-- Hoping to create a playful space in her Minnesota church where children may worship -- rather than simply being dropped off in the nursery by their parents -- Andrea Roske-Metcalfe has created a "pray-ground' for her young parishioners.
Roske-Metcalfe, the associate pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in the Twin Cities suburb of Apple Valley, removed some pews from the front of the sanctuary, and filled the area at the front of the sanctuary with toys and other child-friendly items. In contrast, houses of worship which feature similar spaces, often locate them in the rear of the sanctuary. Parents can see their offspring, and the children experience services like their parents do.
Roske-Metcalfe tells ABC News she "felt we could find a more authentic way to welcome young children into worship, rather than expecting them to either sit quietly in the pews or not be present at all. So this is simply one more option for parents to choose from on any given day."
She admitted that at first, much of the congregation was "extremely skeptical. But Pastor John [Matthews] and I were both behind it, and we talked to a number of different groups before we debuted it, to explain our thought process and reasoning."
"The pray-ground has been a success in every way," Pastor Matthews said. "I love having it set up for every service; seeing the little ones -- and parents -- in worship adds a beautiful human touch."
Roske-Metcalfe added that they knew that if it was a "complete disaster," it would be easy enough to put the pews back. "But this is a congregation willing to try new things," she said. "They would rather try something and risk having it fail than never try anything at all."
The pray-ground just celebrated its one-year anniversary at Grace Lutheran and the noise level has actually gone down overall. "Some kids both in the Pray-Ground and in the pews are loud from time to time, but their parents usually take them out quickly, and we would rather hear them, anyway, than have a silent church with no kids."
And as it turns out, the people who were initially against the idea of the "Pray-Ground" are now its biggest supporters, Roske-Metcalfe said. "At the rare worship service where there aren't any kids at all in that space, people will actually comment to me about how they miss having them there. They say the Spirit works in mysterious ways, and that has proven to be true here at Grace. And we are grateful beyond measure."