We moved almost halfway across the country this past November, so my family has been dealing with a lot of changes lately. Despite my husband’s severe dislike of change, we all seem to be adjusting really well. In fact, the only hurdle I’ve come across so far that I’m in a quandary about is the fact that my 3 year old son takes Communion. This is the last thing I anticipated being an issue. Here is why my son takes communion…because he wants to! He really, really wants to. When he was younger and it was time for Communion, he would get giddy in the pew and even start clapping. How many people in your pews get that excited about it? It started when he was 17 months old. You see, I would always carry him up for communion to receive a blessing from the pastor and one day he stuck his hand out for bread. The pastor looked at me and I nodded my okay. This wasn’t planned, there were no classes he went through, he and I weren’t instructed in any way on when/how to do this, it just happened, and I’m sure his 14 month old sister will soon be following his footsteps. The practice in that faith community is intinction (you are handed a chunk of bread and then you dip it in the common cup of wine/grape juice). Several months after his first taste, he started wanting to dip in the grape juice, so we let him (with a little help at first, of course). This was not rocket science. He felt moved (by the Holy Spirit!) to receive what everyone around him had received and we walked with him as he experienced it and learned the ritual.
Since our move, we have worshiped with three different congregations. At all three we have gone up for Communion, and at all three I have had to nod my okay, whisper ‘really, it’s fine, he can have it,’ and leave with a slightly broken heart. Yesterday was the most heartbreaking. This particular congregation goes up and kneels at the rail along the altar, receives the bread and then the wine/grape juice is given in individual little cups. The pastor gave him the wafer (many congregations use small wafers in lieu of actual bread), but the lay assistant would not give him the cup. I even whispered, ‘He can have the juice,’ but the assistant looked at me and said ‘No.’ Sigh. My son then said (out loud, of course), ‘Why didn’t he give me one?’ I just whispered to him that it was okay, he just didn’t know to, but inside I felt my son’s disappointment. I understand that congregations have rules about what age children ‘should’ receive the Lord’s Supper (i.e. Communion), and I respect the fact that lay people are inclined to follow these rules because they just don’t feel they can make decisions on the spot outside of those rules. I get it, I really do. I also get that I need to be more proactive and have a one on one with the pastor(s) explaining why my son receives Communion. Honestly, I didn’t even anticipate needing to do this.
I understand that congregations want people/children/kids to be able to understand what’s so special about the Lord’s Supper and be familiar with the ritual before they receive it. Keep in mind, these are often the same congregations that are okay with the parents deciding for the children when it comes to the other sacrament, Baptism! Theologically speaking, the reason a sacrament is a sacrament is because God is active in it, not us. God understands our need for it, even if we do not. God blesses us even if we do not know what a blessing is. God is in charge, God is active, God is present. If we want parents to be more involved in their kids’ faith journeys, then maybe we need to give their kids’ faith journey back to them. As pastors/congregations, let’s help guide the process rather than dictate the process. I only have two children, both are still very young, but one thing I’ve learned this far into the journey of parenthood is that kids are VERY unique and they develop at their own pace. Let’s walk alongside families and encourage, empower, honor, bless, and accompany them.
I feel fortunate that I am comfortable dealing with this issue and sticking up for my child’s desire to take Communion at his young age. If I were not an ordained pastor myself, or hadn’t worked in a church, I might feel inclined to back down thinking that we need to go with the flow of the new congregation. That’s not the case, however, and I encourage anyone else out there to stick up for your children at church as well. Here is why I feel so strongly about this. On September 17th, when my son was barely 3 years old this happened (I copied it from my facebook page):
“At lunch today, Cedric was sharing his leftover (cold) blueberry pancake with me. He tore off a chunk and whispered something as he handed it to me. I asked him what he whispered and he said quietly, “The body of Christ.” I replied, “Amen!”
Receiving communion from my 3 year old…..Priceless!”
I think he gets it.