Growing up, one of the items that was always present on my bedroom dresser was a little glass cup. Shaped like a shot glass, but even smaller, it was the first cup from which I received communion.
My Lutheran church didn’t use the common cup, and instead, I always knew it was a Communion Sunday (usually the first of the month) when I saw a big pile of white on the altar which was the covering over the trays filled with the little shot glasses filled with wine or grape juice.
As a little Lutheran, I wasn’t allowed to receive communion until I’d gone through our First Communion class that took place when you reached fifth grade. I remember enviously watching my older brother after he completed the class and it was still two years away for me. The class met two Sundays after church and the pastors talked about what communion was and why we received it.
I remember sitting there, listening to their talks and to additional comments interjected by the parents sitting with us—including my own. The class culminated on the following Sunday as we were the first people to go up, kneel at the rail and receive communion and as a remembrance of the event, we were invited to take the glass cup with us.
Often I’d see that little cup sitting on my dresser and it would remind me of that event.
Neither of my girls have a little cup like that.
They’re Episcopalians, born and bred under the ’79 Book of Common Prayer. As Episcopalians trained in the baptismal theology of the prayer book, my wife and I communed our daughters from the time that they were baptized. They’ve never known a time when they couldn’t receive; they’ve never had that sense of age-induced envy where one could receive and the other couldn’t—but yearned to.
When one of the parishes we attended offered—at the request of a culturally Roman Catholic family—a First Communion experience complete with white dresses and lacy gloves and all, I protested. A First Communion class isn’t our theology! First Communion ideally occurs at the time of Baptism! And, yet, I had to grudgingly agree that it was a good idea even if I did insist that the name ought to be changed.
Our children have been receiving the Eucharist since Baptism—and yet they still need instruction in what that means. Now, my kids have had the misfortune of growing up with a priest and a lay theologian for parents. We’ve made sure that at various points in their faith development we’ve intentionally sat them down and talked with them about the Eucharist, what we’re doing, and what it all means, tailoring the talk to their capacity to understand.
But how widely is that happening?
Episcopal children, Episcopal parents, could benefit greatly from some intentional times to pause and consider what we do when we celebrate the Eucharist. And—I think we should do this not once but several times as children develop and as their capacity for understanding grows.
At this point, I’d love to point you to some resources—but this is where I draw a blank! I have no idea what’s out there for children, teens, and even adults to teach them clearly and succinctly about the Eucharist at various stages of their faith journeys! What have you found? What do your communities use? And at what at ages have you seen instruction being offered to help draw children into a fuller understanding of their sacramental experiences?
How have you helped your children understand and reflect on Holy Eucharist?
What would help you?
This subject is very interesting to me. Just recently I’ve talked to the parishioners with small children in my congregation st. Matthias Episcopal Church in Whittier California. We discussed talking to them and their children about having a class on the Holy Eucharist and what it means and why we take it and explaining this to small children and young and older adults. I feel it is very important that they understand why they are receiving it. I too would like some ideas sent to me about how I can proceed with this. I have been a Sunday school teacher for the past two years teaching preschool to 2nd grade. They are very fast Learners and are very interested in what we talk about weekly. Any idea sent my way will be greatly appreciated as I am going to approach our pastor and discuss it with him to help me have the class together. Thank you
Polly Tangora says
Our Episcopal congregation offers Catechesis of the Good Shepherd as the base for our children’s programs. Included for the 6 to 9 year-olds there is Solemn Communion – time set aside for children when they are around 8 years old to consider more deeply what it means to receive the Eucharist. This consists of 4 or 5 two-hour sessions (often Saturday mornings) and an all day retreat beyond the regular Sunday school time. The sessions offer reflection on both the Baptismal liturgy and Eucharist and meditations on the parables of the True Vine, the Forgiving Father, the Lost Sheep and Found Coin which match well with the developmental characteristics for that age group. At the end of this period of reflection there is a celebratory Eucharist where the children offer their own prayers and chosen readings. This process offers a milestone on the children’s spiritual journey that we view as a bridge between their baptism as infants and their confirmation as adult members of the church.
For tour younger children Catechesis of the Good Shepherd included much to prepare children to take this step. We often discuss the signs and gestures of the Eucharist they see in church, the articles of the Eucharist, and the essential prayers they hear. They are allowed to handle child sized versions of the things they see on the altar and make connections between Jesus’s words in the Last Supper with the words of the Eucharist.
By the time our children are in the 9 to 12 year-old class they are exploring the complete Eucharistic prayers and considering their links with both New and Old testament scripture.
We have found that the process of religious formation offered by Catechesis of the Good Shepherd gives our children a deep understanding of the Eucharist.
I recommend that folks take a look through the AMAZING RESOURCES eucharist instruction materials from the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. They’re based on Godly Play, and can be used in many different configurations. Plus, some of the materials list additional resources, a few of which have been mentioned above. http://www.epicenter.org/eucharist-instruction-curriculum/
Karen DeBoer says
Faith Formation Ministries (for whom I work as a resource developer) has a curated online toolkit filled with (mostly) free resources for both churches and families. It’s called the Welcoming Children to the Lord’s Supper toolkit and you’ll find it at https://www.crcna.org/FaithFormation/toolkits/welcoming-children-lords-supper-toolkit .
Some personal favorites in the kit include the “Spiritual Characteristics of Children” (look in the ‘Start Here’ tab) because it includes info on how kids experience the Lord’s Supper. You’ll find a downloadable bookmark for families (and lots of other great resources) under the Family Resources tab. There’s also a link to a family devotional (for purchase) called ‘You’re Invited.’
And check out the Educational Resources tab for simple family learning experiences churches can offer to families—even if their children have been participating in the LS since they were babies.
