Friday, February 27, 2009

communion and the family

One of the change processes I’m working with at the moment that might be of interest to blog readers is around communion here at Opawa. For a while I’ve been concerned about how we pass on the importance of communion to our children and what it means for children and adults to gather around the communion table.

So this week I am leaving our 10:30 am Sunday service with the kids, to talk with them about what communion means. I will be doing godly play, first with the passover narrative, then inviting the kids to make connections with the Christian practice of communion. Then I’m bringing the kids back with me into the service to celebrate communion together. In the Bible, Passover was a Jewish family ritual, while for the early church, communion occurred in households. So practically, I want to see our children be part of our worship when communion is celebrated.

To help them with this, we have made flip cards for each child, 6 cards that list the 6 parts of the Baptist communion liturgy: (explain/invite/pray/break bread/eat and drink/thank). These have been laminated and put on metal rings, so that kids can flip through, picking their way through the service.

Bringing our kids back into church has big implications, so the “big people” are starting a series of sermons – Passover (March 1), gospels meals with Jesus (April 5), eating and drinking in Corinth (May 3), a long farewell in John 17 (May 31) that make sense of communion. (Ben Witherington’s book, Making a Meal of It: Rethinking the Theology of the Lord’s Supper has been very helpful).

In order to try and capture these 4 Biblical passages, in order to set an agenda for the change process and in order to provide information for visitors and new people, I have tried to compile a set of guidelines. (called something like “Making a meal of it: Where communion at Opawa is…”) This is being introduced as draft in March. We then preach the key Scriptures, then invite feedback on the guidelines.

I’m nervous, but excited. For some, this will be a big change and I worry that I am introducing to much change. On the other hand, it’s an issue important for our life as a church family.

For those interested, here is my first draft of the guidelines: Making a meal of it: Where communion at Opawa is ….

: a feast more than a funeral, a celebration more than a memorial. Practically this shapes our attitudes and our prayers, as we remember the whole of Jesus life, looking back and forward.
: a gift. Practically this means we take communion prayerfully and respectfully, for we are sharing a meal with Jesus in a way that defines who we are with God and with each other.
: a gift to the body of Christ more than the to the individual. Practically, this means we welcome families around communion. We should encourage our kids to be present and to receive with their family and friends. In doing so, we look to the guidance of parents and caregivers as to whether their children should be blessed in the form of a prayer, or should be blessed in being offered the communion elements. Practically, this will add another dimension to the task of servers, who now must be alert to not only offer the elements, but at times also pray a simple blessing.
: a focus on Christ’s worth and the offer of redeemed and forgiven relationships between God and humans and humans with humans.
: an invitation to active participation in the work of God. As Jesus broke bread with Judas, so we invite those who know they are broken and the betrayers to the table. Equally, we expect God’s Spirit to be present to transform lives. Practically healing prayer will be available with communion.
: a celebration of real elements, including the sense that it is one loaf, shared together
: memorable rather than a rushed add-on. Practically we encourage worship and preaching to integrate with communion and welcome creativity around the table

We realise that in suggesting these guidelines, we are asking parents and caregivers to work with your children in terms of guiding their participation. For me, as I consider my children, I have found helpful the advice of New Testament scholar, Ben Witherington, who after studying the Biblical texts in relation to communion suggests that children should take part when they can “consciously respond to the imperatives (take, eat, give thanks) freely and willingly on their own, with some beginnings of understanding of what they are doing.” So as a parent I have always looked for evidence that my kids see communion as a gift, not a right, that they have a growing awareness that it is a sign of God’s love, and they they have the sense to take it thankfully.

Posted by steve at 04:33 PM


  1. I passionately believe that children should participate fully at communion if they want to. As a matter of consience I would never offer a child a blessing if they have raeched for bread.
    I would often do Seder meals with the children and young people as part of their “classes”.
    In my context the children’s classes don’t take place during worship but at otehr times of the week meaning that those children at church will be there for the whole time usually. Also our local church – my former parish – has communion every week.
    I reckon children probably “understand” at least as well as most adults do and the bread and wine may well speak to them more powerfully than many of our sermons.

    Comment by jane — March 1, 2009 @ 10:20 am

  2. Witherington’s book on Baptism really good too.

    Comment by Paul Fromont — March 1, 2009 @ 12:13 pm

  3. yes, paul, i’ve got witherington on baptism also. helpful book.

    Jane, different ecclesiologies are at work here aren’t they? if one is based on covenant theology and Passover, then one is working with kids who are baptised in church and slowly learn the system. so kids have been “initiated” already. the question is then – what about confirmation. traditionally that was when communion could be taken, and so you had initiation and catechesis nicely linked. but if you make communion b4 confirmation, what is then the point of confirmation?

    if you are baptist, then you are wanting to bless a child at birth, encourage parental formation, and push initiation into an individual choice. this has definite advantages, as it ties catechesis to baptism. but it makes communion messy, cos do you have it “after” you’re baptised?

    and into all of this the tension in regard to the missionary nature of the church. IMHO, infant baptism worked beautifully in Christendom, but has huge problems as that power wanes. children are not being initiated at birth. parents know less and less about faith. what do you think?

    up till now, opawa has avoided this because the kids go out for sermon and thus, by extension, communion. so what we are doing has certainly ruffled some feathers at opawa, although the feedback from our kids and parents has been overwhelming positive.


    Comment by steve — March 1, 2009 @ 3:51 pm

  4. You can never please everyone. Im sure they will be all forewarned and reassured that this is an exploratory move and that feedback will be welcome. If you have a biblical framework by which to approach it people carnt really complain unless it interfears with their own commuinon experience. It may however enrichen their exprience with having an Opawa community focus by involving the entire congregation. I would be interested to see a copy of the flips. Could they be posted by any chance? (on the site). Thanks

    Comment by Chris L — March 3, 2009 @ 12:25 am

  5. Steve you are describing the kind of church I know and grew up with – a gatehred church where people come as families. The reality where I live now is very different (The reality where I grew up ios of course that there are almost no children)
    You are right that it is to some extent about ecclesiology but experience of confirmation here is that it has often been the first and last time people take communion.
    I’m afraid I have always rather felt that confirmation was a religious rite in search of theology.
    It’s interesting that in many churches where infant baptism is practised we then put the barrier at the communion table – I truly believe Christ’s table would have been open – for goodness wasn’t Judas there – in the French situation many committed members of the church do not baptise their children but will be at church with them, the cultural protestants who’ve moved from Switzerland to France baptise their children and don’t come to church.
    I do not ask for a baptismal certificate at communion.
    I’m convinced that the call is to word and sacrament and that this simple sharing of bread and wine with children speaks to them and us of faith more clearly and powerfully than many of our more intelectual or chatty attempts.

    Comment by jane — March 3, 2009 @ 8:53 am

  6. Interesting thoughts Steve. I’ve shared the idea of communion with childrens’ groups by thinking of it as a the Church’s Memory box after telling the story of Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge – A little boy who finds objects to help an old lady remember her story. The story coveys the powerful message of what a memory does – it makes you laugh and cry, its warm and precious. Communion is the church’s memory box.

    Comment by John Fellows — March 5, 2009 @ 1:13 am

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