Last week some church planters were gathered together in the hospitality house of a New York monastery. The conversation, like the people gathered, was lively and stimulating. Most participants arrived knowing each other only tangentially. We were only beginning to get acquainted. Even so, joyful banter and word play bounced gracefully from one subject to another. And then the dialog turned to communion.
One missional leader, in her 50’s, remembered that as a child she looked longingly at communion. Growing up, her church celebrated communion only four Sundays each year. Each occasion was full of sober formality and serious reflection. The Sunday before communion was celebrated, her pastor read a form of preparation outlining steps to be taken that week so each congregant could ready themselves. Even so, she said, that as a child she deeply wanted to participate. She longed to be fully on the “inside,” to join her parents and uncles and aunts and family friends who when the pastor invited, “take and eat” could actually “take and eat.” In fact, she said, she created her own path to participation. At the exact moment, the adults in her congregation ate the communion bread, she popped a white peppermint into her mouth. When they were bidden, “take and drink,” she popped a pink peppermint in her mouth. She believed in Jesus. She trusted Jesus. She loved and belonged to his family. So she deeply wanted to follow his instructions “Do this in remembrance of me.”
As she finished her story another missional leader, in his mid-thirties told his. He grew up twenty years later and almost 2000 miles away from our communing by peppermint friend. But without skipping a beat he told how he regularly brought Mentos to church each week to keep his ADD self from squirming or sleeping. But communion services were special. He too designed his own participation path. He saved a white Mentos to eat the exact moment adults in his church received the bread. And he ate a pink Mentos when adults drank the cup. He reflected, “As a kid we weren’t allowed to participate. But I wanted to. So, I found a way.”
Those stories, of course, beg the question. Why not allow children to fully participate in communion?
Our network of churches, the Christian Reformed Church, spent several years studying this very question. As is our style, the wider church formed a team of accomplished biblical and educational experts who spent five years searching the bible and the best of church history for guidance. This wasn’t just a “study committee” whose goal would be to write a thoughtful position paper on this subject. No, in a burst of pastoral wisdom this team asked for input and participation along the way—they listened carefully to local churches and heard how their varied contexts affected each congregation and its communion practices. At the end of their study and conversation, they heartily recommended children participate fully in communion. That was ten years ago. Now Granite Springs is joining in.
The thinking goes like this: since we invite people of all ages–even the very youngest among us–to receive baptism as a sign of God’s never ending grace-filled love for them, why not also let people of all ages–even the youngest among us–also receive communion as a sign of God’s never ending grace-filled love for them? After all, if communion (also called eucharist or the Lord’s Supper) is spiritual food for our soul, don’t kindergarteners and pre-adolescents need that as much as any adult? To put it another way, we celebrate baptism as a covenant promise. In it we receive God’s love and grace. So why not celebrate communion as another covenant promise, in which we (weekly) receive God’s love and grace?
So, starting June 23, the grade schoolers will join us each week for communion. They will still leave the main sanctuary to get age-appropriate teaching in their classrooms. But then they’ll re-join their families as we come forward for communion as an entire church. This will take a few logistical tweaks, and we want to thank our stellar children’s ministry team for their help in making this as seamless a transition as possible. But the big hope is that children will become, even at their age, grace connoisseurs.
One wise Granite Springs eight-year-old, on hearing that he and his friends would participate in communion each week told his mom, “It’s great to be part of communion at a few special services (Good Friday and New Year), but I’m excited to receive communion every week. It will be really special.”
We could give him Mentos, or peppermints, but why not help him on this way to becoming a thoughtful, grace-full person of faith?