Six reasons I share Communion with kids

wine and breadCommunion is one of my favorite things about worship.  It is a ritual ripe with meaning and power.  People ask me sometimes about Communion and children.  I have been giving my daughters Communion since they could take solid food.  Some wonder if their kids are allowed to take Communion, so I offer this as my answer.  As far as I’m concerned, children are always welcome at the table, but I also respect the wishes of the parents.  If there is a new family coming forward, and they have a little one, I always say something like, “Your child is welcome to partake, if you are okay with it. If not, I’d be happy to give her a blessing.”   In that moment, it is difficult to go into all the details of why I invite that child to share in the bread and the cup.  So now I give you these reasons why any child (or any other person for that matter) will always be welcome to Communion at a table over which I preside.

  1. Communion is a means of Grace.  I believe that Communion is a powerful act.  I believe that God is present in the bread and the cup.  In that holy moment of eating and drinking, one can feel the presence of God.  This is at the foundation of my Communion theology, and everything follows from this precept.  God meets people in Communion, so why would I do anything to get in the way of that meeting?
  2. It’s not my table.  One of my favorite things to say during the course of any service is, “This is not my table.  This is not a Methodist table.  This is Christ’s table, and all are welcome.  Come, for all is ready.”  If it is Christ’s table, who am I to guess his guest list?  If Christ wants to meet someone at his table, that’s his call, not mine.  Jesus told a story about inviting guests to a banquet, and one of the most important lessons of that story is that we don’t make the guest list.
  3. There’s no kiddie table.  I’ve always thought of Communion as the family meal, and there’s no kiddie table.  If we consider kids to be a part of the family of God, why would we exclude them from the family meal?  Even at family gatherings where there is a special table for the kids, we always bring food to them too.
  4. No one fully understands what’s going on at this table.  People say to me, “We don’t bring our kids until they know what’s going on.”   My first reaction is to ask that person to explain to me their theology of atonement to make sure that they understand.  No it’s not.  That would be stupid.  We don’t have to pass some comprehension test to be invited to Christ’s table.  My actual first reaction is, “I’m not sure I fully understand what’s going on.”  Yes, I can write about the incarnation.  I can tell you what a Sacrament with a capital S is.  I can tell you about forgiveness, the body of Christ, and sacrifice, but I don’t think I can tell you with any real certainty what happens in Communion.  I believe God is present in the bread and the cup, but there is an element of mystery in the act that is unknowable.  That doesn’t mean we let kids think it’s snack time.  We teach them as we go.  Kids understand the difference between play time and serious time.  They know when something is important, if we tell them that it is.  When I hand a child a piece of bread and a cup of grape juice, I don’t say “this is the body and blood of Christ.”  I tell them, “Jesus wants you to have this so you remember how much God loves you.”  That’s all they need to know.  Sometimes that’s all any of us need to know.
  5. Children might not understand what’s going on, but they have a sharp understanding of what it means to be left out.  That is a feeling I want no child to feel in any church I am called pastor.
  6. Children are a vital part of the Body of Christ right now, as they are, not for what they might become.  I’ve heard many people say that “Children are the future of the church.”  I understand the sentiment, but I vehemently disagree.  Children are the right now of the church.  They are the church just as much as anyone else.  If we only value children for what they might become, or who they might bring with them (get the kids, and the parents follow), then we are not valuing children.  I want to be a pastor of a church that values real kids, not just the idea of kids.  I want a church that loves kids who are loud at the wrong time, who don’t sit still, who make messes when they eat, and ask rude questions sometimes.  Does this mean we don’t provide guidance, or boundaries, or expect good behavior?  Of course not.  It means that we love them as they are, and try to model for them behavior that is life-giving.  We don’t chastise or shame them.  We embrace them for all of their kid-ness.  Children are a vital part of the body of Christ, and I do not believe in treating them as anything less.

So there you have it.  These are six of the reasons why I share Communion with kids in worship.  I always leave the final decision up to the parent, but hopefully all the parents at my church know that when they come, all are welcome.

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27 responses to “Six reasons I share Communion with kids

  1. Bill

    First, let me say I agree with you in general. Good post. However, if your intention is to “teach as we go,” why don’t you say, “this is the body and blood of Christ,” to children? Isn’t that all they/we need to really know and begin to understand (re 1 Cor 11:29)? Why not introduce them to that idea? Why obfuscate it into some generalized statement about God’s love?

  2. I am okay with introducing them to the idea, but I don’t think that the moment at the railing is the best time to do it. There is no chance for discussion, questions, or feedback.

