October 22, 2020

Open Mic At The IM Cafe: Horrible, Terrible Children in Church

A friend and I were swapping stories about the amazing, crazy, hilarious, rude, embarrassing, you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up bad behavior of some children in church. Also, we tossed in a few stories about the adults who bring them and often make things much worse.

We thought you might have some stories to share. I prefer bad behavior stories that make the entire audience wince, but will take whatever you have.

No cute stories please. I want the dark side. This is oral history. Call the Smithsonian.

You Catholics should win this thread easily. With no nurseries, you already have the table set for excitement.


  1. Parents: All of us with kids know that socializing kids to public worship is hard, so don’t feel any condemnation here please. Maybe a bit of wisdom will come along with the stories. I know we’ll eventually have someone tell us that we have no business trying to take our kids to church because it’s stressful, but I respect your choice. I’m glad we did it, if for no other reason that we learned to be better parents through a lot of failure.


  2. I was newly converted and visiting a church (looking for a church home). This church had 2 aisles. This allowed the kids in the congregation (there were only about 6 present and about 30 adults) to run laps in a circuit. Continuously. And NO-ONE stopped them.

    The (very tedious) sermon lasted nearly an hour.

    My non-believing husband had come with me (realising that church visiting would be stressful on my own) but I fear that experience put him off for good. Needless to say, I didn’t pay a repeat visit.

  3. One Sunday we visited a well-established small town church with our 2yr old on what just happened to be “Friendship Sunday.” Kind of ironic because the little church was already full of regular members who didn’t seem anxious to make anyone feel welcome.

    After finally finding a row where someone scooted over to make room for our little family, I remember being made to feel very uncomfortable by head turns and reproachful stares as my 2yr old acted mildy like, well, a 2 yr old. For her, she was being great.

    But two rows in front of us a young mom was struggling by herself with three little boys under the age of five. She obviously had her hands full but no one around her offered her any help -just glares. We had come on a friend’s recommendation to hear the church’s young vicar preach, but we were too distracted by the drama unfolding in the pews in front of us to get much out of his sermon. This drama included the antics of the active little boys, the mounting indignation of an older lady in front of us and the poor mother’s growing awareness of the older lady’s agitation with her children’s behavior.

    As the Amen to the last hymn was sung, the older woman pounced on the young mother and threatened in a not-so-Friendship Sunday-tone “You need to control your children. I have half a mind to tell the preacher how they kept me from hearing his sermon!” Well, for the first time that morning a small smile played around the frazzled mother’s lips and she turned to the old lady and said (with much satisfaction) “Well, ma’am, you go ahead and do that. I believe he already knows…they’re his children.”

    Funny… but it still saddens me a bit to think this happened on a day of supposed neighborly outreach (as if the whole concept of needing a special day to be “friendly” in a Christian church isn’t unsettling enough).

  4. My 18-month-old peacefully toddled down the aisle after me, slipped into the front pew we use as an ad hoc altar rail, and quietly knelt next to me.

    Then she saw Father and the acolyte working their way down the rail and, in a sudden hysterical attack of stranger anxiety, froze like a possum and started shrieking rhythmically at a pitch and volume to shatter glass. I was stuck in the middle of a pew of kneeling people with nowhere to go. Father A. calmly gave me Communion, moved on to the hysterically screaming child, blessed her–I’m surprised he didn’t flick a little holy water onto her–and we escaped down the side aisle.

    I keep hearing that children are quieter at the traditional Mass. I keep looking for evidence of that.

  5. Love the story about using that guy’s butt-crack as an ATM card-swipe!

    I was six years old, at an Episcopal church where we went row by row to kneel at the altar rail for communion. One priest would come by and place a wafer in our open mouths–these were taken from some kind of silver dish or tray–and then another would come by with the wine goblet. Anyway, I had the idea of biting down on the wafer-guy’s hand as hard as I could. I don’t remember why–maybe I just didn’t like the guy. No doubt he feels the same way. I vaguely remember profanities being uttered, the sound of metal clanging, and wafers flying everywhere.

    Later my father (after spanking me, of course) rehearsed the communion procedure with me at home a few times, using the kitchen table as the altar.

  6. none of you know me but i want to still say it,

    my wife is a saint for taking care of my boys (4 1/2 and 2 1/2) during church for the most part all by herself

    i pastor a small rural church where the nursery is basically a room you can take your kids to, no drop off service, my wife didn’t come from that tradition so it took her a while to transition, but she is great

    i sit with her a good bit during singing, and stopped caring that folks were wondering why the preacher wasn’t up front, but when i preach she is all by herself, it gets hairy sometimes but she has made it thru great,

    on another note, i’d like to hear folks opinions on “nurseries and children church”

    my two cents is that a true nursery is great for folks who feel like their kids bother others, trust me your kids bother me more than they do you, but i get the desire for a nursery

    but i also have a strong feeling that young children, maybe even as young as four can learn in the service, if nothign else how church is done

  7. i meant to say “our boys”, above

  8. i also meant to say “your kids bother you more than me” i’m too tired to be typing sorry

  9. My (now) eight-year-old son has had to be taken fromt he sanctuary on several occasions in our almost five years at our current church – for various misbehaviors. My four-year-old son is an angel in church (for now).

