Willoughby’s Pathway

Willoughby Christian Reformed Church, Langley, BC
Children at the Table, Our Congregation’s Journey
Written by Liz Tolkamp, Children’s Pastor
March 2015

Tell us about your congregation's journey to including children at the Lord's Supper.

Willoughby Christian Reformed Church has been welcoming Children at the Table as young as eight years old by profession of faith since 1996. 

Part One of the Journey:

Our journey toward the full participation of children at the table began as a response to our Pastoral Elders who were asking the following questions regarding our practice of children at the table:

  1. Does baptism alone allow children to come to the table or does it require a profession of faith? By what event, if any, should children be welcomed to the table?
  2. How do we know when children are responsible enough to know what it means to be at the table? What do they need to know?
  3. Is there or should there be a hard and fast rule on how old a child should be to participate in communion? 
  4. Is our current practice of requiring a profession of faith for children to participate in communion creating an environment of inclusivity or exclusivity?
  5. We have an unspoken and unwritten practice of accepting and inviting any adults who believe in the Lord to the table even if they may not have made a profession of faith. Does this practice send mixed messages to children since we require them to make a profession of faith?

These questions led our Pastoral Elders to request our church council to establish a focus group whose mandate was to revisit all our church practices in relation to faith nurture, membership and profession of faith and to find strategies to address:

  • Nurturing the faith of children and their growth in Christ, with implications for the sacraments, membership and profession of faith.
  • Profession of faith for adults, adult faith growth and the implications for membership and sacraments.

The focus group, established in Sept 2012, consisted of the interim preaching pastor, the chair of elders, the children’s pastor and the youth leader and completed its work by June 2013. 

The focus group looked at the following four areas: 

  1. a theology of children and the covenant.
  2. an overview of ancient practices of the church with regard to children and the sacraments.
  3. the history of children at the table within the CRC (Synod).
  4. the history of children at the table within our own Willoughby church context. 

As the process unfolded the focus group committed to being transparent in reporting their work and committed to on-going monthly conversations with the Pastoral Elders who then communicated with the council.  The council also reported these conversations monthly to the congregation via the council notes in the bulletin.

In Feb of 2013 the Pastoral Elders accepted the recommendation of the focus group that: “Children of any age may participate in the Lord’s Supper, from the day of their Baptism, consistent with Synod’s decision, 2011.”

Part Two of the Journey:

In March of 2013 the council accepted the recommendation (from the Pastoral Elders and the focus group) that “All baptized members are welcome to the Lord’s Supper for age and ability appropriate faith . . . as per Synod 2011 page 578. . . to be the position for Willoughby Christian Reformed Church.  However, council wanted congregational input before final approval and implementation.  Council committed to communicating to the congregation in these ways:

  1. at their bi-annual congregational meeting
  2. through a Q and A session following a morning worship service
  3. with printed materials
  4. in a three-part sermon series in May
    • Nurturing covenant families – Deut 6:1–15
    • Children and the Lord’s Supper – Deut 29:1–29
    • The People of God and the Lord’s Supper – 1 Cor 11:17–34

After listening to the congregation the council approved the recommendation and introduced the concept in the worship service the Sunday before communion and implemented it in a communion service in June, 2013.

Describe the impact this journey this examination of the Lord’s Supper has had on your congregation.

The council committed to supporting the following strategies with regard to Children at the Table. We are doing really well on the first two, but need to work on the last two.  

  1. The nurture and sustaining of the faith children through the Lord’s Supper, and teaching on the Lord’s Supper, ought to be pursued.
  2. The equipping and resourcing of parents to nurture their children in Christ in every way, including teaching children about the Lord’s Supper is critical for the spiritual vitality of our community.
  3. Supporting Gems and Cadets leaders in nurturing children in Christ through scripture and prayer needs to be a priority of the church.
  4. The maturing of our teenagers and young adults in Christ is a critical issue and all efforts must be made to this end.

What could we [other congregations] learn from your experience?

  1. View this as a process, a journey that will take time.
  2. Communicate well with leadership committees and congregation.
  3. Be transparent throughout the process. 
  4. Engage your congregation by providing various opportunities for input and dialogue, etc.
  5. While pastor participation is crucial, we found that the pastor did not need to lead the process.