Lutherans hold that there are two sacraments—baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But whereas baptism of infants has always been part of our tradition, allowing children to partake of the eucharist has not. Many Lutherans have found the change so positive they wonder why it took 500 years. Others yearn for the good old days when children waited until after confirmation for communion.
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Tell us! on The Lutheran's Web site recently asked readers to voice opinions about the trend toward children, even very young children, communing. More than 50 readers responded, with only a handful opposed to such a trend. Here are additional responses:
"Communion, as is baptism, is a gift from God. Age should be no more a barrier than was confirmation to such a gift. We should not, as Christians of Lutheran persuasion, try to put limits upon or tie strings to the gifts freely given by Jesus. I say commune them all!"
"How can we deliver one means of grace (baptism) to infants who cannot possibly understand what is going on or what is happening to them without doing the same with the other sacrament? The old practice assumed that one had to have a level of understanding in order to receive communion. But who really understands this mystery? Let the blessings of God rain down on all who would participate, regardless of age or cognitive ability."
Grace Lutheran Church, Evanston, Ill.
"At whatever age a child needs salvation is when the child needs the saving sacraments. Some argue that a child should only receive the sacrament when they know what it means. Of course, do any of us ever know what it means? So we are all operating out of various degrees of ignorance. ... I think the study of paedo-communion, especially the practice of Orthodoxy, will enrich the life of Lutherans who are somewhat vitiated by the distortions of the Western church."
"Our babies and grandbabies wanted to eat what we were all having. One time I gave them a taste, and I believe the roof caved in on the church. Now they are old enough to ask why they weren't allowed to take communion. I remind them that God always welcomed them. Even a small child can understand forgiveness."
"As for understanding communion as a means of grace, I seriously doubt that many adults in our congregations could explain it. I'm most certain that the disciples had no clue as to its true meaning at the Last Supper, yet they all received these gracious gifts from Jesus Christ — even Judas Iscariot!"
"The language in The Use of the Means of Grace (the ELCA statement on the practice of word and sacrament) makes sense to me, as does the Lutheran understanding of grace. Baptism, freely given even to babies who have never studied, served on a committee, built a Habitat house or given a tithe, is the pure gift of God. ... I know that I didn't get the mystery of this gift of grace in fifth grade: I don't fully get it now. And I don't need to. The study and preparation are ongoing."
Kari Sansgaard, pastor
King of Glory Lutheran Church, Boise, Idaho
"[It's time to] stop placing non-biblical hoops for children to jump through prior to full participation in communion. The most ridiculous argument for a minimum age for first communion is that young children don't understand it-when as Lutherans we know that our own understanding does not a sacrament make."
"I think age 7 is about right for receiving communion. Age 7 has been traditionally thought of as ‘the age of reason.' ... Thank you for asking for opinions on this topic. I have wanted to express myself for a long time, but did not know where to voice my opinion."
"We give little ones the bread as soon as they begin reaching out for that which has been freely given for all."
"When we receive a gift that requires some knowledge to make it functional and understandable, don't we usually read the instructions or attend a class to learn how the item works? The sacraments can be offered to young children, but some type of instruction needs to follow in Sunday school or in a special session to bring an understanding of the act to an intellectual understanding. If we don't know how something functions or its importance, we tend to lay it aside or not use it in the way it was intended."
"I took my first communion in 10th grade during my confirmation service and never thought anything was amiss until I had children of my own. When my daughter was about 3 she started asking why she was excluded and only received a blessing. My son also began to question at about the same age. I began to get a little irritated-not by their questioning but at our church for preventing them from participating. An article in The Lutheran called "Orphans at the Table" (May 1996) inspired me to action. I made copies of the article and composed a letter to our church council. Thankfully, our pastor at the time was quite understanding and willing to assist us. He offered a class for all who were interested. When my daughter was 6 and my son 4 they were finally able to commune. They are now 17 and 15. I can't image withholding the Lord's Supper from them any longer than we did. As it was it was too long for them to wait."
"As the oldest daughter of a Lutheran pastor, I was expected to attend all services at our church. When I was a child, we celebrated the eucharist once a month. ‘Communion Sundays' were the ones I enjoyed the least. Why? Because I was left out. I wasn't allowed to participate in communion until I was in my early teens, so for the first 13 years of my life, I was banned from participating in the most basic and fundamental sacrament of my church. ... Everyone should be welcomed, regardless of age, gender, color, sexual orientation, denominational affiliation or anything else. God made us all different, and we should welcome our differences, not exclude them."
Point Roberts, Wash.
"Our church offers instruction to families when the kids are about in the fourth grade. We offer grapes to younger kids who have not had the instruction. I'm completely open to sharing communion with any who come and want it."
"‘By water and the Holy Spirit we are made members of the Church which is the body of Christ' (Lutheran Book of Worship). ... Nowhere does this say ‘when you are old enough to understand or can talk.' So when our choir director's 3-year-old kept asking, ‘Where is mine?' I was hard pressed to come up with an explanation as to why he could not also celebrate the eucharist. ... It seems right to me that this sacrament should be open to all our baptized members."
"I had first communion the Sunday after confirmation, age 17. My older son had it the Sunday of confirmation, eighth grade; my younger child had first communion at fifth grade after instruction. I think fifth grade is around the right age for understanding, but not much younger. I oppose receiving communion prior to instruction and a little understanding."
"As a pastor I'm all for the ‘all baptized welcome' idea. However, in practice it has proved problematic. I've taught first communion classes to sixth-graders, fifth-graders, third-graders and most recently second-graders. With each grade level down, I've noticed less and less thoughtful engagement from the students with the material. ... Next year I'm returning to fourth grade and try my luck there. ... When small children come to the communion table they are blessed, maybe not through eating and drinking but through the word all the same. Plus, that gives them time to witness older kids and adults participating in something very sacred and special indeed, creating a sense of awe and wonder about the mystery of Christ's presence."
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