There was wisdom to this approach. Taking our first communion at a special service after lengthy preparation helped us come to the sacrament with reverence. By having first communion as the endpoint of a class we could focus on the biblical stories, prayers and teachings that help make it meaningful. And for those of us who were older, we could begin to wrestle with the questions related to communion that theologians have asked for centuries: what does it mean that Christ died for us? How exactly is Christ with us in the Lord’s Supper?
But there were also problems with that practice. There was the danger of believing communion was something we “earned” after graduating from class. Those of us who took communion at thirteen had no time to let the sacrament shape and nurture us before the siren songs of adolescent rebellion and the freedom to sleep in (since confirmation meant we were adult members who could decide not to go to church) drew us away from Sunday worship. And it could lead to the misunderstanding that communion was not really “effective” until one could explain Christ’s atonement or presence in the bread and the wine. For these and other reasons, over the past 40 years most Protestant churches who baptize infants have begun welcoming even young children to the table.
I admit to having been skeptical of childhood communion, however, until my first year out of seminary. I was sitting with Sarah, age five, in the first row. Sarah had not been attending church long, and as the bread and wine was passed down the aisle she turned and watched intently over the back of the pew. She then whispered to me, in an awed voice, “Everybody gets some.” Sarah was years away from being able to explain the Lord’s Supper but she understood one central truth: everyone gets fed. Of every race and clan, the stuffed and the hungry, Harvard graduates and the developmentally delayed, gay and straight, men and women, the homeless and the rich, grown-ups and children —Christ’s grace comes to all.
Not every five or even seven year old is ready for communion. Some show no interest and are best left to draw on the pew cards snuggled next to their parents, or to receive a blessing by coming forward. But for those who are, we’re called to welcome and prepare them: by bringing them to worship, teaching them stories of Jesus, answering questions, praying for and with them. This fall, by decision of the Session, Summit will begin a more intentional invitation of children to the table. We’ll prepare them (and us) through children’s sermons and Sunday School, books and discussions with families. Children will stay in worship so they may watch and learn, be with us in community, and – when parents feel they’re ready – partake of bread and wine. And we will all be fed.
Grace and Peace,