Lent Newsletter Excerpt | Children at the Table

Written by Pastor Ben Wimmers, Pastor of Youth and Family

Growing up, when our Sunday morning worship included the Lord’s Supper it was normal as a child to pass the plates along the pew, trying to make the extra peppermint last through the extended liturgy. I made my Public Profession of Faith in 2010. At 16 years old, I was now able to participate in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. That same year, Synod discussed opening the Lord’s Supper to children (the decision was ratified at Synod 2011). My high school self was unaware of what was going on in the Christian Reformed Church of North America (CRCNA). I had just assumed that my experience of waiting to take the Lord’s Supper until after Profession of Faith would be normal. In the same way, children in our church will grow up experiencing the table open to them, possibly without much thought that this hasn’t always been the way.

As we venture into a new sermon series on the Lord’s Supper, and a simultaneous exploration with families and young children on the meaning of this meal, it provides us with a moment to reflect on a significant change in church practice.

As I mentioned earlier, I did not participate in the Lord’s Supper until I had done my Public Profession of Faith. It was a regular part of the rhythm of church life, to take your first communion after this faith milestone. I remember discussing with my parents about profession of faith, saying that I didn’t want to do it just so that I could take communion. There was a sense that both things, profession of faith and Lord’s Supper, were serious. If I was serious about taking the Lord’s Supper, then I had to be serious about my profession of faith. I couldn’t just go through the motions of professing my faith, otherwise it would show that I don’t really understand what I believe if I was just doing it for a piece of bread and a sip of juice, so I felt more like a part of the service. The seriousness of this sacrament was conveyed, in part, by its exclusivity. In the second century, anyone who was unbaptized and attended a worship service on Sunday, would be sent out of the room when it was time for celebrating the Lord’s Supper. It was a meal that was meant for those who confessed their faith in Jesus Christ and could point to the baptism as evidence of being incorporated into Jesus and the church.

The idea that profession of faith must proceed participation in the Lord’s Supper comes from the Reformation. To correct misunderstandings of the Lord’s Supper that were being taught by the church in the 16th century, the Reformed churches put a profession of faith before taking the Lord’s supper as a way of ensuring a corrected understanding. Before making a profession of faith, one had to attend catechism and be instructed in the teachings of the Bible as the Reformed churches had come to understand them. Then, once they had gone through catechesis and professed their faith, the table was open to them.

The restrictions around the Lord’s Supper seem to derive from two central ideas. The first is that it is for Christians, and second is that it must be treated with reverence and respect. A part of me appreciates the way that I came to the table for the first time, having been discipled for many years, taking a profession of faith class, and then publicly declaring that believe in the promises of God and that Jesus is my Savior.

Yet we are no longer in the same context of 16th century Christianity, and over the years we became increasingly aware that our practice, while enriching, did not flow from our theology. That we ought to revisit this practice and see if it is more consistent with our beliefs, is a key part of being Reformed. People wondered if we had put an unintentional barrier between our children, who are full members of God’s covenant people, and the table and if there is something to be gained in inviting children to the table as well.

We have gained much in welcoming children to the table. No longer do they have to endure the feeling of exclusion because having them participate in the Lord’s Supper affirms that their baptism into God’s covenant welcomes them into equal participation with adults. Same grace, same covenant, same table, same blessings. It also reminds us that it is not our intellect that gets us to the table, but our shared dependency on Christ for salvation and nourishment. Theologically, it is a win in my books, and I love seeing all of God’s people come to the table on a Sunday as a covenant community.

And yet, we might have lost part of the communal aspect of preparing our covenant children for participation at the table. Prior to baptism, it is standard practice to meet with the pastor and an elder or two and talk through what baptism means (either for yourself or for your child). For the Lord’s Supper, the responsibility now rests solely with the parents. I believe that parents are fully capable of having these conversations with their kids; this isn’t a question of ability or understanding to teach and disciple, as though that is reserved for the pastors and elders. The lack of a formal discipleship structure does not equate to a lack of discipleship, but it still invites us to wonder how we might be better as a church at equipping our parents for having these conversations. No sense going back, but rather looking forward to how we, as the church, can continue to support the new responsibility of parents who lead their young children to the table.

Pastor Steve and I have spent time looking at resources to share with parents, to partner with them as they lead their children to the table (something Pastor Steve and I will have to do with our own children in the coming years). One resource that we have adapted for our families comes from the CRC, a 5-session devotional called You’re Invited. Since our understanding of the Lord’s Supper is always growing, if you are looking for ways to deepen your understanding of this holy meal, reach out to Pastor Ben or Pastor Steve!