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.