  3. One of the most cherished memories of being a children’s minister I have so far is serving communion to a 7-8 year-old. As she dipped the bread in the juice and put it in her mouth, some juice ran down her arm. Being uninhibited as kids are, she licked it off, as though she wanted to get as much of Jesus as possible. It was a beautiful sight. God met me in that moment, just as He met her.

  4. I wholeheartedly agree with you. The church I went to as a teenager refused communion to children but then handed out chunks of leftover bread to them afterwards. The result was children paid no attention to what was happening, viewing the bread as nothing more than their snacktime for later. The church I went to at university didn’t allow children to be in church at all for communion except once a year when the Sunday school would file back in to sit apart from their families in the front pew and watch the adults partake. As a result they had little comprehension of communion other than that they weren’t welcome to share it. My parents would always share their own communion bread with us, even when we were too young to go up to the rail ourselves. It made us feel welcome as part of the church family and we learned through them what communion means and just how special and important it is. I would always serve children if their parents agreed.

  5. Cody Chumbley

    While I understand your thinking in this, I will share where I am coming from. My children love the idea of driving some day, so I allow them to sit behind the wheel with me in the driveway and teach them about what different parts do. I let them hold the steering wheel, honk the horn, turn on the wiper blades etc. etc. but they don’t drive yet. I want them to value the power they will once be allowed to be a part of. Do I fully understand whats going on with every portion of the car as I am driving it? No. Do I have enough of an understanding to respect what is going on and if I abuse this relationship the results from it? Yes.

    When we take communion, I allow my kids to hold the plates in which the communion rests in. I ask them what they believe this beautiful meal represents and try to fill in the gaps in places that I know about. Do I believe there is a perfect age in which they are now ready? No. I don’t believe that about marriage either. There is no magic number. There is however an understanding of what I am committing to participate in in this relationship. I don’t fully understand it in my own marriage relationship sometimes but before I participated in this covenant relationship, I need to value the powerful beauty of God’s love at work.

    That being said, I do not believe there is anything wrong with serving my children communion. I just want to ease my children in to this table the way we did with them transitioning from baby foods to solid foods. I only do this so they can value whats coming for them. I think Jesus does the same for me. He gives me a taste of whats to come but oh how much bigger and better it will be. Anticipation is not a bad thing.

  6. I appreciate your comment, and your thoughtfulness. I invite everyone to enter into that sort of conversation with what is going on at Communion. Thanks so much, I’m guessing you’re raising very thoughtful kids, and avoiding many of the pitfalls I wrote about.

  7. Pingback: Six reasons I share Communion with children | The Big Night Out

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  9. Agree wholeheartedly that children should partake and none of us understands what is going on.

  10. Good thoughts. In the Disciples of Christ congregations I have served, I believe our primary understanding of communion is as an enactment of Jesus’ practice of radically open table-sharing. With that in mind, all people of all ages and levels of belief (or not belief at all) are welcome at the table. When it comes to children in particular, we leave it up to parents to decide what they think is best for the own kids, but they understand that the table is open to all.

  11. Thanks for your thoughts Brian. I hope everyone who reads these comments goes to your site

  12. Patricia

    ” I want to be a pastor of a church that values real kids, not just the idea of kids. I want a church that loves kids who are loud at the wrong time, who don’t sit still, who make messes when they eat, and ask rude questions sometimes. Does this mean we don’t provide guidance, or boundaries, or expect good behavior? Of course not. It means that we love them as they are, and try to model for them behavior that is life-giving. We don’t chastise or shame them. We embrace them for all of their kid-ness. ”
    You. Are. Awesome.🙂 Oh how i wish all churches treated children this way!

  13. Mstrawsma@

    Solid reasoning

  14. Mateawsma

    Talk it through with your own kids and feed them.

  15. RevBex

    As pastors, my husband and I have always offered communion to our church’s children, and they make partake or be blessed, however they and their parents wish. When we attended another church with some family, there was an invitation to communion – for adults (and older teens) only. This was communicated in some kind and nonthreatening way, but later my 7 year old daughter was in tears – But I’m a Christian (she said believer, our word) too! And this is the way that all Christians remember Jesus! We had emphasized that even though this church was different than ours, we’re all part of the same body, and she felt keenly that she was, suddenly, not. She wasn’t gunning for snacktime, she was participating in an act that she felt helped her remember Christ’s sacrifice (for her, his love and care) and unite her to His body (reinforce her belonging to the group of believers that make Christ’s sacrifice their central tenant and pattern their lives after the same ). This seems to be roughly the level of understanding that we could expect from a new adult believer taking communion, and as you say we rarely stop them for a theological exam.

