The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


'I say commune them all!'

Readers offer a variety of opinions on early-age communion

Communion JuiceTell 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!"

Dane E. Peterson
Red Wing, Minn.

"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."

David Utech
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."

C.D. Chaperlain
Springhill, Fla.

"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."

Pat Long
Hampstead, Md.

"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!"

Patsy Koeneke, pastor
St. John Lutheran Church, Kensington, Kan.

"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."

Keith Spencer, pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, Pembroke Pines, Fla.

"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."

Janice E. Palmer
Wyoming, Mich.

"Being an octogenarian and having gone through almost every whim and quirk in theology, I would like to present my opinion on the receiving of communion by all who so desire and are taught the blessedness of being a part of the communion of believers. My most disgust is with those who would like to limit the grace of God to only those whom ‘we' see fit."

W. Claussen
Ogdensburg, Wis.

"We give little ones the bread as soon as they begin reaching out for that which has been freely given for all."

James Boline, pastor
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Santa Monica, Calif.

"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."

Sue Creed
Mohnton, Pa.

"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."

Jennifer Klein
Marshall, Minn.

"The gift of communion is for all. I love other traditions — when wine is rubbed on the newly baptized lips during the eucharist. We certainly are invited to know what is going on, but that doesn't preclude having the gift of Christ before we understand. Can you imagine a father or mother saying we will feed you when you understand what happens to you as you drink the milk?"

Bill Kees
Chico, Calif.


"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."

Robin Holland
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."

Chris Hill, pastor
Light of the Cross Lutheran Church, Garrison, Minn.

"‘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."

Dorothy Miner
Copley, Ohio

"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."

Maurine Butler
Tampa, Fla.

"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."

Nate Haaland, pastor
Overland Park [Kan.] Lutheran Church




Posted at 8:12 pm (U.S. Eastern) 2/25/2008

My 3 year old grandson grabbed for the bread that was offered him and promptly said yuck and spit it out. There IS an age of understanding that must be reached because this IS a sacrament, not to be taken as if it were a piece of candy.



Posted at 1:47 am (U.S. Eastern) 2/27/2008

I remember the time my then-six year old daughter was at the railing for her blessing and the interim associate pastor at our church gave her a communion wafer.  You could have heard an angel drop from the head of a pin, causing a minor shock wave through the congregation.

Though I only thought it was unusual, more ecclesiastically conservative members were stunned. After the service, I explained to my daughter about what was special about the wafer she ate.  (She received only the bread, not the wine or grape juice.) She seemed to be okay with that, knowing that it was a bit out of the ordinary.  It did not happen again.

At our church, kids have to be in fifth grade (at least) before receiving First Communion instruction.  I don't think that neither my daughter nor the pastor will go to Hell because of this, but I don't know how many of my fellow members feel the same way. 


Salinas, CA

Spencer Wentland

Spencer Wentland

Posted at 2:17 pm (U.S. Eastern) 3/4/2008

I think its wise to not set a standard, set practice for the age of communing.  When I made my Holy Communion in fifth grade I can't recall ever being taught or understanding the Lutheran teaching of the real prescence.  Now that I have discovered it I find it has enriched and radically changed how I view the sacrament.  Often, when I realize the mercy of Christ in my hands before I commune I find tears of joy in my eyes.  I wish I would have known this when I first made my communion.  I think it is importnant that we follow the Biblical practice of communion which includes:  1.) rememberence of the saving work of Christ 2.) proclamation of the Lord's death until he returns 3.) examination of self prior to communion 4.) recognition of the body of the Lord.


Beining able to participate in Holy Communion means being able to participate in the these Biblical aspects of communion.  Young children may not be able to fully understand the need to examine oneself or recognize the body of the Lord and if not they should wait until they are old enought to understand.  Yes Communion is a gift of God's grace to us but it is also a eucharist, a thanksgiving  and response to God and his gift of grace.  Both are part of the meal.  Different children grow and mature at different times and their understanding is neccsary to fully participate in the meal.  With this I would say that young children should likely not commune but when one commune is not the same for everyone so dialouge with the children, parents and pastor is neccsary.  There isn't a set system to things, growing up in the faith is not a systmatic thing it is growing in our relationship with God. 



Rev. John M. Woods

Rev. John M. Woods

Posted at 4:37 pm (U.S. Eastern) 3/4/2008

By our very nature, we as humans want to try to control God, be God, and put limits on the very gifts God intends for us to receive freely out of His Fatherly goodness and love.  However, that argument only goes so far to explain the continued need to keep children from receiving God's grace through the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, simply because of age and "understanding". 

I continue to be amazed that even after The Use of the Means of Grace was published we are still no farther in the ELCA in coming to terms with the fact that we are standing in the way of God's love to God's adopted children when their own Brothers and Sisters in Christ set standards on them that were never there to begin with.  Where in Scripture does it say anything about age restrictions for receiving Holy Communion or Baptism, for that matter?  We do the Kingdom of God and the whole Body of Christ a great disservice when we attempt to get in the way of God's work.  Yes, for good order children need to be instructed in what Holy Communion is all about, but that can come after they have received the forgiveness of sins and nourishment God wants them to eat and drink for their own journeys of faith.  If adults were treated as one commentor has written whereby it is good enough for children to receive a blessing without the bread and wine, then why should anyone need the earthly elements as part of the sacrament?  Let us get out of God's way, and let God enter into the lives of those whome God has chosen and claimed as His own. 

Bob Pierce

Bob Pierce

Posted at 6:58 pm (U.S. Eastern) 3/4/2008

I think Jesus invites all to His table



Posted at 9:06 am (U.S. Eastern) 3/5/2008

Just as the Ten Commandments are commands from our heavenly Father, Our Savior's command to "Do this often in remembrance of me" holds equal importance. He did not place conditions other than faith in Him and His ministry upon it.  Why any "church" would place conditons upon it would  I think bring about the admonishments set forth in Revelations to those who would "add to or take away from any of the words" in His Holy book. In addition, we must remember Christ's strong warning to those who would hinder the path of even one of His children being brought to Him. His commands are not dependant upon understanding; they are however, expected to be obeyed with blessings promised for doing so.

Brad Zerkel

Brad Zerkel

Posted at 11:12 pm (U.S. Eastern) 3/5/2008

Does what Scripture say matter anymore or is opinion and personal experience equal in consideration? The Lord said communion is for Disciples (Mt. 26:26) and the Lord said a disciple is one who is baptized and instructed (Mt. 28:19). The Apostle Paul said anyone who receives it in an unworthy manner or does not examine the bread and wine for what it is (the Lord's body and blood) will bring God's judgment on that person (1 Cor. 11:27-29). As I pastor I do not set a age limit for my first communion classes, but following scripture I make sure that they are spiritual mature and instructed enough (six chiefs parts of the Catechism) to understand what it means to take the Supper so as to insure their blessing rather than their damnation. Again scripture takes a back seat to what feel goods or right.

Pastor Brad Zerkel- Our Redeemer Lutheran Kansas City, MO

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February issue


Embracing diversity