One of the things I most enjoy about pastoring is leading the congregation to the Lord’s Table. Holy Communion is a vital part of the Christian life, given to us as spiritual food for the journey. Ideally, I’d like to celebrate Holy Communion weekly in at least one worship service.
From time to time people ask me about children’s participation in the sacramental life of the church. Should children receive communion? If so, when?
There are a variety of ways to answer this question. Some presbyterians do not allow children to receive the sacrament until they are in 9th grade and meet with the Session for confirmation. This is related to Paul’s warning to the Corinthians in 2 Cor. 11–those receiving must be able, they suggest, to examine themselves. Others insist that children be admitted to the Table from their infancy since they are children of the covenant and heirs of the promises of the covenant. Our congregation has chosen–as a general rubric–that kids ordinarily begin receiving Holy Communion in second grade after our Bible brunch and communion lesson.
So, what’s the right answer? What we (that is, the Gissings) have chosen to do is wait until the kids ask to receive communion. If they never did, we would likely have waited till 2nd grade. Nathan, however, asked to begin receiving communion when he was six. We spent several times talking to him about the meaning and mode of Holy Communion so that he was able to explain why he wanted to receive it and something of the meaning of the sacrament. Eliza, who is five, recently asked and we’re in the process of working with her to prepare her to receive it.
In choosing this course, we have kept in mind several principles:
- Holy Communion is serious, but not somber. Tellingly, we celebrate the Eucharist. It is an encounter with the living Christ where we feed on him in our hearts by faith. As such it is both serious, but a joyful thing.
- 2 Corinthians 11 may not be entirely normative. Some conservative Presbyterians (mis)read 2 Corinthians 11 to make it seem that God is waiting to smite those who do not worthily receive the body and blood of Christ. Paul warns that there is a wrong way to receive communion. Generally, however, I think most of the improper ways of receiving communion apply to adults more than to children who typically come to meet Jesus.
- Children should be instructed, but not intimidated. We explained to Nathan and Eliza what Communion means and why it’s important. We did our best to emphasize that it’s an important rite, but not something they should be scared of.
- Honor your congregation’s structure and practices. As important as it if for your child to receive the sacrament, it’s also important to honor the decisions and practices of your church body.
- Err in the direction of grace. With children, it’s safe to err in the direction of grace. In other words, it seems to me that God will not turn a little one away who comes to him in the simple, innocent manner of a child.
What do you think?