Mixed Blessings – Admission of Children to Communion before Confirmation
Event led by Revd Steve Dixon (Diocesan Children’s Officer) at St Mary, Greenfield on 13th May 2015
· Might young people not be confirmed if it doesn’t happen at 11?
· Confusion over what confirmation is if it isn’t about being able to start receiving communion
· Some people are concerned about whether younger children are ready to receive communion, particularly if they can’t sit still or seem to engage fully in the service
· Where churches have a very open policy of administering communion, this scheme could pose restrictions which might present problems.
Historical context of Communion and Confirmation:
· In the early church it is very unclear as to the precise practice. We know that whole households were baptised and that communion followed on from baptism and there is no indication that children were excluded from this.
· There became a differentiation between baptism carried out locally by the presbyter and the later laying on of hands by the bishop. As the Church grew and spread further afield, there were not enough bishops to do all the baptisms and so this role was delegated to presbyters.
· Under Augustine, infant baptism became more prevalent and in the Orthodox tradition communion was given to infants straight after baptism.
· In 1281, Archbishop Peckham was concerned that when Bishops visited churches, the newly baptised were not coming to meet them. He ruled that those who didn’t come to meet the bishop could not receive communion.
· This didn’t work and it wasn’t until the Victorian times and the coming of the railways that this was enforced. Bishops were now able to get around more frequently to do confirmations and so receiving communion became separated from baptism
Why the move for change more recently?
· In the 1950s and 60s, the rise of the Parish Communion movement saw communion happening much more frequently
· Children started to be present in the main services more as the tradition of afternoon Sunday Schools died out. People began to question why children couldn’t be fully part of the service and asking why confirmation was necessary to receive communion.
· Commissions were set up and in reports produced leading to the statement in the 1970s that baptism was the full rite of entry into the body of Christ.
· In the 1980s, 3 dioceses were allowed to experiment with admitting children to communion prior to confirmation – Manchester, Southwark and Peterborough .
· In 1996, it became possible for all dioceses to adopt this and place motions before their Synods to allow this to happen.
· In 2006, the practice was revisited and some legal issues were reconsidered. General Synod agreed a set of regulations governing the process.
What are the arguments for admitting children to communion?
It’s about taking things seriously….
· Confirmation now becomes about making a serious commitment of faith at an age when someone is able to make decisions for themselves.
· It also takes children and their faith development seriously, particularly their desire to belong.
· It takes Scripture seriously by recognising the value that Jesus placed on children, his recognition that children have something to teach adults about the kingdom of heaven and his rebuking of those who stopped children coming to him.
There is a national process to ensure that this is taken seriously. There needs to be broad consultation in the parish, the PCC has to vote and then seek the Bishop’s permission. (There doesn’t need to be a 100% in favour vote by the PCC but it is advisable to seek a significant majority). A policy needs to be produced (there is a model policy on the diocesan website). Before admission to communion, children have to be prepared.
The course book material covers all the key elements of what it means to be on the Christian journey and helps the child, together with his or her family and the congregation as a whole, to move towards the child’s Holy Communion. The material is divided into ten units, with four opportunities to mark the journey with the worshipping community as the course progresses. The course book contains revised information concerning Child Protection and CRB clearance and has relevant contact information and website addresses. An activity book for the child to own and complete accompanies the course book
Since the introduction of Common Worship there has been an increased demand for material that will help parishes to use the new liturgy with children. As churches think afresh about their worship, they are addressing the issue of how to include children, particularly in the Eucharist. Come and Join the Celebration has been designed to help parishes do just that. This photocopiable resource contains guidance on how to help children understand the liturgy and structure of Holy Communion; activities for use in church with 2-6 year olds; resource sheets for 7-11 year olds; and ideas for additional uses including Communion before confirmation, workshops and school Eucharists. The book aims to help adults share worship with children, thus enabling everyone to participate more fully.
“Ready to Share One Bread: Preparing Children for Holy Communion” – Nick Harding, Sandra Millar
A ‘one-stop shop’ for churches considering the admission of children to Holy Communion The Church of England has allowed the admission of baptised children to Holy Communion before confirmation since 1997 but currently only about 20% of parishes currently do so. There is therefore much scope for many more churches to explore the issue and this book contains all a church would need to do so, including resources for exploring the issue with a whole congregation, case studies from real-life churches, a preparation course, an admission liturgy and advice on including and involving children in Eucharistic worship. The book also includes theological reflection on children and the Eucharist from Michael Perham and considers the impact of receiving Holy Communion on children’s discipleship.
In the first half of this book Diana Murrie and Steve Pearce carefully and thoughtfully set out the background to the huge strides taken in this important area. They present many convincing reasons for the admission of children to Holy Communion, based on the actual experiences of churches, citing many stories of benefits to children and congregations. The second section has practical, tested material that has proved an invaluable aid for use with children as they prepare to take this important step in their Christian life.
Engaging with adults:
There are a number of ways in which the process of admitting children to communion can help adults to grow in their own faith. This can be through attending the preparation course with their child and also through helping their child if workbooks are used at home as part of the course. It can provide an opportunity to ask questions which they might feel embarrassed asking in an adult only environment. Some churches have found that more adults have come forward for confirmation or entered into a longer term commitment as a result.
It has also been a way in which churches have been able to promote clearly an ethos of the whole church being welcoming and demonstrating this in practice which can be attractive to adults who encounter this.
Adults have also found their own understanding of the mystery of communion has been deepened as they have seen children engaging in it in a variety of ways – using their imaginative understanding, heart understanding rather than just an intellectual understanding.