The Sunday Morning Hustle

Getting your young child to church on Sunday is no easy task. I’ve commiserated with many friends who dread the Sunday morning routine. Do these stories sound familiar?

On Sunday morning, my three-year-old son wakes up at 6:00 a.m. and demands breakfast. But he doesn’t want any breakfast, he wants “special breakfast,” which means homemade banana pancakes, center-cut bacon (crispy, but not too crunchy), fresh strawberries cut into equally thick slices, and orange juice – no not from the Captain America cup that is clean, the dirty Spiderman cup that’s been sitting in the dishwasher for three days and growing a fungus forest. After breakfast is on the table, he decides “special breakfast” isn’t that special anymore, and would rather have a Pop-Tart. By the time the family is fed, we already know we are going to be late for 11:00 a.m. worship.

Last Sunday morning my five-year-old daughter and I fought over what she should wear to church. I prefer she wears a dress and nice shoes. She prefers her Paw Patrol bathing suit and flip-flops. After thirty minutes of negotiating, we finally reach a compromise: Cinderella dress and cowboy boots. At least she’s not naked.

We are always coming to church stressed out. Sunday mornings at home are chaotic. There is always some tantrum to handle, mess to clean up or missing shoe to find. When we finally arrive at church we can’t wait for our children to go to Sunday School just so we can get forty-five minutes of peace.

If you relate to any of these events, welcome to the club! Our Parenting in the Pew class last Sunday talked about ways to make the Sunday morning routine easier. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Stop the Comparing Game. That family sitting two pews in front of you who look like they just walked out of a Ralph Lauren ad? Yeah, I guarantee you that mom just lost it on the way to church because her kids had a booger war in the minivan. Perfect families don’t exist, so stop feeling inferior because your kid has a stain on his shirt.
  2. Prepare the Night Before. On Saturday night go ahead and pack up the diaper bag with all Sunday morning essentials: diapers, snacks, change of clean clothes (yes, even one for your potty-trained 3-year-old), and wipes, oh so many wipes. Also on Saturday night, invite your child to pick out Sunday clothes with you. Set your own guidelines, but let them make the final choice. Most kids just want to wear what is comfortable and gives them joy. That is what God wants as well.
  3. Simplify Sunday. Sundays should be a day of rest. When we turn Sundays into days of early-morning workouts, big breakfasts, fancy dresses, and afternoon outings, we neglect God’s command to keep the Sabbath holy. Sunday morning meals should be easy like muffins or bagels. Making Sunday afternoon plans to go to birthday parties or BBQs sounds fun, but the stress of planning those events usually creeps into the morning routine. Make your Sundays about two things: worship and rest.
  4. Teach Worship at Home. Talk to your children about worship. Ask them what they like best about being in church. Ask them what makes worship difficult. Bring home a bulletin and talk about the different parts of the service. Sing your favorite hymn together. Pray together as a family. Remember: children learn to worship by watching their parents worship.

Parenting on Sunday morning is hard. The good news is that you are not alone. Plymouth Church loves and welcomes children. We are here to help you keep Sabbath even in the midst of kids and chaos.

Erica Cooper, Assistant Minister







Mother Neff Church had one room, six pews, the organ we received when the funeral home closed, a communion table that used to be a desk, and me, a college sophomore for a pastor.  We were in Central Texas, six miles from any town with enough people to have a church.

I always arrived two hours before worship to get everything ready.  In the winter I started a fire in the wood stove.  In the spring I opened the windows.  In the summer I turned on the fans.

I swept every Sunday.  The rhythm of the broom made sweeping feel holy.

Before anyone else came, when it was just me and God, we had a worship service.  I preached the sermon, prayed the prayers, and sang the hymns.  Preaching a sermon with only God in attendance felt less self-serving.  Praying with only God listening felt more like praying.  Singing without the fear of someone hearing felt like praise.

I pictured the people who would be there at 11:00.  Ruth was the undisputed  matriarch.  She offered me the job of pastor and got church approval later.  Betty, Ruth’s daughter-in-law, raised three good children, worked at the furniture factory, and longed for her mother-in-law’s approval.  Clay, who operated at half-speed after his heart attack, was my first hospital visit.  I prayed that he wouldn’t die, because I was afraid to preach his funeral.

Preaching to the empty sanctuary was easier than preaching after they arrived.  When I imagined them sitting there, they hung on my every word.

Thirty-seven years of ministry later, I am not sure a nineteen-year-old should be a pastor.  Should a congregation have to raise the minister?  Still, sometimes when I sweep, and it’s just me and God, I remember how I learned to worship.




On 9/10/2017 I attended evening Jazz Vespers at Saint Peter’s.  During the service, each worshipper was invited to pray individually with one of the worship leaders.  I prayed with my pastor at the baptistery where 16 years earlier countless people, fearful and stunned, washed the soot from their faces and sat together in the presence of God.  He prayed with me and for me.  The anointing oil he placed on my forehead released tears from my eyes.  They dropped on my jacket and his vestments as if God was cleansing me from the pain I was feeling.  When the amen ended the prayer, he embraced me, an embrace that said, “I know.  I feel it too.”  My tears then mingled in the same baptismal waters that comforted on 9/11/2001.

Hearing the names of victims who died on 9/11 during this 16th anniversary observance I feel a skin crawling chill when hearing the name of someone I knew personally or feel like I knew all my life through the remembrances of family, friends and colleagues. I want to know them all.  I wish I had.  Voices of readers crack.  Faces seek composure.  Pictures are held.  Buttons are worn.  They pay tribute to family members they knew or have come to know as I have. The tears are raw and real.  For some the tears are ever present.  For others, they flow annually during these 102 minutes.

The tears of today didn’t begin on 9/11/2001.  For many there was travel through stages of grief before ever getting to tears.  Today is a reminder the journey is not over.  Very quickly after 9/11 some wanted to bypass the tears and move on.  There was a call to shut the interfaith respite outreach ministry at St. Paul’s Chapel in March 2002 as if the response had ended and it was time to move on.  Time to get Easter finery ready and take down banners of thanks to recovery workers hung in the sanctuary and bicycles locked to street sign poles abandoned by messengers who never returned from their rounds at the towers.  Thankfully the haunting blank stares of recovery workers coming off the pile with their expressions of craving comfort and assurance were heard over the few calls to “get over it.”  These workers had not begun to cry – not even close.

There was false hope it would be time for the tears to stop after the 5th anniversary, then 10th, then 15th. Is it over for more than 1,000 families who have received no remains to bury?  There are no identified remains for 40% of World Trade Center (WTC) victims. I shared this horrific fact with someone the other day and the person was shocked and had no idea.  When will the tears stop for thousands of 9/11 responders and survivors who have at least one illness from 9/11 or for over 6,500 who have at least one certified WTC-related cancer?  It is estimated in just a few years the WTC death toll could more than double since 2001.

Some are old tears, some new.  There is a time to cry.  Today is one of them. It is also a day to pray for families of all 9/11 victims – to be present and catch their tears.  It is a day to say thank you to all who responded and continue to respond in this long-term recovery.  It is a day for our tears to bring us to action in supporting victims of hurricanes, earthquakes, fires and injustice and those responding to their needs.  I pray we remember that just as there is a time for tears, there is a time to build up, a time to heal and a time for peace.

John J. Scibilia, CCA

(2001-2006 Executive Director of Lutheran Disaster Response of New York at Ground Zero)