My church holds a “Communion Milestone” class for kids with their parents during the Lenten season. I believe it lasted about 5 or 6 weeks. It was geared towards 8-12 year olds and followed the “This Bread & This Cup” booklet. Shortly after Easter, there was a special part of the service for these children to come forward as culmination of their teaching and receive the Eucharist. Of course they had been, for the most part, communing all along, but this was a special acknowledgement of the completion of the class. All of the kids had made special banners during the last class that were hung up that day (we do something similar with baptisms). I personally really enjoyed the whole process and look forward to going through it with my 4 year old when she is old enough.
Janet Kim says
My sister suggested that as my children take communion, that I should simply say “God loves you very much”. That seems to work in my family.
Matthew Chen says
Being in an inter-church marriage (Episcopal and Roman Catholic), my wife and I anticipate that our children will wait to receive holy communion until they are of age to receive in her Roman Catholic Church parish and, until then, can accept a blessing during communion at my Episcopal parish. It is only at my Episcopal parish that my wife and I can receive communion together. As I try to respect her faith tradition’s approach to children’s reception of holy communion, she arguably crosses boundaries (however artificial they may be) by taking communion with me in the Episcopal Church. This approach may fully satisfy neither Roman Catholic nor Episcopal teaching but, for now, works for us by helping magnify our shared faith in Christ rather than what divides our churches.
Meanwhile, our oldest (almost 3) is a picky eater and we are not sure, right now, if he would actually consume the sacrament or not. He also has said he doesn’t like church “because it takes a long time” yet often chooses a prayer for us to say before dinner.
According to The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia’s “Guidelines for the Rites of Initiation” including holy communion: “Since there is no determinant age for admission to the Holy Communion, the decision in each situation must best be reached by parents and child(ren) in consultation with the parish clergy. Care should be taken not to establish a set or minimum age, however, lest admission to the Lord’s Table become merely ‘the thing to do,’ as the rite of Confirmation was in the past to the sixth and seventh grader.” The second sentence is perhaps not completely consistent with the situation of some inter-church families.
Vicki McGrath says
In my parish second graders (and older) go through a three-week Communion Instruction class during Easter season. I’ve used a variety of materials (Mary Lee Wiles’, Anne Kitch’s, some other things I’ve found and stitched together). There is a formal bit of liturgy on a Sunday morning recognizing them as having completed the class. They get a certificate, a book if prayers, and Anglican prayer beads as a gift from the parish. Sometimes we’ve had girls in fancy white dresses, but mostly it’s what they would normally wear to Church. This is not First Communion, usually, but intentional instruction.
I also do an instructed Eucharist with adults once in a while. Confirmation class is another time for teaching Eucharistic theology. One if our adult ed. groups is following the Pilgrim series (UK and Church Publishing). This next 6 week segment has the Eucharist as its focus.
Clay Calhoun says
Our parish offers a “Communion Instruction” class for kids in the fall. It’s just a brief offering that takes the place of Sunday school in between services on that day, but I think it’s helpful to convey to the kids that this is something worth pondering, exploring, and discussing. I think encouraging some reflection on the eucharist outside its normal experience (i.e. in the liturgy on Sunday morning) is important.
As for my experience as a parent: maybe I’m too picky, but I haven’t yet found any resources I’d really recommend. It’s mostly too little (e.g. board books, or just a copy of the Prayer Book rite with some pictures and slightly expanded “rubrics for kids”) or too much (e.g. more geared toward young adults, or specific to another tradition, like RC or Orthodox–which can be really well done for what they are, but not exactly what I’m looking for).
Margaret Jordan says
When one grandson was in children’s choir and the youngest one was staying with me as we waited; it occurred to me that youngest and I should probably be talking about something from the Bible. Oldest was getting a Bible lesson while in choir. So I began to tell youngest the story of Jesus and Zacheaus. He interrupted and finished telling me the story. Surprised but pleased I said, “Wouldn’t it be fun to have lunch with Jesus? Without missing a beat he looked at me a bit puzzled and said, “We do every Sunday.”
Luckily there are many wonderful resources now.
Ryan Baker-Fones says
Here are three resources that I have found helpful for kids in my home and at my church.
Let Us Pray: A Little Kid’s Guide to the Eucharist Paperback – July 1, 2014
by Jennie Turrell (Author)
A Child’s Guide to the Holy Eucharist: Rite II Paperback – April 1, 1999
by Sarah Horton (Author), Cecilia M. Murdoch (Illustrator)
What We Do in Church: An Anglican Child’s Activity Book Paperback – September 1, 2004
by Anne E. Kitch (Author), Dorothy Thompson Perez (Illustrator)
Mary Lee Wile says
About a dozen years ago, I was asked by Living the Good News, Inc. to create a “Communion instruction” program — a leaders’s guide and a child’s work book — which ended up being called This Bread & This Cup. It’s divided into sections that could be five different sessions, or all done at once: Companionship: Sharing a Meal, Storytelling: How the Gospel Tells our Story, Praying together: the Shape of the Eucharist, and Manner and Customs: the Body Language of Prayer. The leader’s guide has lots of suggestions for activities. It was designed to be used with a group of kids at the church, but families could probably make use of it at home, as well. https://www.episcopalbookstore.com/product.aspx?productid=6475
Clay Calhoun says
I’m not familiar with this one, but I’ll be getting a copy. Thank you!
Martha Richards says
A lot of what we teach our children and grandchildren is by example. From the time my grandson was born he was at the Communion Rail. At about the age of two, he held up his little hands like we did and the priest put a wafer in his hands which he popped into his mouth. After church, the priest asked if I thought he should have done that. I told him to ask my grandson – when he did ask what he had received at communion, my grandson said “Jesus”. Enough said. Faith is a wonderful thing, we don’t always realize when it begins. But we must always be aware that age isn’t a barrier.