Sunday, 9 March 2008

Eucharistic tears

At my local parish, young children are allowed to receive the bread at Communion. But this morning our rector was away, and the visiting priest followed the usual Anglican procedure of giving the children a blessing instead of bread. I didn’t really notice this until my family had returned to our pew – when we had sat down, my three-year-old daughter burst into tears and exclaimed loudly: “But where’s my body of Christ?”


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Whatever your views on "children at the table", this is bad pastoral practice. But the really big jolt comes when a family moves from a more inclusive parish to a more traditional one and the kids are excluded altogether after perhaps years of reception. Clearly the issue is not just one of eucharistic theology but also of church order.

Unknown said...

This was one of the factors that led us to changing churches. I don't think Anglican theology follows through regarding their theology of Baptism and subsequent inclusion in the church family and what that means in regards to communion.

My boys used to get miffed and rightly so when they would hold out their hands and get bypassed and once the youngest said loudly making a fuss, I want it too! My loud reply to him was, "I want you to have it as well"

Anonymous said...

Typical! What else can you expect from a theologically impoverished communion-in-tatters, founded upon the sexual ineptitude of a royal SOB. Ah Ben, when will you see the light and come down the road to your friendly neighbourhood Uniting Church (I know a really good one in Forest Lake) where the Eucharist is celebrated as Christ's radical invitation to all to join him at table as the rendering-visible of the presence of the Kingdom?

Tom Allen said...

In the Church of England now the situation of changing parishes should not occur - it was agreed by the House of Bishops that if children move to a Church which does not practice admission to communion before confirmation they should continue to recieve Communion and parents have a right to insist. We offered communion to two youngsters before we moved to Communion before confirmation.

Something to add to the "briefing list" for visiting clergy for Ben's parish

Murray said...

"Crede, et manducasti."?

Anonymous said...

In the 'culture of consumption' in which we live, would it not be better to resist the emotive pleas of our children in this case, and explain to them the theological foundations upon which rests the church's practice to wait until the appropriate age of intellectual maturity arises to administer the sacrament? Giving in to their emotional outbursts seems to me merely to give in to this I-want-it-now culture in which we live. Let them learn to make sense of their negative feelings as a sign of the virtue of desire differed rather than use the host as some sort of spiritual 'prozac' meant to keep them quiet.

Richard Beck said...

I think it has to do with expectations and then changing them on children. If a child has participated, theological issues aside, to change the practice just sows
a lingering, negative memory of exclusion.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anony-mouse,

Ben's daughter's tears and plaintive question, I'd venture, didn't arise from a culturally induced disordered desire but (with Richard Beck) from an understandable feeling of exclusion. After all, she had been regularly receiving the sacrament only to have it suddenly and without explanation withdrawn - and she wondered why. If she wants-it-now it is only because she has had-it-before, not because she is a narcissistic little brat (of course she may be that too, though perish the thought in a Ben-child!).

As for "intellectual maturity", man, would that empty our tables and send the stock in wafers and wine plummeting! Ironically, if anyone didn't "discern the body" in Ben's church this morning it was not Ben's daughter but the priest.

Anonymous said...

Richard and Kim, it strikes me as odd that both of you lean on the 'feeling of exclusion' as somehow of theological substance. This strikes me as sentimental at best, wishy washy at worst. If I were a parent who had been taking my unbaptized child to a church practicing 'open communion' and then moved to another church which followed the proper canons on this and the priest there learned that my child was not baptized, should that priest not deny my child communion? Why should the poor dear's 'feeling excluded' make any headway on this issue of theological substance?

Richard Beck said...

First, as a point of personal preference, I get irritated with the adjective "wishy-washy" while discussing an issue with an anonymous interlocutor.

Second, Ben was in his own church and the practices were changed within the church. Thus, when the child protests it is not a symptom of a "culture of consumption" or an "I want it now" outburst. It is a legitimate question: Why are things different this Sunday?

Third, as to theological substance, anytime the Christian community conveys the message that "you are not welcome" theological reflection should begin. That is not to say the feeling of exclusion trumps, but any message of exclusion should be taken as a datum of substance and be surrounded with theological reflection.

Anonymous said...

Anony-mouse, I think you're missing the point - two points really. First, is Ben's daughter unbaptised? Perhaps you know something that I don't. But even if she isn't baptised, she wasn't worshipping in another church, she was in her own church family.

