It happens, apparently.
It recently happened at Elevation Church, the Charlotte-area super cool megachurch. According to the Charlotte Observer, Amanda Zilliken was nursing her 4-month-old daughter on the back row of Elevation’s stadium-style seating when an usher illumined her with a flashlight, directed her out of the sanctuary and into this lovely place:
The volunteer told her that she was welcome back to her seat, “as soon as she was finished.”
Hurt, angry, and humiliated by the experience, Zilliken approached other staff and volunteers after the service, but they were less than supportive.
Elevation did release a statement on the incident, stating that they have no official policy against breastfeeding women. They added: “We have several designated areas for nursing moms at Ballantyne specifically – one private to allow pumping and it’s close to the auditorium for convenience and the other in the actual baby area with a TV to allow mothers to still be part of the worship experience.”
As Zilliken’s post went viral, I saw similar stories being shared.
One man spoke of how his wife was humiliated when a church volunteer forcibly placed a nursing cover around her neck and over her chest.
Another mom was aggressively confronted in a semi-private hallway and ushered to a nursing room.
Could there be a more appropriate place to nurse than a janitor’s closet, complete with dusty brooms and stale mop water? One church apparently didn’t think so, and they sent a mom there.
As a person who serves the church vocationally, this confounds me. That’s not what worship is about. We invite, we welcome, we worship. We don’t kick people out.
As the father of a beautiful breastfed son, it angers me.
You see, my beloved wife is my hero. After nine months of nurturing his sweet little life from the inside, she began doing the same after his birth. While recovering from the major surgery involved in his delivery, she gave more of herself to feed him as often as he needed. Through pain, tears, exhaustion, and spit up, she sustained him on her own for the first months of his precious life.
It was the most selfless, beautiful relationship I’ve ever witnessed. Determined, patient, pure love. I don’t think there could be a clearer illustration of Christ’s love and grace for his church.
So I find it despicable for a representative of any church to try and squelch that relationship, to guilt a mom for feeding her child, to show her the door as if she’s engaging in some sort of histrionic lactation.
“Oh, but we have a room when she can nurse, and nobody else has to see it!”
Churches, if you want to have a room where moms can nurse privately, go ahead.
Put up a sign.
Put a note in the bulletin.
Install audio, video, plush furniture. Give them complementary gold plated nursing pads, for all I care.
But don’t try and force her to use it.
Don’t act like she’s doing something wrong if she stays in her pew.
Don’t approach her when you notice the shifted clothing, the bowed head, and the horizontal infant. Let them be. If she wanted more privacy, she would have found it herself. If she were uncomfortable, she would be elsewhere.
“But what if it makes others uncomfortable, Jonathan?!?”
Another volunteer allegedly told Zilliken, “Honey, you have to understand that my job as a volunteer is to make sure everyone is comfortable, not just you.”
If someone is uncomfortable being near a nursing mom, they should be the ones to leave. And while they’re on the way out, take some time to evaluate their source of the discomfort. Is it because they think it’s gross? Because our society sexualizes female breasts?
Whatever the cause may be, it isn’t the fault of the mom.
If she’s comfortable where she is, we want her to stay with us. Singing, praying, listening, worshiping, participating in the drama of God’s story. A story which, in case you’ve forgotten, has a lot to say about the youngest among us. During worship, her place (and her baby’s place) is with the community of faith.
Things sometimes get a bit messy in this community. Babies get hungry at inconvenient times. Loquacious toddlers decide the children’s message is a perfect time to share family gossip with the congregation. Moody teens sit and scowl at everyone and everything.
That’s okay. There’s room for them in God’s house. And their parents.
Things occasionally get messy for the rest of us, too. We say things we shouldn’t. We weep, fume, or giggle when we wish we wouldn’t. An elderly parent’s memory fades, and with it, ability to act with propriety in a social context. All of those things are okay in God’s sanctuary, too.
So honor the parents among you. Rejoice that they have brought their children with them. And for the love, if the need arises, let moms feed their children as they wish, and let them do it in peace.
Earlier this year, on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Pope Francis told mothers of crying children:
“And if your children are crying because they are hungry, the Pope told the mothers present, then go ahead and feed them, just as Mary breastfed Jesus.”
So some usher at a super cool megachurch thinks breastfeeding is obscene or distracting.
But the Pope is okay with it.
Oh, and it was in the Sistine Chapel!
Elevation, it might be time for some public apologies.
Wikipedia, creative commons 2.0