A breastfeeding mom is encouraging other mothers to participate in a “Nurse-In” at a popular megachurch in Charlotte, North Carolina, after claiming she was asked to leave the sanctuary while feeding her baby.
“It’s basically us mothers coming together to support and show that breastfeeding is normal, it is what God intended for us to be doing,” Zilliken said.
Amanda Zilliken told HuffPost she hopes the nurse-in at Elevation Church - Ballantyne on August 20, will help normalize breastfeeding in sacred spaces. The mothers are planning to spread themselves out in the main sanctuary and nurse their babies.
Elevation Church is a multi-campus Southern Baptist megachurch led by the popular pastor Steven Furtick. The evangelical Protestant church is known for worship sessions that look like rock concerts, with stadium seating and lighting. It’s been criticized in the past for a “culture of celebrity” that surrounds Furtick, and for reportedly organizing “spontaneous” mass baptisms that turned out to be planned in advance.
Zilliken, a 29-year-old mother from Lancaster, South Carolina, is responding to an incident she claimed happened at the Ballantyne branch of the megachurch on Sunday. The mom says she was breastfeeding with a cover on when a volunteer asked her to step out of the main sanctuary.
The mom, who says she’s been attending Elevation on and off since 2015, said she’d never had an issue with nursing her baby in the sanctuary before. She typically feeds her daughter through the sermon, just to keep her quiet.
“My daughter had not made a sound, there was no distraction,” she told HuffPost.
She said that a volunteer at the church came up to her during the pastor’s sermon, shone a flashlight near her so she could see in the darkness of the church, and asked her to come along to the mothers’ area. The light supposedly attracted the attentions of people nearby. Zilliken’s baby had unattached and was beginning to fuss.
“I wasn’t going to have a conversation with her on the spot,” Zilliken said. “In that kind of situation, I just did what I was told to do in terms of the moment, and then addressed it later.”
Zilliken said she was led to a restroom to finish nursing. The volunteer reportedly came back later and told the mom could come back to the sanctuary when she was done.
From the bathroom, the mom posted a photo of the incident to Facebook.
“I just got kicked out of church for breastfeeding with a cover on and directed to the bathroom ..... Shame on you elevation,” she wrote in the post.
Zilliken said she later tried to tell Elevation Church staff members and the volunteer about her concerns about being relocated. She claims the response she got from staff members wasn’t adequate.
“I told [the volunteer] it was wrong to pull me out of the Word of God to take me to a restroom,” Zilliken said. “Her response was just, ’Honey, my job as a volunteer is to provide comfort for everyone, not just you.”″
Cherish Rush, communications director for Elevation Church, told HuffPost in a statement that the church does not have a policy that nursing mothers can’t be in the sanctuary.
“A volunteer had a conversation and felt both parties arrived at the same conclusion to exit mutually. We are sorry that this in any way offended anyone. We welcome everyone and anyone to attend elevation church,” Rush said.
“We have several designated areas for nursing moms at Ballantyne specifically- one private to allow pumping and it’s close to the auditorium for convenience and the other in the actual baby area with a TV to allow mothers to still be part of the worship experience.”
Zilliken told HuffPost she didn’t want to feed her baby in those separate areas.
“If I didn’t want to be [in the main hall], I wouldn’t have been in the first place. I was in there because that’s what I wanted to do,” she said. “People don’t understand that it’s already hard to just go out in public and breastfeed because it’s such a controversial issue. You never know how people are going to respond. You get looks, it’s very demanding.”
“A nursing mother should never be approached at all. No one should have been paying attention to me, they should have been paying attention to the sermon. If I was bottle feeding, it wouldn’t have mattered,” she added.
After Zilliken posted about her experience on Facebook, she was contacted by Ariel Tauro, a breastfeeding activist and birth doula from New Jersey. The two are working together to organize the “Nurse-In” at Elevation on August 20.
Zilliken said that the moms who have volunteered to participate are a mix of people from out of state, locals, and mothers who regularly attend Elevation.
“I really just hope that it’s normalized. I hope people understand that we aren’t doing anything to get attention. It’s not for any other reason except for we know that this is what’s best for our children,” she said. “This is how we were designed to feed our children, not with artificial things. That’s how God intended our bodies to work and to be shunned out of a church for it is kind of awful.”