Cuddle Cove: space for infants in sanctuary



Cuddling isn’t usually allowed in church, but at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Jacksonville, it’s expected. The congregation has even set aside an area of its sanctuary for a Cuddle Cove.

Every Sunday morning new moms, and some dads, gather behind a privacy screen and listen to the sermon and sing with the congregation from rocking chairs where they cuddle and nurse their infants and occasionally change a diaper.

Church member Kim Straughn got the idea when the church hired a new worship leader.

“His wife was nursing and would stay in the parlor during the service. She couldn’t hear anything, and I thought what’s the point of coming to church if you’re secluded so you can feed your baby,” she said.

“So, I thought, how can we create a space for mothers who are nursing or bottle-feeding infants. It needs to be private but help them feel included and allow them to participate.”

The unused chapel in the sanctuary seemed ideal. Kim and the staff cleaned it up and put in a couple of rocking chairs. And it grew from there.

The chapel was outfitted with changing tables, bassinets, bottle warmers, play mats and other supplies for infants. Handmade blankets were donated by a women's group.

She found everything she needed at garage sales and the Swip-Swap website. Soon, the chapel was outfitted with changing tables, bassinets, bottle warmers, play mats and other supplies for infants. Handmade blankets were donated by a women’s group.

Straughn donated the white cradle her three daughters and four grandchildren had used. “It’s really special to me, and I’m glad to see it used again,” she said.

“I personally anointed everything and prayed over it for the children who will use it,” Straughn said. The church dedicated the space in March.

The final touch will be a TV monitor, so parents can watch the service.

“We’re an older congregation, and the congregation loves having young families and babies,” office manager Jennifer Chester said. “It’s been a wonderful experience for all of us. We have four babies, and we’re advertising that we’re family friendly, so we might get more.

“The babies seem to know when to giggle or cry out. The sound effects are perfect punctuations during the service. They hit the mark every time.”

—Lilla Ross is a freelance writer in Jacksonville.



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