  16. I love the spirit of inclusiveness exhibited in this post and in your theology. Thank you for writing.

  17. Some of my most holy moments have come while sharing Communion with my children. This past Christmas Eve, one of our pastors knelt down and told my four year old how much Jesus loves her. Carly smiles, ate her juice soaked bread, and said, “Amen!” Don’t tell me she doesn’t get it! She gets that God loves her and the Church loves her. Isn’t that the foundation? We can teach her the great Mysteries of the Faith as she gets older, but what does it all really mean without the foundation?

  18. Debra Witherspoon

    I’ve so enjoy reading about kids and communion i’d like to learn more.thanks for the lecture.

  19. Ellen Williams

    I am in100 percent agreement with you. Very well said.We are in the now, the present. We should train and teach like there is no tomorrow. Who said that tomorrow is promised to me or my child. The earlier we get this into them the better we and the children will be.

  20. Kris Porter

    Shall I share what my four year old said after taking communion this past Sunday?
    Me: what did we do in church today?
    My son: we had bread and kid wine!
    Me: why did we do that?
    My son: well, let me tell you a story…on a dark dark night in the garden Jesus was with his friends, but soldiers came and gave him to the Romans. They crucified him and he died. His friends were sad. On the third day all the Marys’ went to visit his tomb and BOOM an angel rolled away the stone. He told them that Jesus was not there…(whispering)…he was alive! Then Mary Magdalene (or maybe the “other” Mary) met Jesus. He said do not be afraid, but it was to late! She already was afraid! But then she realized that it was her friend Jesus, and she hugged him so tight she never wanted to let him go! He said Mary! You have to let me go and tell all my other friends I am alive! And you know what Mama, she did! And you know what else? I think Jesus made himself disappear with his God powers so the angel didn’t have to move the stone twice. And then Jesus became KING GOD!

    =) Thanks for the good read.

  21. John

    I Cor. 11:27-34 lays a pretty heavy warning to us about partaking of communion. I’ve seen a service dedicated to teaching children about this act of worship (kids on stage with the pastor with the adults “listening” and probably learning also!). That setting was appropriate. But as a general rule of thumb, I would limit it to individuals who have a sufficient level of spiritual maturity to participate with understanding. While the parents are usually best equipped to know that in their own child, in today’s society it may fall to the church leadership to set arbitrary limits. But the warnings about improperly partaking are too great to simply open it up. I believe the car driving analogy is appropriate.

  22. Reblogged this on Grace and Peace and commented:
    Communion is one of my favorite things about worship. It is a ritual ripe with meaning and power. People ask me sometimes about Communion and children. I have been giving my daughters Communion since they could take solid food. Some wonder if their kids are allowed to take Communion, so I offer this as my answer. As far as I’m concerned, children are always welcome at the table.

  23. Jan

    My 5 year old granddaughter received communion and when we got home, while eating lunch she asked, “Grandma, is Jesus’ blood still inside me?” I said yes, and then in good Lutheran fashion asked “What does that mean?” Without a beat, she replied, “If my little brother gets hurt, and I give him a hug, it’s like Jesus giving him a hug!” And they say children don’t understand!

  24. Pingback: This Week’s Links « Timothy Siburg

  25. Candace

    I was in a communion service one time in a Baptist church where the boy behind me wanted to take communion and his grandmother wouldn’t let him until he became a member (which meant being baptized by immersion after making a public profession of faith), although the church as a whole would have allowed it and encouraged it because it is a church that practices open table communion. Sorry, but baptism has nothing to do with it. Neither does confirmation or confession to a priest or any other sacrament or rite of initiation. A public profession of faith does precede communion, and both communion and profession of faith knows no age limits or any other requirements to it. It made me think of my own upbringing in a church where, at the time, I wasn’t allowed to take communion until my confirmation. The rules have now changed in the denomination I grew up in and it allows kids to take it before baptism or confirmation as long as they are (or even if they are just starting to) understand what it is about and do believe in Jesus as their savior. None of us may completely understand communion, but we are to become like little children to enter God’s kingdom. Grateful my current congregation allows it, too, as do many churches do who have open communion. I wanted to turn around in my seat and tell the grandmother how horrible she sounded and that she could potentially turn off her grandson for good from church for such silly “requirements” on her part that didn’t even exist in that particular church.

  26. Grinnerman

    You know those images that you’ve got that you know will stay with you till your last breath? Well one of mine is kneeling at the rail about 15 years ago, my young children either side of me, and looking along at the children and adults together receiving communion. It was the first time it had happened in that church – I think the first time anywhere in our Diocese – and I know that God blessed that shared meal.

    The experience of rejection and exclusion can be utterly devastating, and it’s felt by God, too.

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