Sunday, October 16, 2005

Children in the Way….

was the punning name of a Church of England report of the late 80s, which tried to encourage the church to take her responsibility to all the baptised seriously. It sought to put to bed once and for all the saying that children are “the church of tomorrow”, and to recognise them as equal and essential members of the church of today. Sadly, nearly 20 years on, we still haven't got the message. St M’s, fortunately, is among the parishes which admits children to Communion before Confirmation (I’m not certain I could have come here were it otherwise). Less fortunately, it continues to affirm the official line (admit children of “church” families who have attended a preparation course) so I have on several occasions had my knuckles rapped by the PCC (though not by the vicar) for filling small empty hands.
I tend to be in trouble generally over my attitude to children here, though. I want them to feel welcome and at home, able to be themselves, whereas it seems that a high proportion of the congregation want them moulded into indentikit adult worshippers, complete, no doubt, with a sense of guilt and unworthiness,- or alternatively muzzled and shipped out to junior church in the vestry.

Some months ago, the whole junior youth group (10s to 13s) were helping lead worship, after a sleep-over in the parish centre. Very few members are from “church families” (ouch…I’m beginning to really dislike that term) but here they were at the family meal, and there was no way that I was going to refuse to serve them. Afterwards I was hauled over the coals by a whole committee! It seemed that what was really unacceptable was not that the children had received the Sacrament (or perhaps they just didn’t dare say that to me?) but that I had “broken the rules”. The greatest irony was that one major reason for their anger was, apparently, that one little girl who had been admitted in her home church was upset because, when the whole group received, she didn't turn out to be "special" after all. It later emerged that she, in fact, was Roman Catholic…so even if she had been the only child I had communicated, I would still have broken the rules!
Whose rules, though?
I'm pretty sure that on this occasion they really weren't God's.

St M's is not currently blessed by the presence of anyone with learning difficulties (thinking about it, there could be a reason for this) but I am reasonably confident that were this situation to change, nobody would dare to question the right of an adult who wished to receive, whatever their apparent “level of understanding”…yet it seems to be quite OK to suggest that “not understanding properly” is a good reason to withhold the Sacrament from children. When our diocese first agreed to admit children to communion before confirmation, I was part of a team that visited PCCs across the diocese to help their exploration of the issues, and I was repeatedly offered this as a reason why children should be excluded. Oddly enough, when challenged, no adult claimed to understand fully what was going on.
Another popular argument was that children were quite happy with a blessing, that it made them feel special. Against that I would set the response of Darling Daughter, then aged about 6, which echoed with piercing clarity into the silence after we’d declaimed, unthinkingly,
“We being many are one bread, one body, because we all share in one bread”.
“But we don’t”
I wept inside that day,- and I'm simply not prepared to subject others to that same experience of exclusion.
Besides, when Jesus looked for a model for the Kingdom...you know whom he put in their midst.

Sorry..I know this is a rant, and as such I may have presented a distorted picture of the reality in my parish, but the Eucharist is central to my faith, and it is through working with children that God drew me into ordained ministry, so the issue is huge and live for me. For more rational discussion, see posts by Maggi and Mark.

6 comments:

Songbird said...

Why, Kathryn? What are you thinking? w Jesus said, "Children should be seen and not heard!" I'm sure he did. It's in the Bible.
You're right on, as far as I'm concerned. Bless you. And if you can't rant here, where can you?

ron said...

Hi Kathryn, I just arrived here after stopping over at Mark,s place...you all are so in my prayers. You know the strange thing...as a family, with our own children, we would never turn them away from the table. And, here is some more blasphemy ( I am so bad ! ), maybe be the real sacrament, the real sacredness is in the act of inclusion, this mysterious covenant where we know, we are children in God's family. Surely in the eyes of a child, when they see everyone else in God's house get bread...and are offered and recieve the same...they are equal...given and fed the same.
Just to bounce a question off the ground, Do you think the disciples in the upper room really grasped and had a full understanding of what was going on.
There you go, I've had my say...geeeesh, you, Maggi and Mark are really bring the worst out of me.

Rev Sam said...

I launched the process of discussion in my parish for this last May - met with some 'concerns' - and is in abeyance until some more immediate issues get resolved. But you're absolutely right. I've always thought it the height of spirtual pride to try and set up a boundary of 'we're worthy, you're not'. To my mind anyone who holds out their hand to receive should receive. The Eucharist is bigger than our conceptions of it; we are all supplicants. I think the present rules have rather a lot in common with the way the temple authorities set boundaries around their worship - something of a theme in the last few Sundays, of course! I agree with Ron - the real sacrament is the act of inclusion. Christ is the act, not the object. Isn't it strange how a rite of radical inclusion (including Judas of course) ends up being a rite of exclusion?

And oh yes - rant away!

Freedom Bound said...

My lovely! Good on you!

Being hauled over the coals by a committee? Didn't call themselves the Sanhedrin then? LOL

I once was hauled over the coals by my PCC as an incumbant because I placed the sacrament into the hands of a waiting woman with learning difficulties......"How dare you give the Holy Sacrament to someone who coudln't understand it"......I love the fact that in their judgement and nigotry they somehow thought they were close to understanding.

Hey ho!

Standing with you sister!

Much love - hope we meet again less virtually soon. xxxx

Lorna said...

bautiful post Kathryn. it was not a rant - but straight from your heart- or maybe int this case the mouth of babes.

I laughed at freedom bound's sanhedrin comment - probably because I'm cross eyes and tired after studying the Pharisees for most of the day.(My course in on CD so Ihave to listen and take notes. Not at all the way I like to study but that's beside the point.)

so what is my point?
The pharisees made the law more complicated, and churches IMHO make the same mistake about so much of what we do, the way we do it. As priest we fall into the temptation of making the same mistake of being set aside and it becoming all about 'look at me, do it my way etc etc. ' that was the crime of the pharisees!

Do I REALLY understand what happens during the Eucharistic prayer? No! I think none of us does, but like your daughter I believe that sharing the one bread makes us one body. (another reason I HATE individul wafers and cups but that's another aside!)

I long for us to share one bread and one cup more easily between denominations - but I will really fight for it to happen within my own congregation. No-one who wants to attend the table of the Lord when I am in charge will be excluded - not for age (or lack of it) or other reasons.

It's time the denominations - all of them - woke up to the fact that we've got this back to front, upside down or plain wrong.

now I'm ranting. must be the pharisee in me. Back to those notes - NOT -I'm off to the supermarket to buy among other things bread :)and two washing baskets as a result of the stressful day last Saturday.


and thanks for this great reminder. I too read Ross' post and it challenged me, and now you and Maggi contiue to make us think outside the box, colour outside the lines and make more room for a GREAT BIG GOD.

it's why I love you so much :)be blessed!

Paul said...

Kathryn, rant away, what's the point of having a blog if you can't rant on it? I often stop by and enjoy your posts. It's great that the young people are asking, and better still that you're responding. I fear that my church lives in such a way that the young people aren't even asking :-(