Through most of 2018 the Team Council has been consulting on the subject of admitting Children to Communion before Confirmation. After much conversion the main concerns around this were:
Responding to each in turn:
Concerns were expressed in writing and by others in conversation around what would happen to Confirmation if Children were allowed to take Communion before Confirmation: “Numbers of those coming forward for Confirmation are lower than 50 years ago and will continue to go down if Children do not need to be Confirmed to take Communion.” “Why would a child get Confirmed if they are already taking Communion?”
What is Confirmation? Confirmation is standing up in public and stating that the promises that were made on your behalf at your baptism you now make for yourself. The Confirmee is publicly saying, “I am a Christian, it is the choice I make, no longer a choice made on my behalf.” The Bishop then “Confirms” this by the laying of their hands on the Confirmee and saying, “Confirm O Lord, your servant with your Holy Spirit.”
Traditionally the one who has been Confirmed then starts taking communion. But, as I hope you can see, the reason to be Confirmed is not so that you can take communion, though that is an outcome of one’s Confirmation. But the reason to be Confirmed is the public declaration of one’s faith made through the affirming of the baptismal promises and the confirming of this through the Bishop’s laying on of hands. So to “untie” communion from Confirmation and to tie it instead to baptism is not unreasonable.
In fact it perhaps is more reasonable. One of facets of baptism is that it is a sign of welcome into God’s family. To continue the analogy, Communion is the family meal. If one is a member of the family they should be allowed to enjoy the family meal.
What does this do for Confirmation? We will probably encourage Confirmation to be put off until at least the end of a young person’s first year of Secondary school. This means they would have had the experience of living as a Christian in Secondary school and all the ups and downs that brings. To then stand and declare that your Christian faith is your own at a Confirmation service arguable means so much more and is a very positive message to friends and family.
In conclusion, we hope that Confirmation will actually mean more to people with the admitting of children to communion before Confirmation. Confirmation will mean more because it will not be primarily seen as a means to taking communion but as a personal, public expression of a Christian faith lived out in the fire of teenage and adult life.
2. Preparation for Communion
Concerns were expressed that children would end up taking Communion without understanding what they were doing. “That the Church is simply lowering the bar to allow children to take communion before Confirmation”. “That preparation classes wouldn’t be sufficiently in depth for the children and parents.” There was also a feeling expressed that adults need more teaching around baptism and communion so that more adults understand what they are doing when they take Communion.
We have very much taken these comments on board. The four weeks of preparation that children, with a parent or carer, will have to do will be thorough in teaching for the age of the child. This means, as far as possible, we will tailor what is taught for the age of the children. We will also provide parents with resources for use at home to help the child in their journey of faith. All four weeks of preparation will need to be attended by the child and parent/carer for the child to be admitted to communion.
On a regular basis there will be opportunities for adults to also attend teaching sessions on Communion and Baptism. This is obviously a new initiative in response to your comments which included concern expressed around the inequality of a child who hasn’t been Confirmed being able to take Communion while an adult who hasn’t been Confirmed not being allowed to take Communion. These sessions will start in the autumn.
We are very aware that when it comes to communion we are all on a journey in our understanding and it is this that is important rather than there being a particular level of understanding we need to reach to qualify for receiving communion.
3. Management of the Policy
Concerns here were around how clergy and particularly lay people involved in the distribution of Communion would know who to give the bread and wine to.
This can never be 100% perfectly administered, but we will try. So a register will be kept in each church of which children have been admitted to communion. As far as possible people involved in the distribution of communion will be instructed on who to give communion to. There will also be a responsibility at the Communion rail for parents/carers to instruct administers if their child is receiving communion. In the event of uncertainty the person administering communion will be instructed to give the elements but to ensure the clergy are informed afterwards. This provides a great opportunity for the clergy to have a conversation with the family of the children involved about communion and the faith journey of the children involved.
Basically it could be messy, we will do all we can to ensure it isn’t, but when it is it provides a great opportunity for spiritual growth.
The Team Council decision
As you may already have noticed from the tone of this document, the Team Council decision on July 10th was to admit Children to Communion before Confirmation. There was one vote against and everyone else at the meeting voted for the policy. The first preparation classes will be in November.
Please do feel able to continue this conversation with any member of the clergy. We would happily have a coffee with you and spend some time talking about, just give us a ring.
The Clergy Team