Very few Baptist churches celebrate the Lord’s Supper every week, in most British churches it is only a monthly observance, whereas in the USA it is much less frequent and can even be celebrated just once a year. This infrequency needs to be reformed. Indeed, one former Reformed theologian was of the decided opinion that “the absence of the Eucharist shows contempt for grace” (J.J. von Allmen), while Calvin regarded infrequent communion as “an invention of the devil”. By contrast in Anglican churches on a Sunday communion is celebrated every Sunday.
Traditionally, in a Baptist context, the Lord’s Table is for the Lord’s people. The Table is ‘open’ to all who love the Lord Jesus Christ and are seeking to follow him, but the assumption is that those who come to the Table are in a committed ‘covenant relationship’ with his people. In a Baptist context we enter into that covenant relationship when we commit ourselves to the Lord and his people through baptism and church membership. However, it is an ‘open’ Table, so that there is no necessity for recipients of the bread and wine to have been baptised. Children, however, are not encouraged to take bread and wine: communion is for the baptised. In my own case I had to wait until the day of my baptism, when I was then allowed to receive communion. It used to be, and still in many Baptist churches remains, a very solemn service in British and European Baptist churches as we focus on the Lord whose body was broken and whose life blood was outpoured for us.
In most Baptist churches communion is not even an issue for children, for the simple reason that they are almost always in their Sunday School classes while the Lord’s Supper is being celebrated in the church. Precisely because in Baptist churches children are not normally present at communion, the Lord’s Supper tends to become something of a ‘mystery’. The children see the Table laid, but they never see the action of eating and drinking. However, occasionally the children were brought in to experience communion so that they had some idea of what happened in such a service.
By contrast in Chelmsford Cathedral, for instance, where we now worship, most of the children do not join the main service until communion begins. The Eucharist, as the Cathedral calls it, is the focus of the whole service. Everybody then comes up to the front, where bread and wine are offered to all who come forward. The children are then taken up to the front, where most of them receive a blessing from one of the clergy. Some, however, receive the bread and wine. From my perspective the only requirement is that the recipients have been baptised and even then that is waived. Certainly there is no requirement that people have been confirmed.
So the question is: how should best welcome children to communion? I wish to suggest that we can learn from both the Baptist and the Anglican ways of conducting communion. I like the idea of weekly communion, and I like too the way in which children are invited to come up with their parents. Baptists tend to ignore their children until they have been baptised. My memory as a child was of sitting through communion services just observing, not being part of the service. I like the way in which children within an Anglican context receive a blessing. Indeed, I have been present at communion services where more time is taken over the children than over the adults. On the other hand, I am of the firm opinion that children need to wait until they have come to faith – and either have been baptized believers or, in an Anglican context, have been confirmed. As I have said, the Lord’s Table is for the Lord’s people.