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Communion, Children, and Feeling Left Out ~ Finding Church

Have you ever tried to explain Holy Communion to a child?

The church we attended this week served the Lord’s Supper, or the sacrament of communion, in their service. I’ve always found the Baptist observance somewhat unsatisfying, like being served a dainty appetizer when you’re starving. They ascribe little to no power in the partaking – it’s a memorial activity only. Like taking flowers to a grave, only full of joy because Jesus rose from the dead.

bread and wine

But it was relatively simple to explain to my children. The bread represents Jesus’s body, the juice represents his blood, we eat it to remember what he did for us on the cross. Most important to the kids – it is only for Christians.

The church we attended on Sunday views it a bit differently. They consider the Lord’s Supper to be a means of grace, that in some mysterious way, Jesus is present in the bread and wine, and God conveys blessing to us when we partake. They do not teach the Roman Catholic view that the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus; they tread a middle ground between Baptist symbol-only and Catholic transubstantiation. They also require a person to be a member of a church (not necessarily theirs, but some church) to participate. (That puts me in an awkward position. What do you do with someone who believes, has left a church, and not established membership in another yet? I want to respect this church’s views, but that means I’m barred from this means of grace. Scott and I talked later, and he said he thought I should go ahead.)

This is more complicated. It is mystery and symbolism and ceremony. It’s beautiful. It’s restricted. And it’s incredibly difficult to explain to children.

My older two kids always ask why we won’t let them participate in communion. Every time I struggle to explain why they aren’t ready yet. They insist that they really understand what it is and believe it. But I don’t want them to make a decision like this without knowing more. I don’t want them to practice our faith just because we do. But I can tell that they feel left out of something special. For the first time, this particular Sunday, I got it. I felt left out too. At times like these, I wish for the clarity of Roman Catholicism’s first communion and confirmation classes.

Sunday evening the church hosted a picnic, encouraging new attenders to come meet more people. To our surprise, they served communion again. This time our youngest saw the process for the first time. He thought we were all having a snack, and when the bread and juice passed him, he demanded to know why no-one had given him any. I told him that this was a special thing, he wasn’t old enough, and that he needed to understand before he participated. He just looked at me, then raised his hand when the pastor asked if anyone still hadn’t been served. When I hissed to put his hand down, he rolled his eyes at me. (Rolling his eyes at five years old. Gracious.)

Then, as we waited quietly for everyone to be served, he turned to me and in a stage whisper said, “Mom, this is boring.”

Don’t you love the candor of a child?

How do you explain practices like communion to children? Do you let them participate? How does your church approach visitors and communion?


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