Easter Sunday. An Episcopal church in Birmingham. Vaulted ceilings. Ornate masonry. A pipe organ. A choir dressed in lacework cottas. Individual stained-glass windows that cost more than tactical government helicopters. The whole works.
My wife and I arrived late. The place was loaded with parishioners in pastel colors. There were no available seats in the back.
“We have room on the front row,” said the usher.
“The front row?” I said. “Isn’t there anywhere else? Somewhere less… Frontal?”
He shook his head. “Full house today, sir.”
I am not a front pew guy. I come from mild, soft-spoken fundamentalist people who hug each other sideways; we prefer to fill up the sanctuary from the back to the front.
He guided us to the front pew so that we were practically sitting in the priest’s lap. The whole church was looking at us.
Service began. The organ bellowed. People stood.
Before we sang the first song, a kid in the pew behind me started making flatulent sounds with his mouth. I could not concentrate.
As a former little boy, I am qualified to tell you that these were not just your run-of-the-mill mouth-based sound effects. These were long, juicy, squirty sounds that, if I hadn’t known better, sounded like minor digestive issues.
And he never quit. During the communal singing, the kid made this noise. During the call to worship: The Noise. During the Lord’s Prayer: nuclear blasts.
Spittle was flying onto the back of my neck as the boy’s sustained raspberry sounds reverberated off the stone walls. I was certain someone would tell the boy to knock it off, but it never happened.
So I turned around to give the child a stern look.
He might have been 3 years old. The kid was blond, plump, dressed festively in a seersucker jumpsuit adorned with lace.
His mother smiled. I grinned back, hoping she’d get my drift and put an end to her son’s newfound talent. But she didn’t.
So I tried to deal with it. Throughout the service, the kid made even louder sounds and I made greater attempts to ignore him. But it was difficult, inasmuch as I could feel the windspeeds from his mouth-trombone moving the hair on the back of my head.
Occasionally, I would look around at other parishioners to gauge their reactions, but nobody was paying attention to the kid. It was incredible. Even though this boy’s sphincter-like tones were rattling the windows, I was the only one in the Western Hemisphere who noticed this child.
When the choir stood for the offertory song, I tried to tune the kid out completely. I focused on the music. I closed my eyes. I listened to the a capella choral arrangement, bowing my head, reflecting on spiritual matters, when all of a sudden…
Somebody ripped one.
At least that’s what it sounded like. The kid had upped the ante this time. He wasn’t just making basic mouth sounds anymore. He was raspberrying the national anthem. The back of my neck was painted in a fine spray of toddler saliva.
I leaned over to my wife. “I can’t concentrate,” I said.
“Hmmm?” she said.
“That kid. He’s making noise.”
“What kid? Junior the Incredible Tooting Toddler. Don’t you hear him?”
“Just don’t pay attention to him.”
“He’s spitting on me.”
Someone across the aisle shushed me.
Finally, it was time for communion. Several hundred of us filed toward the altar, and who do you think was standing behind me? That’s right. Toot-Zilla.
The kid was making his lip noises while standing in line, bouncing on his mother’s hip.
I’d had enough. I was just about to say something to the kid’s mother when she spoke first. She told me she didn’t have a free hand for receiving communion. So she asked if I would watch her son for a moment while she approached the altar and took the Sacrament. I said sure.
So she left him with me for a moment. He stood beside my leg and looked up at me with tap-water blue eyes. And I have to admit, this child was cute.
“You shouldn’t be making those sounds in church,” I told him.
“Raah baah baah waah,” he said.
“That’s no excuse.”
“People are trying to be reverent here.”
“Waaah daah haah baah faaah.”
“You’re not even sorry, are you?”
He drooled on himself.
When his mother finished receiving the Eucharist, she came back to us and lifted her son into her arms. I wished her a happy Easter. She returned the favor. Then I wished the kid a happy Easter and his little face erupted in a smile.
“Haaappah eeeee-saaaah!” he shouted.
My heart officially melted. I pinched his nose, and the kid responded by making that familiar loud sound again.
Only this time his lips didn’t move.
I hope you had a happy Easter. I know he did.
🇿🇦🇿🇦Norma Den - April 18, 2022 8:10 am
Hi Sean, Happy belated Easter. I can understand your annoyance at the wee boy making noises, but perhaps he has a problem not easily discerned. My brother lives with family friends who have a cerebral palsied daughter who is deaf & mute. She now in her 30’s but some years ago when they started attending church with him she would make all the strange noises while trying to sing. A lot of frowns & muttering until the Pastor said, The Lord enjoys the voices of ALL His people. Once the congregation got to know her they all took her to their hearts & at times the Pastor would call her up to stand beside him while a hymn was sung. Her only words are total gibberish & Bye bye. God bless you for beginning to understand & taking this child to your heart.
Susan - April 18, 2022 10:35 am
Sweet story, Sean! Thanks for starting my day with laughter.