As to your general point about exclusiviness, yeah, in the UK too the term "inclusiveness" now tends to lack any theological substance - it's been commandeered by New Labour, the Liberal Democrats - and even the bloody Tories! - and all the talk of the chattering classes is about "having one's experiences validated". Still, if the problem Paul addresses in I Corinthians 11 isn't about one section of the community not only feeling excluded but being excluded by another section of the community in the context of the celebration of the Lord's Supper, what is it about?

Anonymous said...

Richard, I don't quite get your first point--using a pseudonym has quite an ancient pedigree in Christian polemics of the written sort. If you are implying that I am thus a coward, you have launched an ad hominem against a person you don't even know and which could tarnish the reputations of quite a number of our best writings, which were not written with "proper" names attached (the gospels for starters!) ! While I will not pretend to being the most courageous person in the world, I must say I have faced an angry mob or two in my brief life and did not back down.
As for Ben's particular church, I hardly think that focusing on that specific example changes the issue materially. The problem is, as Kim said earlier, church order--which is, at least within Anglicanism these days, disorderly to say the least. The question still remains why an emotional appeal to a child's emotional outburst ought to carry ANY theological weight, regardless of the circumstances. If the church's theological position has changed, and what was once allowed is not now (or vice versa), our emotional reactions to this, it seems to me, are simply irrelevant. The church defines doctrine and practice theologically, not based on how we in the pews may feel about it.
Thirdly, I will not disagree with you that moments of exclusion ought to raise theologically substantive questions. But again, the answers to these questions should only be done in properly theological mode. If we are worried about exclusion, we should simply accept open communion as the best option on this front. Then nobody's feelings get hurt, kiddies won't cry, and we'll all feel much better about how loving and accepting we are.

Anonymous said...

Do you know what, I'm not sure which breaks my heart more - to hear of Ben's little daughter feeling excluded where once she had been included or to hear grown theologians taking lumps out of each other.

Hmm, picture the scene, one upper room in Jerusalem c. 30 CE.... sorry Peter/James/John/Judas/Maththew etc etc you can't eat my bread because I haven't checked your Baptism certificates... yes maybe you took part last week but not today, new rules in place folks...

OK I'm a heretic Baptist and therefore have very funny views on Baptism and Eucharist but what I see here is, as Kim points out so rightly, poor pastoral practice.

There is a little book 'Our God has No Favourites' sadly now out of print but can usually be found ino Amazon which profoundly influenced my thinking in this whole area.

The only one who can discern an improper approach to the Table is God - who fortunately is not in the habit of sending thunderblolts on those of us who are unworhthy participants

There's nothing wrong with honest disagreement (I'd personally have reservations over serving very young children but could not in conscience refuse anyone who responded volunatarily to the invitation)but can we be a tad nicer to each other please?

Richard Beck said...

I just want to note that I'm not a theologian and wish to be held to a lower standard.

Ben Myers said...

Hi all — thanks for these comments, I'm enjoying the discussion. But I might just mention that this wasn't an upsetting ordeal, and my post wasn't trying to make any big theological point (even though I'm a strong believer in open communion). The thing I liked was simply that little Anna did "discern the body of Christ" in her own surprising way: she wasn't crying (as I would have expected) because she missed out on a piece of wafer, but because she had missed "my body of Christ." I just thought it was kinda cute, that's all.

And in defence of the poor priest, I can see that he was looking a bit uncertain about whether he should be giving the children Communion — I don't think he was trying to exclude anyone as a matter of principle, he was probably just unclear about the parish's usual practice.

In any case, Anna soon recovered from her "emotional outburst" (an incidental point: "emotional outbursting" is the norm for young children, and the exception is a rare and fleeting "rational inburst") — my wife had seen the whole thing coming, and she had tactfully saved half her wafer.

Anonymous said...

Ben, so you really think communion should be open to anyone who comes forward to receive? CAtholic, protestant, Jew, Nonbaptized, non-christian, heretics (at least by the particular denomination's standards) , any and all comers?

Thuloid said...

I guess I'd understand this from a slightly different angle. Of course this is bad pastoral practice, and something that doesn't measure up to the baptismal theology at work, either.

Still, I don't think exclusion is precisely the issue. What we're speaking of is, in this church, more than a memorial, yes? Then we're talking about Christ himself and his distribution, even to the young. She missed her body of Christ because she knew it was really for her--that is, for her benefit (which it most certainly was). Now the second issue is where is the blood?

