Children and Communion 2

Assistant Rector's House, March 1998

In February’s magazine, the Rector wrote about the possibility of admitting children to Communion before they are confirmed. Later in this magazine, Lina Morgan and Peter Hoare relate how they personally have reflected on the question and come to a changed viewpoint. You may feel you are being deluged with more information that you ever wanted to know on this subject! Do bear with us and seriously read it all. This is a very important matter and one which needs to be considered by the whole congregation before any decisions are made.

I come to this question with a very different childhood experience to that of Leslie, Lina and Peter, and to that of most of you who are reading these words, for my own early experience is of inclusion in the Eucharist. Born into a Roman Catholic family, as is the custom in that church I received my first Holy Communion at the age of 6. I still remember vividly the wonder and specialness of that day, the feeling that Jesus was specially here with me as never before, and the feeling of now properly belonging to and being supported by a loving church community.

From that day to this I have regularly received Holy Communion and know it as the heart of my Christian life. My theological understanding has increased (though the more one knows, the more one is aware of the greater mystery of the unknown). But I cannot really better my 6 year old instincts - in Communion as we personally receive the bread and wine we have our most intimate and true encounter with God, and as we share the food among us we know we belong to one family, are an essential part of Christ’s body.

I have not then needed to be convinced of the theory - for me the communion of children is no theory but experienced reality. As we consider the possibility of children at St. Peter’s receiving communion before they are confirmed, my concerns are the very practical ones of how we might go about implementing such a policy, very different to our present practice.

The Bishops have given some clear guidelines to parishes who wish to admit any young child to communion. Essential requirements are:

  • that the child must be baptised and regularly attend church
  • that the child should clearly wish to receive Communion
  • that there must be parental or other strong adult support
  • that there must be some preparation before admission to Communion.

We would be concerned that St Peter’s follow all of these. Clergy would consult with parents and children about appropriate age and readiness - ‘about 7’ is in our thoughts, but chronological age cannot be the only factor.

In regard to preparation there are many excellent courses available for children aged 7+. One from within this diocese, supported by Bishop Patrick - Children and Holy Communion by Steve Pearce and Diana Murrie - is available to borrow from Leslie or myself. These are not the same as Confirmation courses. They concentrate on belonging rather than discipleship. They emphasise that we all belong to God’s family by our Baptism, that we celebrate in thanksgiving as we share a family meal, and in that meal remember what Jesus did at his last supper, just before he died on the cross.

So careful discernment and appropriate preparation would be important, but just as necessary would be to ensure that the Communion service is welcoming and nurturing of the children. Words like ‘belonging’ and ‘thanksgiving’ would make little sense if the children who were to communicate barely mixed with the other worshippers and missed the Eucharistic Prayer. Much thought and consultation would be needed in this area, but it could be that the children left church for their own teaching in Sunday School during the first hymn and returned at The Peace, to stay for the Eucharistic Prayer and sharing of bread and wine. The warmth of the congregation’s welcome to them at The Peace, and the attentive mood of the adults at the Blessing of the bread and wine, would convey to the children the importance of the occasion and help them value their own part in it all.

There would be no intrinsic need to change any part of our liturgy. Three or four times a year we now have a ‘special’ Eucharist, at which the children and young people take part in the whole service. We would hope to retain this as particularly addressing their needs, but it is important also that they feel part of and come to love the regular liturgy which is the integral life of St Peter’s.

For most people I know these are very unfamiliar and new ideas - try to be open to what is being said. ‘Children won’t understand’ is a common response - in some ways they won’t, but who does understand the great mystery of the Sacrament? And they can surprise us and teach us. One child asked ‘What do you think about going to Holy Communion?’ responded ‘Going up to the altar is like going with Jesus as he carried his cross, afterwards is like coming back from his empty tomb in the garden.’

We must not underestimate the sense of the spiritual in children. Nor must we ignore their needs. To quote from "Children and Holy Communion":

Communion is not essentially an adult activity, rather an open-handed, trusting acceptance of grace. No child is free from the stresses of living in the world, and participation in Holy Communion can help them cope too.

Eileen McLean
St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 4th March 1998