Taking the Boobies to Church

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

–Christina Rosetti

Last Christmas, in the middle of an eight month hiatus from church pastoring, my family attended “The Big Church” where I’d had the privilege to work for awhile years before. It was a good safe place for us just to go to church for awhile. We already knew and  loved people there and the pastors, many of them dear friends, let us just be a family at church.

On Christmas Eve, Zora was an angel in the children’s pageant. (The pastor who organizes this pageant should have half an eternity of spa services lined up in the hereafter.) While the rest of us were waiting, crushed into a crowded pew, ten month old Abram decided it was time for  snack. It was way too crowded and noisy for nursing.

The Big Church was in the middle of a monumental, desperately needed construction project last year. Sunday School classes were squeezed into tiny corners of the historic building; the nursery was in a sitting room; hallways were crowded and chaotic. The place was busting at the seams.

In other words, there was really no convenient place to nurse a baby.

So, I found the quietest hallway corner I could, sat on an old pew, wrapped my winter coat around me and the boy, and settled in to nurse.

It was a great hallway, mostly. Mostly, because it was out of the traffic pattern of the thousand or so people cramming themselves into the pews for church.

But not perfectly private. It turns out that with the construction re-routing, this hallway was the most convenient little back way for the pastors to get to their studies.

Which is how two of the male pastors wound up leaning in for their customary cheek-kisses, without noticing until they were pretty close that I was feeding the boy.

To their credit, they didn’t freak out. One of them offered to let me use his office (because the hallway was a little drafty).The head pastor laughed a little when I mentioned that I found it funny that I had a hard time finding a spot to nurse a baby in a church on Christmas Eve.

I was never a very public nurser in churches with my babies. With the first one, I had my own office to nurse in. My second baby (who is now an almost two year old, painting his head with my lipstick, and trying to dance on the dining room table as I write this) was an active eater. He liked to throw things and “re-adjust” any sort of blanket while eating.

I also get that it might be a little uncomfortable to see your pastor nursing. It shouldn’t be, but I get it.

That said, I’m convinced nursing should be easy to do in churches. There should be comfy places for moms to sit (and, perhaps not the bathroom…a corner of the kitchen would be more appropriate!). There should be private space. But there should also be public space. No one should tisk tisk at a mom who has to feed a baby during church, whether that baby takes a bottle filled with formula or a breast-full of milk. I remember one church I went to that had an unofficial nursing pew in the back: it wasn’t uncommon to see a line up of mothers and babies back there.

And there should never be shame. (Good for my friends and colleagues who didn’t freak out last Christmas Eve when they greeted more of me that they were expecting.)

But maybe there should even be more than that.

Maybe we should be celebrating this reminder of the incarnation.

This article by Rachel Marie Stone, points it out brilliantly. So does a chapter in my friend Katherine’s marvelous book (which you should read, of course).

The image of Mary feeding Christ is a reminder of human Jesus was. It’s something we all do some version of as infants. And right there, Jesus, God incarnate, had enough to be nourished.

Besides that, it’s an image of God and us. (Julian of Norwich is famous for using this imagery.)

So, this is not to ignite debates about breast milk or formula. But shouldn’t we be encouraging glimpses of this reminder of God’s love for us in church?

Here’s to hoping you can hear an infant or two slurping their way through a meal in the back of church on Christmas Eve!