“We Tried the Front Row,” Ensign, Mar. 1982, 47–48
A little black and white neatly engraved sign hung on the back row of a chapel I once visited: “RESERVED FOR MOTHERS WITH SMALL CHILDREN.”
I smiled as I passed the sign. I have sat through many meetings alone with our four children, but not on the back row. Our family sits on the first rows in the chapel.
Certainly, a traditional place for parents with small children has been the back of the chapel or the end of a row. Many find such a seating arrangement helpful: it enables them to keep to a minimum the distraction of taking an unhappy child out of a meeting. But with our children and their ages we have found that, for us, sitting on the front rows has some important benefits. Here are some of them.
1. So children can see. Sitting on the back row of the chapel, all they can see are the slats where the hymnbooks are stored, or, at best, the back of somebody’s head. Inquisitive as children are, they’ll look for something else to do with their time instead of watching and listening to the meeting.
How much more pleasant it is for our children to see who is singing the special musical number or who is speaking. On one occasion, our four-year-old son looked up at me and said, “Mother, she’s pretty.”
“Oh, really?” I said. “Why do you think so?”
“Because she smiled at me.”
I think he gave me a wonderful insight that day. Would that sweet moment have occurred on the back row?
2. So children can become involved. As our children have grown, they have learned the importance of bearing testimony and of giving talks. They find that the walk to the podium to bear their testimony is much shorter from the front rows and doesn’t take quite as much courage. And it is much more reassuring for them to look down in front and see parental love and support and eager admiration of brothers and sisters. It’s also much easier to impress on our sons the privilege of blessing and passing the sacrament when they are close enough to see it being prepared.
3. So children can learn reverence. On the front rows, we miss things seen from the back of the chapel. Since our children don’t see others going in and out to get drinks and use the rest room, they’re not as apt to request the same privileges.
4. So parents can teach children properly. We feel that by sitting in the front, our children feel more a part of the meeting and don’t consider it boring or uninteresting. We want our children to feel that sacrament meeting is a time to concentrate on the counsel the Lord would have us receive. Children can appreciate many parts of the meeting: the music, the announcements and sustainings, the prayers. They can be taught to bow their heads and fold their arms at a very young age. And if they’re near the front, they can watch the good example of the bishop and his counselors during the prayers when they choose not to close their eyes.
Of course, in order for the front rows to be a realistic option for children, they must be old enough to be aware of what’s going on in the meeting and to communicate with parents about the proceedings. We’ve found that kindergarten-age children can start learning to be more involved during sacrament meeting.
Preparation for the front rows is essential. In family home evening, try role-playing proper reverence. Talk about what reverence is and why it is important. Explain what the sacrament is and why they should be thinking of Jesus especially during that time.
On Sunday, make getting ready for Church a happy experience. Avoid the last-minute rush to get everyone ready, into the car, and to the meetinghouse on time. The confusion and harsh words that can result from being late can upset children and destroy all feelings of cooperation and reverence.
Arrive at church early enough to help them settle down. Allow enough time for last-minute trips to the drinking fountain and the rest room before the meeting starts. If sacrament meeting comes after your other meetings, give your children a chance to get a breath of fresh air, to walk around a little, to eat a small snack, or to get a drink between meetings. Everyone should be as comfortable as possible before sacrament meeting starts.
Take care of Church duties in other areas of the meetinghouse. Once inside the chapel, avoid visiting with others. Be a good example of reverence.
Does sitting on the front rows eliminate all of the challenges? No. There are always those times when I must take the baby out or when the most joyously active of our children cannot seem to keep his wiggles under control. Still, the challenges are lessened, and we feel our children have learned some fine habits. Our nine-year-old takes meaningful notes and often records them in her journal. Our second daughter and our boys have learned to listen to the speakers. We are hopeful they will follow in the same habit-forming steps of their older sister.
And with a little help from the first row, they just might succeed.