I asked folks the other day when they took first communion as a child or when their children did. The responses ranged from parents discretion, 2nd grade (most Catholics), 5th grade (many Lutherans), and even 8th grade or later. Most people had to take classes before their first communion ranging from one or two to a whole year of education.
Now as a Children's educator I am a big believer in Christian education. I think we should teach our children about Communion and why it is important. We should teach the specifics that our demonations understanding of transformating power that takes place at the Table. It is vitally important to know something about why Communion is sacramental, to know the story of the Last Supper, and to bring a sense of reverence and awe to this community experience.
Education is one of the ways to make this happen and we should take the time to teach our children the importance of our Christian story and tradition, including Communion.
But, I still let my 23 month old take communion.
It started several months ago. We do have a 1st Communion class offered each spring for 3rd-5th graders but our Pastors are open to children communing when parents and children seem ready and so the first time that baby goat reached for the bread I simply nodded my assent. Truthfully I was thinking more about stopping a tantrum rather than analyzing his readiness.
Afterwards I thought about it and wondered what I did think about baby goat recieving communion (bread only, not wine). After a lot of debate I realized several things.
1. Baby goat knew that something special was going on and he wanted to be a part of it. I'm convinced that his interest was about more than food, especially since he'd just snacked on a big old cup of cheerios.
2. If Communion has an aspect of rememberance for us - to remember Christ and his death on the cross forgiving our sins, then having baby goat growing up remembering that he is a welcome member of the congregation is a good first step to an understanding of Communion.
3. My own understanding and education about the meaning of Communion continues to grow and focus as I get older. I've had a Seminary education and cannot say that I understand fully all that happens at the table. Why should I think that a one time class with 5th graders will teach them all there is to know about what Communion is and why it is important. Can you say you grasp the mysteries there? If it is a life-long education why not begin as early as possible and have his understanding grow with him.
And so baby goat has taken communion ever since. That is he does when he shows interest. We don't force it and sometimes he doesn't seem to care one way or the other. But if he reaches for it I give a nod of assent and smile to see my son take the bread and eat it. And I look forward to teaching him more about Communion as he gets older too.
Would you let your child commune early or do you want to stay within a specific age guide for your own congregation?