I took my first graders on a tour of our parish church the other day. This outing is a favorite pilgrimage of mine, one which I usually take with my students in the fall. Often, one of the parish priests joins us to give the students a more detailed tour, including the sacristy, the priest's vestments and the confessionals.My class consists of five- and barely six-year-old children, so I dedicated the half-hour before our tour to lessons on “church manners” and helping them find their "quiet church voices.” I instructed them that there may be people praying in the church, so they were to be respectful and quiet at all times. Being in a Catholic school, the students are familiar with walking in two straight lines: one for the boys and one for the girls. They knew they were to remain in these lines as we walked quietly through the church. If they wished to ask a question, they would first raise their hand and wait to be called on.Our pastor, Father Vaughn Winters, had agreed to give them the tour. I reminded the children that it was very nice of Father to give us his time. We needed to be on our best "church behavior" as he conducted our tour. They promised they would.Father Vaughn met us in our classroom. The children were settled and ready. But then, right before he arrived, one little boy took another child's brand new Spider-man eraser. He was asked to give the eraser back and apologize. He did, but not without some whining and dramatic crying just as Father arrived. Father patted him on the back and told him Jesus still loved him.The child calmed down at his words and we lined them up for the walk over to church. The children were quiet, respectful, and very serious as they walked in their straight lines. We entered the vestibule of the church. It was then that Father announced, "Okay, children, gather ’round, you don't have to stand in a line now as we go in to visit our church."The children eagerly gathered around him as he explained everything in the vestibule: the canned food receptacles for the needy, the flags and the portrait of a young fallen Marine. They bowed their heads and said a prayer for our soldiers. Several little boys loudly proclaimed that they, too, would be soldiers one day.Father opened the doors to the main church and the children gathered around the baptismal font. He spoke to them about baptism and the Paschal Candle. One of the students noted there were pennies at the bottom of the font and wanted to throw in money, too, to make a wish. Father explained this was not a wishing well, and that it was not meant to have money thrown in it. So, of course, one helpful little one offered to get them. She leaned over the side to reach the pennies, and I caught her just before she was actually swimming in the font. A quick reminder of our church manners, and we were on our way.One little darling was overjoyed at the beautiful statues. At first, she was whispering a quiet prayer, but as she grew more excited her voice rose. Finally, she burst into song…We made our way over to the confessional next. The children were thrilled to see the inside of this room whose door was always closed to them. Father explained how next year, when they are in second grade, they will be able to receive the full grace given in the sacrament of reconciliation. One little boy announced in a clear, strong voice, "I wanna go to confession NOW! I am almost six years old and I have PLENTY of sins!"Well noted; I am sure he does. I reminded him of his "quiet church voice" and we made our way on through the church. The children marveled at seeing the statues up close, begged to light some candles, and took turns kneeling down to say a prayer. One little darling was overjoyed at the beautiful statues. At first, she was whispering a quiet prayer, but as she grew more excited her voice rose. Finally, she burst into song: Jesus, Mary, Joseph, too. Watch over me and all I do! Help me be like you each day...Her voice rang out, clear and true. She was clearly ignoring my look and she was just out of reach as I tried to make my way through the first graders to get to her. I reminded her that we were in church. She quieted down but noted that this statue, too, had pennies near it that were not meant to be there.On to the sacristy. Father showed them the vestments and explained why they were worn. He showed them where they keep the unconsecrated hosts and the altar wine. He patiently let each one of them take a turn at ringing the bells. He even let one little guy use the priests’ restroom because, "It's an emergency, Father!"Next was the Adoration Chapel. I took a deep breath and prayed that they would be quiet and reverent and remember their manners. They walked in quietly and all sat down. Father showed them the sanctuary light and the tabernacle. He talked to them about how the hosts we see in the tabernacle are no longer the same as the hosts he showed us in the sacristy. As he carefully opened the tabernacle, a hush fell over the chapel. I heard a few whispered voices speak in awe: "Jesus!" Then they all reverently genuflected and exited the chapel.For the last part of the tour, Father gathered the children around the altar. We said a final prayer together. I thought we were home free. Then Father said the words I will never forget: "Does anyone want to see the secret passageway behind the altar?" I looked across at Mrs. Brandy Samson, our instructional aide. She had a look of horror on her face. I am sure my expression was very much the same. The children, however, were thrilled and squealed in delight. They went in the "secret door" and ran down the ramp leading back to the Sacristy door.So much for remembering our "church manners.” So much for using our "quiet church voices.”As we gathered outside the exit door, Father Vaughn thanked the children for joining him. They thanked him, too, and rushed forward to hug him. He looked at me and Mrs. Samson with a smile on his face. I think the tour of the church may have worn him out. But all he said was, "I am so thankful that showing you children the church made you so happy. Just always remember that Jesus wants your faith to be something that you celebrate and fills you with joy."Mrs. Samson and I corralled our little first graders together to walk back to school, leaving the church quiet once more. The people stopping to pray at the church that day were left in peace. I am sure there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that my first graders love God, love the sacraments, love the Blessed Mother, love Jesus, and love their pastor, who patiently understood their surge of heart and overwhelming joy. A priest who clearly understands what the Gospel means when it says, "Let the children come to me." I believe that Mrs. Samson and I shared Father Vaughn's feelings as well.As we walked back to school, I did not worry so much about the students walking in straight, quiet lines. The children walked happily back to class with their hearts bursting with love for their Lord. One little girl began to skip and proclaimed in a clear, loud voice, "I love Jesus so much! This was THE BEST day of my entire life!!"I suppose we can work on our "quiet church voices" another day.Therese Corsaro attends St. Mary Church, Palmdale, and teaches at St. Mary School.