Friday 10 June 2011

Communion from a Child?

I am immensely grateful to Laura and her blog in Lay Anglicana for the inspiration for this post.
Some readers will know that I recently left full-time ministry as a vicar to spend more time caring for my wife who is partially disabled.
One of the benefits of this has been to see our children (aged 11 and 13) grow spiritually in new and wonderful ways.   We have been attending a non-Anglican church on Sunday evenings and their radically inclusive approach has been a hugely liberating experience for them.
First of all they have been set free from the embarrassment of having their dad at the front of church, and the fear of being ‘picked on’ as ‘willing’ volunteers in the sermons!  But more importantly, they have been included in leading worship in ways which would make most Anglicans mind’s boggle.
Not only have they been invited to present readings and lead prayers, but that have also been asked to celebrate Communion – and much to my surprise and wonder, they have said ‘yes’ with confidence and enthusiasm.
Now I know this might seem a bit of a stretch for most members of established churches.  After all, most churches in the Church of England still struggle with the idea of children receiving Communion, let alone celebrating it!  This has never been an issue for our children.  When they were 2 and 3 years old, I became vicar of a church whose practise was to give Communion to everyone who wanted to receive it – whatever their age.  So from the first time they held their hands out at the communion rail, they have been included fully in this celebration of the Body of Christ - but to celebrate Communion was far beyond anything which would be permissible in the CofE, so this was something quite new.

The first time they were asked, they simply used the Communion prayer of the church, holding up bread and wine, and then stood alongside the church Minister as she then distributed Communion and prayed a personal prayer with each individual, couple or family group who came forward to receive. 

The second time however, they went even further.  Instead of them celebrating and the Minister distributing Communion, they did both.  As each person, couple or family came forward, they gave them the bread and wine and prayed for them.  By the time we were all seated again, half the congregation were in tears – tears of joy and blessing.

So yes – I do agree with Lay Anglicana that we need to start at childhood to train our worship leaders of the future – and that might take us further than we could ever envisage.  It has been such a joy for Mel and I to see our children blessed by the opportunity to lead, and it has been such a blessing for the church to receive this ministry from children.

Wasn’t it Jesus who said  "I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  Perhaps it is time we began to allow our children to show us how…?


  1. Oh, Benny, and I am in tears at reading this!
    The Anglican Communion in general (and perhaps the Church of England more than any of its component parts) is going through such turmoil at present that it seems to me that 'we, the people' must do our utmost to see that something good comes out of it all. If we were to start again at the beginning, and allow our children to show us the way, who knows what regeneration we might see!

  2. Benny - children have the most beautiful approach to spirituality, that is uncomplicated, deep and fresh. It saddens me to think that there would be anyone who would deny us adults from learning and being ministered to by such beautiful souls. Thanks for reminding us of the joy they bring - also thank you to your two for the many many blessings that they bring everyone they encounter. Catherine

  3. As an evangelical, I am constantly amazed by the way in which we overlook scriptures that we don't know what to do with.

    Jesus teachings on the inspirational place of children are a good example of this.

    Perhaps that is why Jesus says several times "If anyone has ears to hear, listen"

  4. Thank you Benny, I was so sad that I was away from church when your children celebrated communion, how spiritually happy I would have been to have received from them
    From a 72 year old traditional that was I welcome these new ways, we can learn so much

  5. Benny,

    Thank you for what I consider to be an inspirational post. Despite being within the CofE, I have attended services of other denominations, so called Free Churches. I have also attended courses at CWR in Farnham, where, most of those attending course come from a much broader spectrum then Anglicanism. I have learned much from them about freedom and expressions of worship, which while different from my experience, Glorify God in just a valid a way.

    Institutional churches like the CofE and RC Church, have a great respect for traditional worship, but there is just something about the freedom and expression of worship in something like a Free Family Church which exalts God, but also pours grace into those attending.

    Within our CofE Parish, we do try very hard to include children in Worship in a way which involves them, particularly in family services. I know that our very active Youth Group also hold their own worship, which they sometimes share with the rest of the congregation. But I cannot see us going as far as what you describe here.

    Perhaps we need to look again at Fresh Expressions of Church and Pioneer Ministry, which I see as the way forward in bringing freedom of styles and types of worship within the CofE fold, and allowing them to grow and flourish. Sharing their experiences with mainstream churches.

    Laura has a particular take on the involvement of young people in worship and building future leaders, which I whole heartedly support. It's getting the message to the wider audience she is fighting against strong resistance from traditionalists.

  6. I come from a Free Church denomination.... Church of the Nazarene, and an open table is exactly what it says....... I know of one ex-Anglican who left the denomination because of the pain he felt when children would come forward for Communion.... he is now Orthodox where they have a healthier (and similar) view to youngsters and Communion.

  7. Yes - after all, It is not our table, it is the Lord's. Thank you for sharing this beautiful post. Every Blessing

  8. I vividly remember being in an open PCC meeting where were discussing whether children should be admitted to communion and I asked the priest to whom he would give communion. I was very moved when he simply answered, "To anyone who asked me for it."
    It should never be "the meal that divides", and I think it is a lovely idea to allow children to administer communion.

  9. I think that we in the CofE have much to learn from 'free-er' churches, I know that we are a million miles away from the picture I painted in the blog, but I do think that we should allow our churches to be creatively challenged by others who have more freedom to do things differently.

    Ultimately it is the 'Lord's table' and sadly we have dressed it up and separated it off at a distance too often.

  10. Are you going to share with us what this church or denomination is?

  11. Hi Anonymous: Good question and I have been thinking about this for 24hours.

    In the end I have decided not to share this - because once a random reader knows which church or denomination it is, that will probably become the focus of their thoughts rather than the issue.

    I hope you understand.

  12. A wonderful and very moving story. Please could we have more of that in the C of E? John Pike