Smithville Christian Reformed Church, Smithville, Ontario Children at the Table, Our Congregation’s Journey Written byAngela Attema March 2015
Tell us about your congregation's journey to including children at the Lord's Supper.
Smithville CRC began discussions on including children at Communion before Synod's decision of 2011. Over the years, various members inquired why participation in the Lord's Supper was directly connected to Profession of Faith rather than to baptized membership. Our leaders had discussed the topic, but also knew that Synod was going to be addressing it. When the decision was made by Synod, the idea of opening the table to all baptized members was addressed in a more intentional way. Our pastor explained the background and provided study resources to all Council members. After many discussions in the fall of 2011, the council voted to welcome children to the table.
This was a significant change in the practice and policy of our church. We knew it would require much prayer and leading of the Spirit. Council appointed an Ad-hoc Children and Communion Implementation Team consisting of the pastor, the ministry coordinator, an executive council member, a children's ministry rep, and a youth ministry rep. Before developing a plan, we realized that there were two questions that needed to be addressed: 1) At what age will we allow children to participate? and 2) What happens to Profession of Faith?
The team agreed that parents ought to be the ones who are in the best position to "encourage, hear, and determine age and ability appropriate expressions of faith" from their child. To set a minimum age at which a covenant member of God's family can partake of the spiritual food intended to help them grow spiritually, seemed inappropriate. When a child is ready, parents are asked to inform their district elder of their child's participation, so that the elder can support and encourage them in their decision, (not for the purpose of asking permission.) Profession of Faith would remain largely unchanged except that it is no longer a prerequisite for communion. Public Profession of Faith is a way that members identify themselves with the people of God, accepting all His promises, and making themselves willing to serve the church formally with gifts of money and service.
To move forward, the team identified 3 main steps: 1) Preparing and educating the congregation, parents, and the children, 2) Developing a plan to welcome the children to the table, and 3) Implementing a follow up plan for ongoing education of the congregation and children.
To prepare and educate the congregation, the most significant tool was a morning worship service. This service was devoted to the study of and teaching about the denomination's decision and the scriptural understandings that gave rise to the change. This service helped many church members understand the reason for a change. A written summary of the service was also provided to the congregation. Over the next couple of weeks, the congregation was also given the opportunity to submit written questions. The answers to the questions were shared at a Q & A time offered after a morning service. A written report of the Q and A’s was also distributed to the whole church family.
In addition, we offered a small group study using the Faith Alive resource A Place at the Table. Even though we held this study twice, the attendance was quite low. Parents were encouraged to attend a small group Bible study and to connect with the elders. To encourage further discussions, families with young children were also provided with the pamphlet “Wondering About the Sacraments with Children” as well as the family devotional You’re Invited. A card was included inside the devotional, which listed the names of a family’s children and their baptism dates. Families could use this card as a springboard to remember and celebrate God's special mark on them as baptized members. In all the teachings, it was made clear that we were embracing this as a church family, but ultimately the decision for children to partake in the Lord’s Supper was still up to the parents.
Our Sunday School coordinator was very intentional and adjusted the class curriculum and yearly themes to line up with the covenant themes. Our coordinator also prepared lessons that focused on the celebration of the Lord's Supper. A one-time presentation was developed for the GEMS and Cadet groups. Our youth representative developed a one-time Q & A presentation for the youth. Parents were informed and young adults were also invited to participate in this discussion.
With this preparation and by communication through the bulletin and the pulpit, our congregation celebrated the Lord's Supper for the first time including the children in the fall of 2013. The format of the service was changed so that the celebration of the Lord’s Supper happened before the children left for Sunday School. It was, again, made clear to our church family and guests that participation of children was welcomed, but not expected, thereby respecting where every family was at in processing this change.
So what about an ongoing plan for education to congregation and children? A clearly labeled resource basket is displayed in the church library that includes the DVD study, written copies of the teaching worship service, the You're Invited devotional, and a "Wondering" pamphlet. In addition, elders are encouraged to ask about faith formation in their family visits and when they hear of children who are participating, they are encouraged to celebrate with them. New families are informed of the resources available and how we invite all ages to the Lord’s Supper. The 3-week study A Place at the Table will be offered from time to time. Youth leaders are encouraged to talk about this with young people. Guest pastors are informed ahead of time of our new approach and format.
Describe the impact this journey, this examination, of the Lord’s Supper has had on your congregation.
Our church took our time in making these steps, about a two-year process from start to finish. It was bathed in prayer. We sought to communicate very well and tried to address the concerns of the congregation. Though there were some strong reservation and apprehension, it was a beautiful thing to see church members engage with the topic in a fresh way. The slow and clear process seemed to allow for respect for the decision of each family. The process has encouraged families to be more aware of and able to talk about the meaning and purpose of the supper. These discussions also did not cause any families to leave. There has been a greater emphasis on what it means to be part of God's family, and on the means of His grace that makes that happen. That was and is a wonderful thing!
What could we [other congregations] learn from your experience?
We chose to have this be a Council decision and not a congregational decision. The Implementation Team worked under the mandate of the Council, which helped to focus their work. Communication and education with the congregation was critical as was allowing adequate time for the congregation to become comfortable with the change. By the time we invited children to the table there were no surprises and it was welcomed as a celebration. Many families have chosen not to have their children participate at this time, and that is okay. We do not publicly recognize the children who do and so there is no attention drawn to those who do or do not participate. Our prayer is that all members and families will be able to grow in His grace, and that the celebration of the supper in our worship will help strengthen the faith of all His children.