Our parish is a newly established one. We were officially created in 2008 and have met in a strip mall ever since. The new building is supposed to be completed next year, but for now, we make do with a strip mall sanctuary next door to a rock band bible church.
Since Marian is at that delightful age where she is too old to sleep during Mass and too young to understand that she needs to be relatively still and quiet, she and I spend a lot of Mass time in the lobby. We have a small cry room available, but I don't like going in there. It's small, I feel like I am on display, and inevitably it is filled with children too old to be there. Call me out for being judgmental, but families with only elementary age children should not automatically default to the cry room. Also when your family has one member who might need the cry room, it isn't very considerate to take up the entire room with your entire family by default just so you won't have to move later. But I don't intend to go down a rabbit hole about cry rooms.
Our general Sunday Mass routine is for us to begin together as a family in a regular row, usually towards the front, and then when Marian needs to be removed for whatever reason, I take her out to the lobby and continue to participate through the glass doors as best I can. I will nurse her and try to hold her if she will let me, but many times I just put her down and let her toddle around, chasing her down when necessary to bring her back to my central location behind the glass doors.
Mass in the lobby contains an interesting group of people. There are one or two other mothers like me who have brought big babies and young toddlers out to stretch. The mothers still stand and kneel and participate as if we were in the nave and not out stranded in the lobby. The babies point and smile and play with each other, kindly sharing snacks and drinks with the less fortunate whose mothers do not bring food to church. There is a young grandmother who regularly brings her granddaughter to church. I am not sure of their story except that I have never seen the child's parents and the girl is a bundle of toddler energy. She and Marian carry on, amusing each other. They play peekaboo through the glass. The girl is about six months older than Marian and is a bit of a mascot for the more involved members of the parish who regularly pick her up and carry her around to give Grandma a break. There is a father who regularly strolls his baby in a stroller all around the lobby while reading the prayers out of his Magnificat. We all smile at each other and give knowing, sympathetic looks and quietly remark how big each baby is getting.
These are the sights I expect to see out in the lobby. What I did not expect is the numerous other people who make their way around the lobby. It is not unusual to find a family sitting at a back table well away from the doors to the nave. The children, who seem to be of an age to be able to sit and behave in Mass, are coloring or doing a quiet activity while the mother sits in a chair giving off an air of nonchalance, as if she is paying attention to Mass but doesn't want to look like she is. I wonder what drives her into the building but stops her short of fully engaging. She isn't alone. There are several adults who come and are here, but not here. In the building and not really participating, but they aren't ignoring Mass either. They care enough to come but perhaps are afraid to do more.
There is another family who tends to run a little late and, rather than enter the church, they spend the whole Mass fully participating next to the mothers-of-toddlers with their tween-aged children. I suspect they do not want to interrupt anyone inside. They are good-natured and they laugh at the baby antics.
There is also a couple in their fifties who tends to run very, very late. Many times they come in, look around, see there is not much seating available, turn around and leave. I don't know if they just call it a week or if they return for a different service.
We get to see the older children who walk in and out, in and out of the church as they visit the bathroom over and over again. We have to be careful that they don't let a toddler inside to run wild.
There is an older, but not elderly, man who is in fairly poor health. He has trouble walking and getting around. He always sits in the last row of chairs inside the church. His gait is awkward and slow and yet every week around the time of the homily, he gets up, leaves the church, goes outside, and smokes a cigarette.
There is a Hispanic man who looks to be in his late twenties or early thirties. He is very focused and does not seem to notice the patter of the babies around him. He stands; he kneels; he prays. He makes no eye contact with anybody. Marian is always trying to get his attention, but he pays her no mind. I try to keep her from bothering him because he is obviously trying to pray, but then I can't help but think that he can't expect solitary silence out in the lobby. I don't really think she bothers him because at every Sign of Peace, he seems to return from that far-off plane where he has been and he smiles at her and offers handshakes to all around. After the fraction rite and priest's communion, he steps into the church, blesses himself at the font, and leaves. I wonder if he is going to work.
Another feature of the lobby is that the door to the office is adjacent to the door to the church. Everyone who is trying to pay attention and participate is doing so right in front of the office door. We hear the phone ring. A lot. Usually around the consecration, a person or two will arrive to do a little clerical office work and begin shuffling papers, preparing to count the money from the offering, and having conversations amongst themselves. We in the lobby are guests at the heavenly banquet. Their appointment at the table is at another time and they carry on as normal. It can be a little jarring having the sacred and the secular separated by mere feet and the purposeful intention to pay attention.
This little society always breaks up at Communion. We each take our place in line, process up, and then disperse to our own little worlds. I usually return to the row with the rest of my family if I think Marian will cooperate and I can manage it without having to climb over somebody else.
In spite of our differences and in our similarities, we are all called to be there, to worship and to be fed, and we try to fulfill this call in our own imperfect ways and in the season of life in which we reside. I hope we all have ears to hear even out in the lobby.