Am I understanding you correctly, Ben, that your parish communes children in only one kind? If the body is for her, then so is the blood, age notwithstanding. If she's considered old enough to receive the life our Lord gave for her, then she's old enough to receive it extravagantly. Besides, there's something wonderfully countercultural about giving alcohol to children in the name of God.

Ben Myers said...

Yes, Thuloid, you're right. In this matter (as in so much else) we Protestants still have a long way to go to catch up with our Catholic and Orthodox friends.

Anonymous said...

If you can't abide grown theologians taking lumps out of each other, then I'm guessing you're not much for reading the entire history of Christian theology! One of the things that struck me about this website is that it is made up of theological types who have expressed an open aversion to an overly emotional, 'touchy-feely' theology where we say nothing because we don't want to risk offending. It is in that spirit that I have challenged what I see as theologically suspect and overly sentimental thought creep in. I may be wrong, but I have trouble squaring the idea of open communion with any credible version of orthodox theology, generous or otherwise.
That said, I am not heartless (!). I have young children of my own, and I imagine that I would have ached in my heart had I heard one of them say what Ben's daughter Anna said this morning. Nevertheless, for theology to be orthodox, it must not fear the possibility of offence, as many comments on this blog over the weeks have admirably attested. It is in that spirit, of loving challgenge, that I have questioned whether giving communion to little children is not giving in to the spirit of spiritual consumerism (we need to get them branded on our particular spiritual product 'young' so as not to lose them to a competing brand (buddhism, etc. etc) later. That is the analogy I have actually heard clergy use in explaining this rather radical new practice of administering communion to young people--the same logic cigarette companies use--get 'em young!) I expect the shocked rejoinders, but still await an adequate theological rational for this, open communion, and worst of all it seems to me, allowing differing practices in different parishes, as if it were up to the priest to decide. Talk about theological unilateralism!

Anonymous said...

Come on anony, you have not yet given any reasons for closed communion. Ben and others on the other hand have'nt defended open communion. However you are the one objecting to Ben's theology. Surely a church-creating practice and mystery such as eucharist out to be given to all comers?

Anonymous said...

Tom Allen is right. The current regulations in the C of E mean that once you're admitted to communion, you stay admitted. And the visiting cleric needs to be properly briefed.

Yours in Christ - JOHN HARTLEY

Alex said...

I'm confused as to why the priest or pastor should have anything to do with it. I think it should be up to each individual, and in the case of minors, each family unit to decide who will have communion or not. In churches I have been a part of (Protestant U.S.), the wine and bread are passed through the aisles on trays. Then families/individuals can decide for themselves what they will do. Wouldn't this take care of it all? Or is there some symbolic reason it must pass from a tray, to the priests hands, and into the eaters hands?

Unknown said...

Thank you for this touching account. I am a strong believe that at baptism we become full members of the Body - including admission to the table. To keep children away implies to me that somehow baptism is lacking something which can only come with age - and I object to the idea that anything at all is lacking in baptism.

Diane M. Roth said...

Ben, I agree with you that the main point is that she DID discern the body of Christ, and was not just missing a wafer. Because, in all the theological back and forth, that is one of the points always being made: children are not "qualified" because they are not capable of discerning the body of Christ.

We practice open communion -- open to "baptized Christians" -- so that is a restriction, isn't it, anony-mouse?

We do first communion instruction in 5th grade, but when a family joined whose son had been taking communion at his previous church, he just kept communing. Of course, he still took the class, because it's never a bad thing to learn MORE, is it?

Anonymous said...

Sorry Richard-- because you have thoughts and opinions about God-- you ARE a theologian--just not as right as the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

Hi Roger,

That Richard is a theologian is a fair point. But I find your use of the word "us" perplexing. I scrolled up and down and unless I've missed something, you have expressed neither a thought nor an opinion on this matter.

Does your "us" include me? If so, I think that all the baptised, whatever their age (or condition), should be welcomed to the Lord's table. And as far as I can tell, that is not an eccentric postion to take, on the contrary, it is the current ecumenical consensus. The only significantly contentious issue is the question of "preparation", i.e. whether some form of "instruction" is necessary as a precondition for communion, or whether it may follow as children grow into the mystery, and as they grow up intellectually. For what it's worth, I take the latter view.

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