Noah - April 18, 2022 12:51 pm
We attended church in Tuscaloosa with a family whose adult Down’s syndrome child would sing loudly, and I mean loudly, and not necessarily the right words or on key. I understand some people were annoyed at his singing. One day our pastor made a remark about how fortunate we were that ***** could teach us to sing with abandon when singing praises to God. I don’t think anyone ever complained after that, and most everyone just heard that one voice become part of all the voices singing.
Leigh Amiot - April 18, 2022 9:48 am
Moral of the story…get there earlier next year! 😂 My family got to Christmas Eve mass too late for a seat one year and a cute little girl, also guesstimated to be about 3, ran around just outside the sanctuary doors with tennis shoes that lit up with an LED brightness and squeaked with every step. Little kids make noises and messes, but it’s oh so good to see another generation being brought to church.
oldlibrariansshelf - April 18, 2022 10:35 am
Thanks for reminding us, Sean, that worship takes place even in the midst of distractions. When Jesus likened the Kingdom of God to little children He must have been aware that often they are aggravating but they truly are innocent before we indoctrinate them into the ways of the world.
Miss Lily - April 18, 2022 11:22 am
Mmmm, we’re each on our individual journeys, right? Every so often, our roads cross at an intersection, and we’re reminded of the variety of routes God has mapped out for us. Mama’s obedience in, “remembering” and honoring the last supper, is building a strong foundation on which Junior will stand long after she’s gone. You were tapped this Easter to remind us we are fearsomely and awesomely created. Thanks for you being obedient and sharing your Easter experience. Junior lived his authentic life, as did Mama at the altar, and you at the keys. I think all three of you brought a smile to the Lord this Easter, in a world where He endures such pain…
Ann - April 18, 2022 11:27 am
Your talent for writing amazes me every day….from simple to complex….fantastic, thank you for sharing your gift….happy Easter!
Suellen - April 18, 2022 12:19 pm
I love to hear the children at church. It means the church is alive. So many of our churches now are dying. There are fewer in the pews and many of them are white headed. I’m graced by genetics that I don’t have white hair but I’m certainly in that category. I could put up with a little mouth music though the spitting is a little much. It’s the screamers that get to me.
PurpleIris - April 18, 2022 12:53 pm
Sean, you were in the presence of pure innocence. It has been many years since I have had the honor. My heart still yearns to gaze upon and hold a little one. God bless the precious little spitter! 🥰☺️
Shelton A. - April 18, 2022 1:21 pm
Sounds like you had a memorable Easter! Thanks for sharing. Enjoyed the story immensely. Hope you did, too. God bless.
Larry - April 18, 2022 2:52 pm
Masterfully funny, especially for those of us who grew up in church (my Dad was a pastor). Thanks again!
AlaRedClayGirl - April 18, 2022 5:49 pm
We always brought our four mostly-behaved children with us to Mass. After the service was over I never knew whether to apologize to the people around us or to say “you’re welcome for the entertainment”. I’ve always said that God gives extra graces to those who bring their children to church.
MAM - April 18, 2022 7:02 pm
I had to laugh, because, although we got to church on time for Easter, a family filed in behind us with a probably almost 1-year-old boy. He warbled a lot of sounds, but when he shrieked, I flinched—three times. I sincerely hope I didn’t lose hearing in one ear, because his vocal projection was ear-splitting. Otherwise, he was quite well-behaved, and it was his big sister that kept telling him to be quiet. And I agree, it’s wonderful to see the next generation at church.
Diane - April 18, 2022 7:20 pm
You see and hear the things that make stories ripe. ( did I say that?)
Linda Moon - April 18, 2022 8:02 pm
Episcopal churches are beautiful…the buildings and the worship inside them. My thoughts of worship while reading just now were interrupted by Toot-Zilla, however. But they soon returned because of a little child who led me to think about the Kingdom of Heaven.
Anne Arthur - April 18, 2022 8:20 pm
I’ve to laugh. Same here, a little boy driving us up the wall with his shoes drumming up the back of a bench. Eventually, everyone around us resigned themselves to the accompaniment of an extra rhythm to the worship. HAPPY EASTER.
Verna Kays - April 19, 2022 12:08 am
🤣🤣🤣🤣🥰🥰🥰🥰🥰….nothing else to say..Blessings!
Robert L Chiles - April 19, 2022 1:50 am
“Suffer the little children to come unto me.” Our church, an Episcopal Church, always welcomed children, but also would once a month have a Sunday afternoon service especially crafted for special needs children. All were welcome. A safe space, full of God.
Slimpicker - April 19, 2022 2:53 am
Sean, you should have known that the Christian CEOs (Christmas & Easter Only) would get to church early so they wouldn’t get stuck sitting in the front. Better luck next year.
Peg Dunnavant - April 20, 2022 1:47 pm
Well I have to admit this reminded me of Easter Sunday many many moons ago at Vestavia Hills United Methodist. All the children came down front for a moment and the pastor obviously knew who the visitors and C&Es were so he was trying to connect with one child in particularly. He kept commenting on what a pretty dress she had on. The child very loudly said thank you, but my mama said it’s a bitch to iron.
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - April 23, 2022 12:37 am