    But the child in church story that sticks the most in my head is of someone else’s child – this little girl is probably about 18-21 months old. During service, she always sits in a stroller. When everyone is singing and worshipping, she is fine, but once the singing stops and the preaching starts – she screams. Only two things that I have seen will stop her – start singing again, or turn her towards the back of the church. If she is facing backwards, she is fine, for some reason.

  10. I mentor a kid, 17, a junior, ADHD, etc. A real pain, we’ll call him S.

    One Sunday, I had him at church. He was sitting in the back next to an older gentleman who was nodding off, slowly. (during the sermon) I saw S watching him and smirking a bit, so I tried to get his attention to make him leave the poor guy alone. I failed.

    The next thing I knew, S had elbowed the fellow, and he awoke with a start, and started to punch S. He did stop before he hit him, but it was close.

    S would have learned a good lesson if he would have gotten laid out.

  11. plasticturtle says

    1) A father was kneeling in the front row and had a cute little daughter between 2 and 3 that was not being too active in the pew and so did not distract the parents. This girl stood up in the pew and most the people on that side of the church could see her. She proceeded to pick her nose and apparently picked a “winner”. She held it up for all to see and then she wiped it on the back of her dad’s shirt with the softest of caresses. He never knew, but 100 other people knew.

    2) My personal favorite, when i was almost a teen, was to catch a fly and tie a small string pulled from my sock around it. Then watch it fly up through church with a tiny string attached. I copied this from others so apparently this has been done by many people from all over.

  12. My favorite I heard from a church elder. One time, as a teenager, he was sitting with his buddies in church during a particularly boring sermon. His neighbor was nodding away blissfully in sleep when his “friend” got the impulse to suddenly jab an elbow into his ribs and whisper loudly to him, “Get up, they want you to lead the prayer!” The poor kid jumped to his feet in a daze in the middle of the pastor’s exegesis of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, and loudly started with “Let us pray . . .” At which point, he looked around and sized up that he had been had.

  13. My mentor, Tom, told me a story about his family. I forget the exact numbers so I have made the following up.

    Tom was imploring his congrgation to give to some worthy cause.

    “We have 75 people here this morning,” Tom said, whie doing quick math, “and if each person gives just 5 dollars, we would have $500”

    Tom’s bored teenage son then yelled from the back row, “No, that would be 375, moron!”

    I asked Tom what he did to his son. He said, “Nothing. After the service, all those old ladies ruthlessly mobbed him.”

  14. My favorite story was the one Sunday when a 3 year old announced during the Eucharistic prayer. “I have to pee!” After Mass, Father asked the little guy if he had gotten his potty break. I’m Catholic, so we see a lot of children in church, but for the most part, they learn how to behave pretty young.

  15. The Dutch Reformed Minister in the congregation my wife grew up in had his family sit in the front pew. One Sunday morning, one of his kids started acting up (details vague). Anyway, he paused in the middle of his sermon, announced to the congregation that he had to attend yo his fatherly duties, then came down, took the boy outside, give him a good hiding (this was in the 80’s), brought him back in, then went on with his sermon.

    BTW, IMonk, out Lutheran Church has no nursery either….

  16. Allowing young children to disrupt the liturgy is an essential part of the Catholic liturgy.

    Not having nurseries is one of the most ecclesiologically significant things about a Catholic parish and deserves an entire book, I think.

  17. I love what thomas says.

    As a mom of five who’s husband was usually up front leading the service, I have to say that we do the best we can as parents of little ones, but they are still little ones.

    I have often found it amazing that the harshest must ungracious things can be said by the people who are demanding absolute quiet so that they can “worship the Lord.” I can promise you, there is nothing worshipful about humiliating a mother of small children for the fact that her children dare to be small children.

    She is trying the very best that she can…and God takes little to no pleasure in those who shame her so that they can “commune” with God. What they are communing with is not God, but their own self-righteous concept of what Sunday morning should be.

    How grateful I have been for those who glanced at me sympathetically, especially those who offered to be a special “buddy” for one of my kids—so that I wouldn’t have to juggle all five in a pew all by myself, but instead have one sit with this person, one sit with that person…

    How grateful I have been for those who patted me and told me how wonderful the children were, choosing to overlook the various baby squeaks and burps and rustling papers and loud volumed attempts at “whispering” from the two year old… I only have so many hands.

    I got to where I hated church, and I agree with the mother way up there who said she began to be ashamed of herself, when she placed her “act like an adult” expectations on her child to such a degree that she was overly harsh. Been there, done that, repented. I now expect my children to act like children. That means, I expect them to try hard but not to magically transform into little robots. And I refuse to recieve shame from those who prefer robots.

    Jesus doesn’t prefer robots, and anyone who thinks worshiping Him corporately requires children to morph into robots desperately doesn’t understand what Jesus was all about.

