Parents of small children are likely to have a long do and don’t list for worshiping as a family:

Don’t tear the pages out of the hymnal.

Don’t climb under the pews.

Do say “hello” when someone greets you.

Do keep your shoes and socks on.

On and on and on.

Now that I have a toddler and a baby, I need to make sure my oldest is listening to me and acting appropriately in church. For her sake and mine (and for the general peace of the worship service), I’ve come up with a list of rules for her to keep in mind during worship. They are as follows:

Stay in the pew.

No coloring in the hymnals.

No poking your baby brother.

No stealing your brother’s toys.

No running up and down the aisles.

Stay seated during the children’s message.

Stay quiet during the sermon.

No standing on the pews.

Actually, spoiler alert: There are no rules.

At least not rules that I explicitly tell my daughter. Because I know that in community we learn and grow best by experience. By being together. By worshiping. By learning from our mistakes.

By being loved precisely because we don’t follow all the so-called rules.

My daughter has broken most of the rules I’ve listed (maybe not the coloring-in-the-hymnals one)—and that’s OK. She’s a toddler. And she’s learning. I’m modeling for her what it means to worship.

We show up week after week to worship and learn. We do the best we can and reach out to our neighbors who learn with us. She has a whole community that teaches her by loving her just as she is, whether she’s running in the aisles or sitting calmly near her brother.

Most Sundays I’m lucky to get everyone dressed, fed and to church on time. We don’t have time to go over any rules. So I don’t make any. Probably because the most important rule is something that I tell my children every day. It’s a rule I hope that others tell them. It’s a rule that I hope will reside deep within them and influence all they do and say. It’s a rule for them, for anyone who has come before them, for anyone who will come after them, and for anyone who will never enter the church.

It’s our No. 1 rule.

The most important rule.

Our only rule.

The rule we stake our lives on.


This rule is for you too.

Remember: You are a loved child of God.  

Kimberly Knowle-Zeller
Kimberly Knowle-Zeller is an ordained ELCA pastor, mother of two, spouse of an ELCA pastor and co-author of The Beauty of Motherhood: Grace-Filled Devotions for the Early Years. She lives with her family in Cole Camp, Mo. Her website is

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