Church leaders from congregations around Grand Rapids, Mich., gathered recently to discuss best practices for welcoming children to the sacrament of communion.
Synod 2011 (the annual leadership meeting of the Christian Reformed Church) decided to allow children to participate in the Lord’s Supper before making a formal profession of faith. It left it up to individual congregations whether and how to implement that policy.
Church leaders share ideas and questions about how best to transition their congregations to welcoming children to the table for communion.
Rev. Howard Vanderwell and Pat Nederveld, both members of the synodical Faith Formation Committee, addressed the gathering. “We knew that this had the potential to cause division,” said Nederveld, “so congregations have latitude to follow or to wait.”
All participants were encouraged to engage in learning opportunities for parents, learning opportunities for children, a conversation with elders, and a liturgical ceremony of welcome.
In small groups participants discussed questions that had arisen in their congregations, such as how to address youths who wish this decision had been made in their childhood; what to do with children who have not been baptized or with adults who have not made a commitment to Christianity; how to work with families within the congregation who hold differing views regarding children taking part in communion.
Mary VanWingerden, an elder of Plymouth Heights CRC, joined an ad hoc committee of her church to discuss the transition and found that all were feeling ready to implement the new policy. She attributed this, in part, to the congregation’s active Friendship Ministry that already welcomes adults with disabilities to the Lord’s Table.
Kathy Ruiter, a member of First CRC, shared how her family decided to participate fully when worshiping with another denomination on summer vacation. “[My daughter] wept when she was not allowed to take communion when we returned to our home church,” she said.
Others raised questions about profession of faith. “Now what?” asked Nancy Spoolstra, a former elder of Eastern Avenue CRC. “This was once the ritual in order to take communion.”
“We prefer to think in terms of milestones,” said Vanderwell, “rather than simply thinking of people as children before profession of faith and adults after.”
Several agreed that opening the table was a preferable option for young adults who desire to participate in the Lord’s Supper but are fearful of the process and ritual of a public profession of faith.
“I hope that this will revitalize how we think about baptism and profession of faith,” said VanWingerden.