My name is Eva Abel. I was born and raised in Kenya in a Pentecostal church (Full Gospel Church), but now I am a member of the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) through marriage. My husband is an Anglican priest in the same church. I have an excellent reception experience at the ACK, which has contributed to my belonging, and now I identify myself as Anglican, although I am still learning Anglicanism. The Bishops received me well from my husband’s hometown before we got married, and I have good experiences in ministry in the three parishes where we have served; many Christians may not even know that I was not an Anglican. However, I had to get confirmed before I could take communion.
Today, my husband is preaching in church; I try to be present when he is preaching, not only to listen to the sermon but also to be part of his introduction. In my context, it is common for many preachers to begin their sermons with the following words: “I am not travelling alone; my wife is here with me, stand up and wave or greet the church.” Women who do not follow this directive are often regarded as disrespectful and incapable of obeying their husbands, especially in public, so I must make sure that I am present for his sermon introduction. It is also expected of a priest’s wife to be on the pews for the entire sermon; otherwise, it may look like “even his wife does not want to listen to his preaching.”
One of our daughters is still a toddler, and naturally, she likes to be busy at all times when she is awake; therefore, when we were inside the church, she wanted to play during the service, so I opted to go outside so that she can play freely without interrupting the church service.
When my husband goes to the pulpit, I get inside the church for the introduction, and the sermon, of course. When my husband begins preaching, our daughter is super excited and shouts, “See daddy, my daddy”; before I get hold of her, she runs down the church aisle with another boy of the same age as she is trying to communicate that her daddy is preaching and she is happy about it. The next minute a lady brought my daughter to me with an attitude and said, “contain your baby!” She then put my child on my lap and returned to her seat. Remember, the sermon is going on; those words went deep into my nerves. I immediately carried my chummy baby girl and went outside. I felt broken and wondered why I should be coming to church to stay outside, as my baby cannot go to Sunday school yet. I began understanding why a friend went missing from church for almost two years until her children were grown enough to attend Sunday school.
In my context, most priest’s children do not get the opportunity to be with their fathers during the service (should they try, someone will bring the child back to the mother or caretaker), so this can explain the joy in my toddler to see her daddy, since we had been outside most of the service. I do not say children should be let loose to distract the church. My question is, what should a young mother do? Is there a need to attend church only and stay outside without being part of a service? How do we reconcile the spiritual needs of a new mother with the reality of being secluded because of being a mother in the church?
If God’s love is about reconciling all to God’s Kingdom, how do we, as the church, make sure that indeed all means ‘ALL’? Is it possible for churches without creches and good Sunday school ministry to give it a priority and use creative ways to minister to children of all ages who come to church? Can those with grown-up children be more patient with young mothers when their child “misbehaves,” if we can call it so?
When we got our first baby, we were in a supportive Anglican church (it’s a tradition in our diocese to get transfers at least every three years) for young mothers. I remember one of the senior women would encourage the older women to hold the babies for young mothers when we met for Sunday services and fellowships. This support did not only come from women but men. When we got our first baby, the first visitors from the church were two older men who came one evening when the baby was like a week old, read the bible and prayed with us, blessed the baby, and left. There is a family we developed a deep friendship with because the husband would be with our baby most Sunday services, holding or walking her around.
My message today is about reconciliation and unity in a context that is hardly attended to in church and scholarship, the issue of inclusion during the liturgy for new mothers. I postulate that as a church, we need to show solidarity with young mothers in the church when they come to worship. Creating a suitable environment for babies and children to always look forward to the church is vital; they are tomorrow’s church. When the disciples tried to prevent the little children from going to Jesus, He stopped them. When Martha was busy with what she believed to be liturgically right, instead of listening to Jesus like Mary, Jesus told her that Mary was doing what was necessary regardless of her religious duties, which she abandoned, like cooking for the disciples and Jesus.
Eva Abel (Anglican Church of Kenya, Religious and Ecumenical Studies student)
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