1 Sam 3:1-10; Mark 10:13-16
3rd Sunday after Trinity
St Barbara’s 21.06.15
I wonder, when did you last hear deeply moving, spiritually enriching, words – words that left a profound impact on you?
And when did you last meet someone who just radiated trust, openness, who could express their faith as naturally as they could express their desire for a drink or need for a bite to eat.
People like that are gold-dust to the life of any church. They enrich us and nurture us, and if we ignore them, it is to our loss.
Well – our church is fortunate. We have a number of them. They are the children of our church.
Time and again I have been amazed by the depth of faith expressed by children.
I know of a child who comes to Prayers and Bears who will dance around her room with unabandoned joy singing “I know Jesus loves me”. I know of another who, too young to talk, will join in the hand movements of our prayers. | know of another child who will spend half an hour walking just ten yards, finding things of fascination in every step, totally lost in the wonder of the world God has made, while we rush on and miss it all. I know of a child who will regularly cry in their prayers, as they desperately ask Jesus to come back now so that there need be no more suffering in the world.
Children offer us an insight into how to express our own faith. Like us adults, they are not perfect, but they offer us a window into seeing what faith can be like.
Jesus valued children above all others. To the shock and outrage of his disciples, he broke the cultural norms of the day, by going out of his way to welcome children, to include them in his company. “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Indeed, he says, they are our model of what it means to receive God’s kingdom.
And we see in Samuel a child that was able to listen to God when others older than him were not; a child that could be used by God to communicate his message.
In other words, children are special. They are to be welcomed and included, and we are to learn from their faith.
Well, where does this all fit with our series on communion? It fits in a very important way.
We’ve seen in the last couple of weeks how communion should be such an important part of our life together – we thought of its significance in nurturing our faith, and how it is the family meal, the meal that helps us remember God’s work in the past, his presence with us now and what he promises to share with us in the future.
Well, it is a meal in which children should be included.
The Church of England in the last 20 years has been encouraging churches to return to the practice of the church over the centuries of encouraging children to receive communion before they are old enough to be confirmed. Indeed, it has only been relatively recently, the last 200 years or so, that confirmation had become a requirement. Before that, baptised children had had equal access to communion as adults. Over 60 churches in the Coventry diocese now follow this practice of allowing children to receive communion before confirmation; other parts of the Anglican communion have been following this practice for decades; and other denominations have always done it.
The PCC after thought and prayer and discussion believe this is right for us as a church too. That children, after proper preparation, may take communion before they have been confirmed. But we are keen for this to be a church-wide discussion. This sermon begins that wider discussion, and I’ll explain ways in which you can get involved at the end.
I’ve said already about the faith of children. As I listen to them, I am often humbled by their honesty, their faith and their insight. Even if they don’t have the words to be able to articulate things in an adult, and thought-through way (after all, they are children), they often seem to be capable of experiencing and participating in spiritual matters in ways far deeper than I. A few weeks ago I told the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus to a group of young children. Their wonder, their sense of awe, as we finished the story by breaking some pitta bread and eating it together was deeper than anything I have yet to encounter when retelling the story to adults.
For all of us, I imagine we experience far more than we can understand when we receive communion. It is a mystery. Even if we have a doctorate in theology or have been receiving communion for 80 plus years, our experience of communion still outweighs our understanding.
Children may not be able to understand communion in an adult way, but even young children can experience it as something that is special, something that communicates to them the love of God. If understanding was everything, we would not allow people with learning difficulties or people with cognitive impairment (such as dementia) to receive communion, but we would not think of doing that.
Occasionally, the concern is raised, “Would children show sufficient reverence – this is a holy act”. My experience is that children coming forward to the communion rail for a blessing show beautiful, age-appropriate reverence. And we have to remember that children are just more transparent in their emotions. As adults, we too may occasionally come up to communion with our minds on other things, or with anger in our hearts, we may just be better at hiding it.
Jesus not only recognised the faith of children; he also recognised their need for inclusion, to be welcomed into his presence.He had little truck with those who put obstacles in their way. Including children in communion is a wonderful way of expressing that they are part of the family. They are sharing in the family meal, the meal that binds us together. They are equal with us in God’s sight.
For children, feeling they belong, feeling they are one with everyone else is so important. It encourages them in their faith, and encourages them to stay as part of the church. For too many children in many churches, by the time they get to the age of confirmation, even if they do get confirmed, they have already made up their mind that the church is not for them, and they move on fairly soon afterwards.
• Recognising the faith of children;
• Including them in the meal that is at the centre of our life together.
A third reason for allowing children to receive communion before confirmation is because of the value we place on baptism. I’ll say more about this next week, when we have a baptism service, but the entry into the family of the church has always been through baptism. We are full members of the church through baptism (not baptism and confirmation), however old or young we may be. And communion is the meal by which we express our membership, our oneness in the body of Christ.
Where does that leave confirmation? As the thing that it was always intended to be. As the laying of hands on those who as they approach adulthood are now wanting to affirm faith for themselves, commit themselves to following God, and receive his Spirit for service. For some that may happen at the age of 13-14, for others it may come as they begin the world of work, or leave home for university.
A final thought before I talk about how you can get involved in this discussion. This may seem like a big thing, but in essence St Barbara’s has already been doing it already. It has been the practice of the church for many years to allow children to receive communion on Maundy Thursday. We are simply now bringing ourselves into line with the practice of the Anglican church.
In a short sermon there is not enough time to go into this discussion in greater depth, and I am sure it will have raised questions for many of you.
The first thing I will ask you to do is to read the paper that went to the PCC. This highlights in much more detail the issues involved. You can get this on-line on our website. There are also paper copies at the back.
Secondly, please join us to discuss this. Our home groups on Wednesday 1st and Thursday 2nd July (7.30pm at the vicarage) will be focused on this issue and are open to everyone. For those of you who can’t make those, we will also have a discussion time after the morning service on 5th July. And please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me for a chat by phone or email.
Having heard your response, the PCC will then meet on 14th July. If as a church we decide to go forwards, then we will seek the permission of the Bishop, meet with parents, and begin preparation classes in the autumn.
Wherever we get to, can I encourage us all once again: let us value the children of our church. They are God’s gift to us.