Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Why I let baby goat take communion.

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?


Bonnie@TheFragileXFiles said...

I had not thought about it. I guess I'm a rule-follower, and if my kids hadn't had the class, the church had decided they weren't old enough. But you're right, if why shouldn't he, if he wants to? Communion and community come from the same root word, and anyone who wishes to should partake.

Emma said...

We are totally on the same page on this one! Linnea communed around age one. I've always believed that "all are welcome at the table of the Lord."

The Curessa said...

Another point about "understanding." If we are to hold people back from Communion based on their lack of understanding, what about the developmentally disabled, who may never understand on an intellectual level what's going on (not that any of us *really* do), but they certainly do on a spiritual level? What about those with dementia? I think, as you described, we need to be careful about using "understanding" as a threshold.

Chris Duckworth said...

Of course, the Orthodox have a practice of communing the baptized immediately following the baptism. I don't know too much about that practice, and whether communing continues throughout infancy and childhood after that day or not ...

We communed our daughters after they showed continued interest in receiving the sacrament. They attended the class - which is based on interest and not age at my congregation, but which usually involves children in 3rd grade or higher. When they received their first Holy Communion, they were age 5 and age 3, I believe.

One family I'm working with that wants to commune their pre-school daughter has told her that she can attend the first communion class after she shows that she can participate in (and sit through) worship (having a church-appropriate toy or coloring book is fine in their book). I'm OK with that threshold.

Just as baptism requires some preparation and intentionality from the parents, godparents, and congregation - "Do you promise ...?" - so too, I think, does Holy Communion. What exactly that preparation and intentionality looks like, I'm not sure ...

Jamie said...

I've been meaning to blog about this very thing. Hopefully, I will still, but for now I enjoyed your post. We are ELCA Lutheran. I received my first communion after first communion classes in 5th grade. In contrast both my children have received communion when they have indicated a desire, when they have reached for it at the rail. For my first son, this was around 1 year of age. For my second son, it was probably around 1 1/2 years of age. In our congregation, we invite people to take the class when they are ready and there is no longer a set age.

It was interesting for us as my husband is a pastor. When we visited our current congregation in the call process for my husband to preach and preside over worship, my older son took communion. Some members asked questions. My husband answered. Later, after we accepted the call, one member confessed that he had called their old pastor to ask about this practice and my husband's response to why we do it. The old pastor confirmed it was theologically okay.

Our understanding of the sacrament of communion changes over time even as adults. I grow and learn in new ways. But, if we ever ask the question, do I know enough? Have I learned enough to be ok taking communion? That answer will always be no, because we are human sinners, and the sacraments do not rely on our knowledge or education. The sacraments are gifts from God. When children express a desire to receive those gifts as a part of the gathered community, I feel they should. It is then our responsibility as parents and as the community gathered to fulfill the commitment we make at baptism to continue to teach our children and walk with them as their understanding of what the gift of communion means.

Here's a recent blog post of what it's like to have my children in church on a Sunday, and it includes a description of them anxiously waiting to receive Jesus with a joy and anticipation we adults so easily forget to experience.

Songbird said...

Liz, I've featured your post at RevGalBlogPals' Wednesday Festival today. Thanks for raising such good questions.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

My son was the first younger child to commune in our church. He was 5 and very interested in communion and seems to have an "understanding" of it (beyond his years) that he came by just by being in church. A friend suggested that I ask the pastor about it; the pastor talked to my son, and said sure, but then the pastor called me back and said,
"What about your older daughter?" age 10 at the time. Well, she had not indicated any interest, so I was fine with my son receiving it first. That daughter is now a pastor, so I guess it didn't do her any harm.

Our church currently communes those children whose parents feel they are ready. And classes are for middle grade school age, but other ages are welcome.

Anne said...

Our church does the dreaded communion wafers (aka cardboard), and each time I go up for communion I take my son with me and break the wafer in half--he has half and I have half. I think it's a good start! I'm going to let him take communion whenever he is ready, if that's when he's 5...fine. If that's when he's 15...fine. I hope my church will be supportive of that. (I'm ELCA)

Heather said...

I'm not a parent, but I do appreciate children being able to take communion early. As Chris pointed out, the orthodox church communes infants, and that continues throughout childhood. I'm ELCA, and we say all who are baptized are invited to the table. We baptized babies; we don't believe they have to be old enough to understand the theology of baptism to receive the gift of grace behind the sacrament. Why would communion be any different?

Colleen said...

Liz, Thanks so much for raising these thoughts. I too, had not given it thought. Though an enthusiastic sinner, I am an avid rule follower (can to two co-exist?) and have always explained to the 4 year-old that he'll have it when he's older - and assumed that we'd go through the same rigamarole with the Twinstroms.

Your blog reminded me of a time that I was at a Catholic wedding (though raised ELCA, I come from a long line of Catholics, and the Mr. went to a Catholic University - so we have done a lot of Catholic weddings). As you probably know, in the Catholic church, marriage is a sacrament, so they commune at weddings. In most Catholic congregations, the "rule" is that you must be Catholic to take part in the bread and the wine. Usually we don't even approach the table out of respect, but at this particular wedding, a friend sitting nearby "kiddingly" said to us, "how does it feel to watch them prepare a meal that you can't have." Angered to the core, I said to her, "God loves me, I am a child of God." And with that, I got up and received the body and blood.

I am thinking of that as I am pondering why we have told our children to wait for their chance to receive the body and blood. They too are children of God. God loves them. Understanding starts with experiencing.

So beautifully written and thoughtfully put. Thanks for getting the wheels turning in this (very cold) Christian brain!

Jamie said...

@Colleen - that's been a challenging issue for us. My dad's family is Catholic. Therefore at family funerals and weddings, my 4 year old son is always quite distressed that he is not permitted to receive the Body and Blood of Christ with the rest of the family. It's a really tough, but powerful experience to try to explain that to him. But I love that he is so passionate about receiving the Sacrament.

Sara (fleetssara) said...

Thank you for sharing, Liz. I work with kids at a Catholic Church. I formerly taught at a Catholic High School.

Our faith begins at birth and should never stop growing. What communion is to us in 2nd grade, 5th grade or adulthood is different.

It was difficult at the Catholic high school to feel like students needed the Catholic ID card to receive. All students wre required to attend Mass at school, but only the Catholic kids were supposed to receive. It was a huge issue with parents.

Jesus welcomed all to the table. Period. End of Story. My pastor often says "If Jesus can get into it (the bread/host) he can get back out of it."

Why don't we allow people to receive and let God do the rest?

Marketing Mama said...

Very interesting Liz. I've never thought about it this way before. And I'm curious, has your Church said anything to you? Does the Pastor care? I'm particularly curious because of your role in the church and how they may feel that is a positive (or not) example for the other families. I'll check back for your response. :)

LutherLiz said...

Missy, I should chat with the Pastors directly about it. Many of them have differeing views but they don't really say anything up front.

The women Pastors are more likely to give him communion but the male ones don't tend to think about it. No one has said anything to me and he isn't the only younger kid to commune. Still it might be worth having the conversation!

Marketing Mama said...

Thanks Liz! I want to hear how that conversation goes. :)