Monday, September 16, 2013

In or out? – children and communion

by Kaila Pettigrove, Somervell Presbyterian Church, Auckland

My first understanding of communion was that it was something that I was not allowed to do.  It was a mysterious connection with God that I was not (yet) worthy of having.  Because my father had no church connection, I attended a Catholic church with my stepmother.  Her children had been through the classes, so they followed the line of people up to the priest to receive the “Host”.  My siblings and I remained obediently in our seats and waited patiently for that part of the service to be over.  I don’t remember feeling bad, it’s just how it was.  Communion was for the insiders and I was still a church outsider. 

Thanks to God’s grace, my children have grown up in the church. Two of my three children each went through a phase as a toddler where they would approach the podium after service and “preach” from the (thankfully unplugged) microphone.  My third child attended the church kindy and playgroup, so he was in the church building six days out of seven at one stage in his life. My children are definitely “insiders” at our church. 

But is communion about creating an inner circle of privileged few?  What is communion really about?  My purpose is not to explain the theological complexities of communion, but rather help us get our heads around a child’s understanding of communion.  One of the most common questions is:  At what point should children be allowed to participate in the sacrament of communion? 

Here’s my quick answer:  When they (and the parents) are ready.  What’s ready?  Well, were the disciples ready?  Did they have a complete and full understanding of what was happening at the Last Supper?  One need not be a scholar to assume they were in the dark about a lot of things.  Did they know they loved Jesus and wanted to follow Him?  Yes.  Did they understand the complete sacredness of the act?  Probably not.  Did it stop Jesus from including them?  No.

Don’t get me wrong.  I take communion very seriously.  I want my children to understand as much as they are able.   We serve an amazing God that wants to be part of us in such an intimate way.  I delight in the Mystery of the ordinary elements (bread and juice/wine) becoming a sacred bond with our Creator and Saviour.  We are called to do all we can to prepare ourselves for communion, and yet we will always fall short.  That is the beauty of the gospel.  God meets us where we are.  We rise to meet him, but He always covers the extra distance.  This is Grace.

Isn’t that the way with children?  Does God have a role in your child’s everyday life?  Does he/she feel comfortable praying not just memorized prayers, but also talking to God?  Does your child know and understand (to the best of his/her age and ability) that Jesus died for us so that we might be a part of God’s family now and forever?  If the answer is yes, I’d say they have the same tools the disciples had on that first communion. 

If we as parents want our children to participate in communion, we have a responsibility to model and explain to them what privilege and joy come with this sacrament.  Do we prepare ourselves for communion?  Do we strive to involve God in our everyday lives?  I don’t think there is a measuring stick that will tell us if we’re “tall enough” to queue up for this ride, but I do think we need to do our best to keep our lamps lit while we’re waiting.  (See Matthew 25 and Romans 12:2. )

How do we introduce communion to our children in a way that helps them appreciate the sanctity without freaking them out or scaring them?  

First of all, it should be a conversation that is held before the communion service. Have a family discussion about it to be sure your child understands how this tradition started and what it means.  It would be helpful to read together the passage about the first communion found in Matthew 26 or Mark 14.  Tell them what will happen during the service if they haven’t been present for communion before.  Even if they have, chances are they won’t always understand what happens when and why.  Take your time and answer any questions they have.  If you don’t know how to answer them, talk to your minister, pastor, or a respected friend.  Or better yet, look it up together in the Bible. 

During communion, whether your child has already taken communion or not, don’t be afraid to talk quietly with your child about what is happening each step of the way.

·        As you are waiting for the bread to come around, encourage your child to reflect on things that might be standing between them and God.  (God, please forgive me for knocking over little brother’s block structure when I was angry.)  This doesn’t need to be dwelt on.  It’s something between your child and God.  It doesn’t need your stamp of approval.

·        When the bread is passed to you, offer it to your child and say, “ Name, this is the body of Christ, given for you.”  Child answers with , “Amen.”  Help your child do the same for the person next to him/her. 

·        Hold the bread in your hands together and pray this simple prayer (or one like it), “Thank you, Jesus for dying for me.  It must’ve been hard for you.  Help me to love you and serve you and your people. Amen.”  Then, according to your church custom, take the bread at the proper time.

·        Do the same when the cup is passed, only using the phrase “blood of Christ” instead of body.  For the prayer, “Thank you God, that even though you died, you have come to life again and you live in me.  May your Spirit guide me every day.”

·        Drink the juice/wine according to your church custom. 

·        Because Communion is done as a group activity, there is often a good deal of waiting.  What a wonderful opportunity to reflect on and feel God’s presence.  While waiting, encourage your child to talk and/or listen to God.  Maintain a connection.  The actual words are not as important as the attitude of the heart.  Just fellowship with God. 

If our children understand anything about communion, it should be that it’s about God choosing us as His precious children and wanting us to be a part of Him.  Through the Mystery of the sacrament, the bread and the cup help us to experience God with us.  Children are often better at accepting mystery than we are.  We are imperfect, but we grow more like God the more time we spend with Him.  Communion is one of the ways we do that, through God’s grace.
Kaila with her family at Hobbiton.  Kaila is the children and families minister at Somervell Presbyterian.


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