Week by week, we come to be part of the Communion service – as part of the family together, but also as unique individuals responding to God’s call to come to the banquet. Some receive a blessing from the priest as babies in their parents’ arms. Others are older children, maybe from the Fish and Chip club, taking a cube of bread from the basket. Those who come for Communion are offered a consecrated wafer. Some receive the wafer in their hands, waiting for the chalice to be offered so that they can dip the wafer in the wine. Others consume the wafer and then receive the chalice. Some prefer to hold or tip the chalice for themselves whilst others prefer the priest to hold the chalice for them. Some really appreciate the square gluten-free wafer that’s available, and on occasions someone who struggles with alcohol might take only bread and slip away quietly before the wine is offered. Some stand. Some kneel, even though it might be costly to do so. Some remain in their seats in the pews, and the bread and wine are shared with them where they sit. Some come forward not to receive bread and wine but to accept words of blessing from the priest. They may be at an in-between place in their journey of faith, or from a different tradition, or someone travelling towards Baptism and Confirmation. Some do not come forward at all, for many complex reasons of personal circumstance, but are fully present in the service, still part of the family’s great banquet together. Many stories all gathered around one table.
For most of us, our experience of initiation into the Church of England has been one which follows the pattern of Baptism, and Confirmation followed by admission to Holy Communion. The reality is that this is neither a technical requirement nor an accurate reflection of many congregations in today’s wider church. For some time now, parishes have been able ask for permission to welcome any baptised person to take Communion. In practice, this decision would mostly apply to children and young people who are baptised, and are expressing interest in taking part more fully in the Communion service. However, society is changing and churches often find that they have adults in their congregation who for whatever reason were not confirmed as a teenage rite of passage, and yet are committed to the life of their local church.
As a parish, we are taking time this year to reflect prayerfully on these issues. It is our turn to consider whether we want to offer Communion openly to any who are baptised who want to receive it. Together, we will explore how our church community understands Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation – in small groups, special events and through our Lenten series. However, it is in our myriad of conversations, one with another that we find our stories shape our hearts and minds.
Socrates said that wisdom begins in wonder. Why not try this story as a wisdom-starter? I wonder what would happen if a new family arrives at St Mary’s with children who are used to receiving Communion. What impact might it have on other people? How should we react? Declining to offer bread and wine to someone who has been used to receiving them is a very grave matter. What could our hospitality look like for these parents, and more especially for their children? I wonder.