Children and Holy Communion

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.


  1. Hi Paul
    I been remiss lately, not read you emails as they come out as usual and then not responded.
    Happy new year to you
    And my comment is quite bland in that my experiences and thoughts mirror yours !

  2. When we are reading the New Testament we look back to a time when most Christians were first generation Christians but what of the children of such people? I believe they are ‘in’ until they opt out and therefore welcome infant baptism and by extension I welcome children to Holy Communion.

  3. Thanks for your views. I can understand that you feel people should not receive communion until they have made a personal move to commit themselves, and maybe that is right, but I wonder whether perhaps we could allow children to have a little experience of communion without really understanding its significance, in the hope that it might grow their curiosity. After all even after confirmation, the understanding is still very limited and hopefully continues to grow for a lifetime; could it not start, probably in a very limited way, before?

  4. Hmm Paul – I both agree and disagree! My belief is that, even if not baptised, children are part of the “church family” and loved by God. It therefore seems perverse to exclude them from the Table. This was discussed in my current church well before I became Minister and I was delighted to endorse their stance.

    I’m not so sure about weekly Communion, partly because it doesn’t always fit in with the “flow” of the service (particularly on Easter Day when we’re focussing on Christ’s resurrection rather than his death), partly because it can become routine. However I have for many years espoused the use of more formal, semi-Anglican, eucharistic liturgies. I’d also say that most Baptists probably have a “lesser” vie of the spiritual nutrition offered by the sacrament, possibly giving greater emphasis to the ministry of the Word.

    BTW I believe that Communion only became weekly (at least in the “main service”) in most CofE churches with the “Parish Communion” movement of the 1950s/60s. Before then the principal service would have usually been Mattins. And of course many rural churches now have to share clergy which means that weekly Communion is an impossibility.

  5. Andrew Kleissner says that, if an ordained person is not able to officiate, weekly communion is an ‘impossibility’. It is sad that there are so many issues with Holy Communion. I would like any group of Christians to be able to remember the Lord’s death by eating and drinking bread and wine in a reverent manner.

    1. That’s in churches where the protocol is that only ordained people can officiate at Communion, such as Anglican or Roman Catholic. Not necessarily true in Baptist or URC churches (although in the latter lay people have to receive authorisation from their Synod to preside); while in churches such as the Brethren anyone may take the lead (although in some cases only men!) I quite agree with your comments, Mary.

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