are ready between the ages of 5 or 6).
If you are going to bring books to church, try to make them spiritually enriching. Christian board books, picture books featuring lives of the Saints and Christ, and Liturgy books are all great options. Some others you may want to consider are:
- A Child’s Guide to the Divine Liturgy (Ages 2-10)
- The Divine Liturgy for Children (Ages 8-12)
- I Pray Today – Board book perfect for teaching toddlers to pray
- Pictures of God – A Child’s Guide to Understanding Icons
- Beautiful Things – An Orthodox coloring book for children
We attend church as a family to strengthen our children’s faith with active participation in the Liturgy. Whether that means letting your children read during church is up to you. May the Lord give you wisdom, knowledge, and understanding (Proverbs 2:6) to make the right decision for your family.
About Amber Metz
Amber Metz is an Orthodox Christian, a wife, and a writer. Her work has been published in Orthodox Motherhood and Women Encouraged. She helps women prioritize faith, family, and wellness at her blog, Rejoice in the Home. You may also connect with her on Facebook or Pinterest. She lives in Pennsylvania with her high school sweetheart husband, Mike.
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The White Cat and the Monk: A Review: This lovely book is a contemplative retelling of the Irish poem, Pangur Bán.
If you’re a parent who brings books to church, check the Index for books with Orthodox Christian characters, monastic characters, and characters who go to church.