Watching people receive communion is one of the privileges of ministry – but never before had people commented to me that they were watching as I received, and then shared, the elements with my daughter. I suppose that wearing a baby on your back will draw some attention.
I’m familiar with the “fishbowl” effect of ministry, and have experienced it here and there, but this was an unusually public experience of that reality. Let me back up and explain a bit. Perhaps this is slightly odd, given our profession, but I don’t really spend much time planning worship. My ministry setting is a half-time position that focused on children and youth ministry, which allows me to exercise gifts and passions while staying home with my toddler some of the time. While this arrangement is a blessing for our family and my vocational life, I sometimes miss planning liturgy. So, when I was asked to co-chair our diocesan convention worship with a good friend, I said yes, even though it meant using up free time that we all know is hard to find.
Before kids, saying yes to professional engagements never involved wondering if we would have childcare available. Let’s just say that I’m still adjusting to our new scheduling needs, and the end result was that my 15-month-old needed to attend the convention and evening worship with me. So, the day of the convention, I packed the car with chalices and altar linens, the box of bulletins, a big bag of toys and snacks, and my favorite soft carrier for my daughter. During our set up, she played on the floor near where we were working – refusing, as she often does, to be more than a few feet away from me in a strange setting. People began to come for rehearsal and instructions, so I swung my daughter onto my back and into the carrier. I was certainly easy to find – even people who didn’t know me could find “the lady with the baby strapped on.”
As worship began, I silently prayed that my daughter would last alright through the evening. Blessedly, my daughter loves worship, and even in a hotel ballroom, she seemed to know we were having church. She danced to the music, played with her bulletin during the readings, and even stayed quiet throughout the sermon. For communion, she went back into the carrier so I could assist in getting ministers to the appropriate stations with chalice or paten in hand. We moved around the room, stepping into line at a station. In our tradition, all the baptized are welcome to receive communion, and so I shared my bread with my daughter by reaching over my shoulder. We prayed again, sang the closing hymn, and were dismissed to go in peace.
It never occurred to me that so many people were watching this simple exchange of bread until worship ended and people started mentioning it. Some found it sweet, others thought it encouraging to have a baby at our diocesan function. A few wanted to let me know that they were impressed with how quiet my daughter was during the service (and yes, I had already said many prayers of thanks for that myself.) The comments were all fine. Attention like that isn’t really about me or my daughter anyway, even though it’s nice to hear good things about your kid.
The evening with my extra “helper” went as smoothly as I could have imagined, and as we began to clean up, I commented to my friend that I still wouldn’t choose those arrangements again, what with the interrupted sleep schedule and the added stress and distraction of simultaneous parenting and planning. Plus, I wasn’t sure I liked knowing that all those eyes were on me as I tried to balance motherhood and priesthood.
But in that room, there were three young women I’ve come to know in my ministry. They are faithful and energetic, and engaged with the church in a variety of ways. At least two of them are considering a call to ordained ministry themselves. Of all the eyes watching my little girl receive that bread, I hope their eyes saw something encouraging. I want them to know that balancing family and career can be messy and complicated, but it can also be sweet and even successful. Somehow, it has to be, because among all the eyes looking to see how it works out, is another generation of girls, including one I call my daughter.