My granddaughter Anna is 10 months old and my daughter and son-in-law bring her to Mass every Sunday. As with most babies she sometimes gets a little wiggly and needs to be taken to the “back of church”. Personally I think that her parents are a little quick to invoke the “back of church” rule but that’s because I know that she’s perfect and she only gets fussy when things are REALLY DULL! By comparison, there is a family that sits near us most Sundays and their kids (there must be 4 or 5 of them) are like Chinese acrobats. These kids are bouncing off the pews, the kneelers, the parents, and occasionally yours truly but it’s okay with me – I kind like it in a weird sort of way; it reminds me of when my own three kids were small and on some Sundays we would feel like we had been competing in Mixed Martial Arts by the time Mass was concluded – oh the memories! Plus I love the honesty of kids. Recently I heard the blonde acrobat proclaim “Mommy that man is really fat!” It only became truly funny when I realized he wasn’t talking about me.
On a recent Sunday, Anna let out a little pre-squeal – sort of like the sound that your smoke alarm makes when the batteries are going bad. It was during a particularly DULL HOMILY and I begged my daughter, “Let me take her, let me take her!” And they said yes – and off we went to the “back of church”.
What a mystical place – the “back of church”. And now I know why Anna loves it so. I found in our Gathering Space, the official name for the “back of church” a multitude of infants, toddlers, snarky teenagers and beleaguered parents – sort of the misfits of Mass. In addition there were folks setting up for ‘after Mass’ sign-ups and informational hand-outs. All of this activity was great fun for Anna – so much to see! I encountered another granddad that was with his granddaughter and he felt the need to tell me her name and ask about Anna, her age, etc., etc. Who knew all of this was going on every Sunday? Well, I guess Anna does.
Anyway when we reluctantly returned to our pew, after Anna had been sufficiently entertained, and after my initial guilt passed for having ‘missed’ part of Mass, I started thinking about what an amazing and wonderful place the “back of church” really is. Normal ‘Mass behavior’ can be abandoned there; children can run and giggle; crying is completely acceptable; bragging about your granddaughter is the norm; and teenagers can skulk about like parolees. In all of this, I saw God’s love and Christ greeted me with each smile and kind word. I finally looked at the “Body of Christ” in a whole new light.
“As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 12:12-13
Those of us that were absent from our pews, regardless of the reason, were still in God’s house, albeit the servants’ quarters. And we were still worshipping; just in a different way. I met some folks that day that I would have never met praying in my usual pew. And I’m better for the experience. I’m looking forward to my next trip to the “back of church” to worship with the misfits – it’s funny how much I felt at home there.