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home : opinion : perspectives

6/23/2011 6:00:00 AM
WORSHIP SPACES
To cry room or not to cry room
A rocking chair at Corpus Christi Church, Round Lake. Four similar chairs are scattered throughout the worship space.
A rocking chair at Corpus Christi Church, Round Lake. Four similar chairs are scattered throughout the worship space.
BY ANGELA CAVE
STAFF WRITER

Fifty feet from the worship space at Our Lady of Grace Church in Ballston Lake sits a cheery nursery room. If babies and children can't stop crying or chattering during Mass, parents can hustle them to the carpeted room, which contains a changing table, books, toys and a speaker system.

"It's kind of nice to have a place to go so you don't have to walk a small child around," said Alison Norton, a parishioner and the mother of a four-year-old and a two-month-old. Still, she and her husband "really only try to use it as a last resort."

Eileen Stone, the mother of a seven-year-old and a three-year-old, agreed that the room is "convenient if you're there and want to get back for communion," but said she and others do not abuse the privilege.

Whether parents use the nursery room "really depends on what's going on," Mrs. Stone explained. "I think parents in general are trying to stay in Mass."

Across the Albany Diocese, parishes offer a variety of accommodations for families: nursery rooms, couches in foyers, rocking chairs in the worship space or the Liturgy of the Word for children, during which children go to a separate room to hear the Scripture readings explained.

Room of requirement?
Diocesan officials theorize that "cry rooms" - separate spaces that let families watch the liturgy through a window and hear it through speakers - can be found in fewer parishes than in years past.

This is true around the country, as well. Cry rooms sprang up in churches after the Second Vatican Council in the late 1960s, but were often repurposed over the decades since then.

"People have become more accepting of the presence of children in congregations," said Elizabeth Simcoe, diocesan chancellor for pastoral services, adding that the increase in movement and music during the liturgy since Vatican II more effectively engages children.

Some parish leaders told The Evangelist they oppose the concept of cry rooms, saying the separate spaces ostracize families and fail to demonstrate to children the realities of life in a parish community.

Traditional cry rooms remain in some parishes, but most parish leaders who spoke with The Evangelist agreed that the rooms should be a temporary solution when children can't be soothed.

"We prefer people to be in the congregation. That's the best," said Rev. Dennis Murphy, pastor of Our Lady of Hope parish in Fort Plain.

However, parishioners there recently converted closets into a "gathering room" equipped with speakers and an altar-facing window. They use it for faith formation classes, daily Mass in the winter and as a family room if necessary during weekend Masses.

"It gives [parents] the freedom if they feel they need it," Father Murphy said. "Some people won't come [to Mass] because they're afraid they're distracting other people. Before we had [the room], people were just getting up and walking outside."

We like them
Rev. Anthony Motta, pastor at Sacred Heart-Immaculate Conception parish in Haines Falls, agreed that children sometimes need distractions.

During church renovations to his parish in the 1990s, glass doors were installed in the foyer. Now, almost every weekend during Mass, up to five parents retreat there with their children.

At St. John the Baptist parish in Walton, a cry room with pews and kneelers has accommodated up to a dozen families every weekend since 1964, said Henry Tassitano, a long-time usher.

He said he supports it because children can act disorderly during Mass.

"When the kids are jumping around and screaming, the parents pick them up and bring them in there, and then it's calm," Mr. Tassitano said. The children are "isolated, and I think they like that. They can hear [the Mass] in that room. The parents are still teaching them. They stand and kneel - they go through the whole routine."

Corpus Christi Church in Round Lake takes a different approach: Four rocking chairs are scattered throughout the worship space for use by parents with small children and adults with physical limitations.

"They can sit [children] in the rocking chair and they can go to sleep like they do at Grandma's house," said Rev. James Clark, pastor.

Cry rooms should not be idealized, he said: "I don't really see any reason for one because [parents] can also lose control and it can turn into a playroom. There are probably better pastoral ways to make both the parent and the children feel comfortable."

Leaders at other parishes said that priests can preach over the noise of a crying baby and that a foyer with a changing table should be sufficient.

Intelligent design
"The children are part of the community," declared Elizabeth Rowe-Manning, parish life director at St. Vincent de Paul parish in Albany. "If a baby is fussy, the parents here go to the back or stand in the vestibule until a child calms down. [Cry rooms] just seem so separate."

Rev. Richard Vosko, a Sunday presider at St. Vincent's and a liturgical designer since 1970, has never installed a cry room in any of the 120 church buildings he has designed.

"It's no way to treat a child and it's no way to treat an adult with a child," Father Vosko said. He advises providing nurseries where infants can sleep, toddlers can nap and play and older children can participate in the Liturgy of the Word.

"We can take a lesson from evangelical churches," he remarked, describing rooms in those worship spaces with television monitors designed for nursing mothers and children with developmental disabilities.

"If there's a perception that cry rooms are on their way out," the priest-consultant added, "I'm happy."





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