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, 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.