    All that to share my latest story (there’s always one every week…*sigh*). 😆

    We started going to the Episcopal church this last year (and I *love* it) and so on Easter, my youngest was baptised there. His three year old self was SO delighted to get to take Communion afterwards…FINALLY…and as he dipped his wafer in the wine and then ate it, he smacked his lips loudly and exclaimed at the top of his lungs, “MMMM! That was GOOOD!”

    I thought the person holding the chalice was going to drop it, she was laughing so loud…

    It was sweet and good and so totally totally true from a theological perspective and an experiential one. God is delicious. 🙂

  18. My little brother once acted up during communion and after several stern warnings my dad took him by the hand to lead him out the back to the board of education. My little brother as he walking the isle said for all to hear “help me Jesus, help me Jesus.” All broke in laughter…

  19. Molly, I love what you have written and I love your three year old child’s response to his first communion.

    I am Catholic and I like seeing and hearing the little kids in church. It’s reality and if I want to be quiet and alone to “commune with God” I can do that at home. I come to church to celebrate with the community and to receive God in a different way than I do the rest of the week. The babies, the little kids, the teens, the parents, the elderly, the mentally challenged…that’s all life and it’s good to see. We should see us as a large family. Families are sometimes noisy!

  20. At the church I grew up in, there were Certain Older Ladies who had served their time and were allowed to sing during the “special music” portion of the service, though their voices were long since spent. One in particular had a vibrato about a half step wide and fancied herself a soprano.

    My brother is pretty sensitive to sound, and as a young guy on the autistic spectrum, he was slow to pick up on some social cues. So whenever this particular Older Lady sang her solo, while the whole congregation winced and waited for it to be over, he stuck his fingers in his ears with his elbows pointed straight out. (I was the discreet older sibling- I kept my elbows at my sides.)

    In general, we have well-behaved kids in my current congregation, but we have some challenging homeless guys who don’t always arrive sober. I vividly remember one Sunday when, in the middle of the pastor’s sermon from Ephesians, we were suddenly treated to an entirely different sermon, apparently out of Revelation, being slurred from the pews. Whatever the man was dreaming about, it certainly sounded exciting.

  21. There is a highschool in our area that has seniors take care of a electronic crying babies. Well they go off crying at absolutely random times..and they are not very quiet. Well one boy in our church had his start wailing. Instead of putting the “feeder” in it he jumped up (from the front row) and sprinted down the isle holding the doll by its arm as he ran. The pastor, a recent grandfather, stopped the service and said “that young man will not be babysitting my grandson.” The entire church erupted in laughter.

    My cousins were raised…umm…with spotty discipline. They would regulary take toys to church..not hotwheels and such. But what ever they wanted…in mass quantaties. The weekly grocery bags of goodies would have cap guns, fire engines that make noise, litterly anything they wanted to take. They would climb under pews like soldiers and shoot people.

    Our church services are recorded and broadcast now. One week not long after service started there was a odd noise in the sanctuary. Something like a bird sporadically singging. This went on for a little while before the pastor just stopped preaching and asked “What is making that noise?” Turns out a monkey was in a cage in the second row!

    Last week a family was dedicating a new child so the entire family was present. Everything was going well until halfway through the service. The youngest started crying at the top of his lungs. Mom quielty got up and was taking him out. About half way down the isle the older brother began screaming…but was sure he would not be outdone by his brother he let loose and bellowed to the best of his ability as dad took the walk of personal humiliation…from the front row of a 2000 person capicity church.

    I cant wait to have my own kids….

  22. Visited a church for the first time after moving and our three year old daughter waits until the silence before the invocation to say, loud enough for the world to hear, “Daddy! My panties are in my crack!” Lots of folks laughed. I turned red and took her to the bathroom to fix that problem. Strangely enough, didn’t go back to that church.

  23. A couple of weeks ago we had a baptism at our church. I go to an Episcopal Church so we use the Book of Common Prayer. In the Liturgy for baptism, instead of saying the Nicene Creed, the priest asks a question and the congregation responds with the creed. When he started “Do you believe in God the Father?” a four year old girl next to me yells, “No!” Later, when she was coming back from the Eucharist, she walks past our pew. Her mother grabs her arm and girl starts screaming “I want to go home! I want to go home!”

    She’d had a piece of chocolate before the service. And she’s usually the sweetest little girl!

  24. I was one of those bad kids in a very small town Lutheran church (ELCA). Since my father was a deacon and my mother was in the choir, we had to sit with other folks (adults). We were ADHD to be sure, old hard wooden benches do not make for a quiet child. When we were a little older, we were allowed to sit by ourselves, as long as mom could see us from the choir. The dirty looks from mom slowed us but didn’t stop us. Matchbox car races, a dice (anyone else gamble during the sermon?) game that got so loud the pastor had to stop the sermon and tell us to quit. He could hear the dice hitting the wooden bench, must have been distracting. I brought a beer to my confirmation class (it was a present for the pastor, honest…), and I even threw a rock through a stained glass window. Not sure what that one cost my dad.

    30 years later, I came back to attend that church with my own children. I am blessed that they take after their mother. The older folks still like to tell them stories of “when your father was your age…” I am glad that they still accept this sinner as one of their own even if I am a fundamentalist stuck in a liberal church. Peace. Num.6:24-26.