Children and Communion 3
Lina Morgan - Churchwarden
Because of my typical Anglican upbringing, I have been accustomed to the practice of restricting communion to those who have been confirmed, the age for confirmation being mid teens. Like most people, I never questioned this practice as I had been conditioned into accepting this as the norm.
On 23rd March 1996 I attended a Diocesan study day on The Eucharist. One of the workshops addressed the debate about children receiving communion before confirmation. Interested to find out what other peoples views were, I went in with the idea that children should wait until they fully understood what communion was all about. It came as a big surprise to me when the majority of the people in the group spoke strongly in favour of children receiving communion before confirmation. "What is wrong with these people?" I thought. "Have they forgotten that confirmation is the door that leads to communion?" In spite of the lively debate, during which a strong argument was put forward in favour, I went away still clutching on to my view that this was unacceptable. I was left rather confused and felt that the issue needed exploring. The points raised during the debate, and the enthusiasm with which it was discussed, gave me plenty of food for thought. I reported back to the PCC, still unconvinced that this was the right way forward. This has been on the PCCs agenda ever since, creating a climate for members to explore it as fully as possible.
As one of the delegates from St Peters who attended a Diocesan meeting on the subject on 30th November 1996 in Southwell, I had another opportunity to engage in further debate on the matter. Bishop Patricks introduction was very enlightening, giving a clear overview of the subject. While he was in favour of children receiving communion on the basis of their baptism, and had given permission to some parishes to pioneer a pattern to prepare children for this, he did not want to influence individuals or parishes in any way. He urged parishes to embark on this only if they felt it was appropriate for them to do so. I was surprised to learn that this debate had been ongoing for many years, and was assured that this was not someones new idea to fit in with modern fad. Theological and pastoral issues were addressed and the group discussion that followed made me start to question my objections.
The more I thought about it the more I realised that my objections were groundless, as I could not come up with any tangible reasons to justify my negative feelings. It made me realise how much we absorb and accept tradition without question. This has been a growing process for me, which has made me appraise my personal preparation for confirmation, and I now appreciate the need to separate receiving communion from confirmation. I have moved from a position of anti children receiving communion before confirmation to my present enlightened position, because I have had plenty of opportunity to discuss it and, more importantly, because I dared to confront and challenge my views. I cannot justify excluding children from such an important part of our Christian family life when they have every right to share this meal by virtue of their baptism.
Peter Hoare - PCC Vice-Chairman
I went to the discussion session at Southwell last year in a distinctly sceptical frame of mind. Of course Communion followed Confirmation - it has always been so, all my early Church experience had said so. The Prayer Book - and probably the Thirty-Nine Articles - demanded it. Holy Communion was something personal, quite separate from the congregational worship of Matins and Evensong I grew up with - though I had become more aware, over my years at St Peters, of a different dimension when the Eucharist was the main Sunday service and "everyone" was expected to participate.
In fact, I had sometimes been uncomfortable at having to explain to visitors who were not regular church-goers why they ought not to take Communion unless they had been confirmed - was it simply a legal requirement, though it seemed to counter to the invitation "Draw near with faith"? Did this main public service have at its core something that was only for insiders, for those who had undergone some examination or initiation rite as young adults? What did that say about spreading the Gospel? But that was what I had grown up to believe sincerely.
The discussions at Southwell were a surprise. I learnt that the practice was relatively recent, though in the Church of England it had become the norm in the 19th century - and many other traditions existed which, logically, had just as much validity. The Orthodox position - of admitting babes in arms to Communion after Baptism - struck me as particularly interesting. The significance of Baptism as the main "introductory" sacrament became clearer, and with it came a host of other questions - about the participation of strangers, of those with learning difficulties, of children. I found myself wondering more and more, and was persuaded both by the historical and geographical parallels, and by the logic of "the whole community of the Church".
I already knew that in earlier centuries in England there had been only occasional celebrations of Holy Communion (which had therefore come to be seen as a special occasion), but also far fewer opportunities for Confirmation because of the huge size of most dioceses, most with only a single bishop to confirm people. I had not, however, really thought this through and considered how it had affected the practices of the Church of England. Then I found, in "Tom Browns Schooldays" of all things, a little story which also opened my eyes. One of Toms young friends at the strongly Evangelical Rugby School was deeply saddened by not being able to share in Holy Communion because he had not been confirmed and there was no immediate prospect of confirmation. Tom asked the headmaster - of course a clergyman - and was told that it was permissible if there was a real desire (and intention to go on to confirmation, admittedly). If the strict Revd. Dr Arnold could encompass this, why couldnt I?
Further discussion at home, with the working party set up by the PCC, and in the PCC itself, made me more and more convinced that we should not deny our children the opportunity to participate in the Lords Supper. There would be many practical details to sort out, but these were details, not matters of principle. Some preparation for the children would obviously be desirable, but that need not stand in the way of the principle. On the main point, I had become convinced - and I must say that I was surprised to find myself acting as an advocate for this change. The reasons were partly logical and historical, but I think one must also consider the working of the Holy Spirit - which does not mean that my new position does not have to be explained and defended!