During the Summer and early Autumn I consulted church wardens at Cheddington and Mentmore and those involved with youth work about baptism, confirmation and the policy of the diocese to enable children to take holy communion prior to being confirmed. The PCC voted in favour and Bishop Alan has now given his agreement.
The inclusion of children in this most central part of our worship is not something to be taken lightly. There will be no pressure or even expectation they should do so, but it will be a matter for parents to consider prayerfully and talk to me about whether or not they feel their own children aged 8 or over are ready. With the support of parents and the desire of the child to start taking communion, there will then be a process of preparation for the children, a service of first communion when this important first step in their lives can be recognised and celebrated, a certificate presented, and a register of names kept in the safe.
Between 15% and 20% of churches in our diocese have already taken this step, and the proportion nationally is increasing all the time with the support and encouragement of bishops and children’s advisors. I have written some notes explaining the theology and referring to a number of sources including the Oxford diocesan web site, a paper written by the Bishop of Reading, and advice and guidance for churches by our own Children’s Advisor. These notes are available to anyone on request, and of course I will take other opportunities as they arise to answer questions and explain.
The theology in the Gospels is clear. Take for example Matthew 10
13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
Those who work with children rightly stress we underestimate children’s spirituality and ability to understand at our peril. Children pick up very quickly when they are being excluded from something important, and nothing can be more central to our life as a worshipping community than holy communion. The Church of England has already made it clear no child who takes communion at their home church will be denied it as a visitor to another place.
You may wonder about the place of baptism and confirmation. Whatever one may think about infant baptism, the position of the church is clear. It is a full and complete rite of Christian initiation. The baptised person is received and welcomed as a full member of the church, and not as a ‘junior’ member. Confirmation is important but it does not make complete what was somehow incomplete beforehand. There is therefore no theological or other reason to wait for confirmation before people are able to partake in holy communion. In the past, there has always been a risk that confirmation may be seen as a ‘pre entry qualification’ for communion. In the future, this will no longer be the case, and confirmation takes its rightful place as a public statement of faith by an individual of an age to make that commitment.
Parents of children aged from about 8 are therefore invited to contact me to discuss their preferences prior to talking with their children if they feel it is appropriate. If they wish to proceed, their children can be included in the forthcoming classes when they will be prepared for communion. There will also be a chance for adults and young people to prepare for confirmation – the next opportunity in our own deanery will be March 2009.