Letter from The Rector - February 2019

Children and the Body of Christ

As communion was distributed, an 8-year-old boy paid close attention. He was very interested in what was going on and started to take a wafer. His mother leaned over and told him that he was not old enough to be a part of Communion. Later, when the collection plate came by he ignored it. His mother again leaned over and this time tried to coax a coin out of him. He steadfastly refused, stating, “If I’m not old enough to eat, I’m not old enough to pay!”

Whilst this is amusing, it also carries a very serious message about attitudes that make children feel a part of the church, and attitudes that make them feel like unwanted guests at an adult activity.

Over my 9 years in Cirencester one of the things I am proudest of is how we brought the Good News of Jesus to young people. The church tends to look like those who run it, and so often that means it looks like a club where young people (and their children) don’t belong.

As a part of actively trying to make our church more welcoming to young people, each year I would prepare children to take First Holy Communion. Surprisingly for me, preparing children to become a full member of their church family, proved to be one of the most significant experiences of my ministry.

Many have questioned the wisdom of admitting children under the age of 12 to communion. I must confess that I had my doubts too, but each year, as these children first received the body of Christ, something special happened. The Holy Spirit blew through the whole church, and some of God’s precious children drew closer to Him, and became more intricately entwined in His body, the church.

When one is ordained, there is a tradition that people line up before the new priest to receive a first blessing from them. Each year, as we admitted children into receiving the body of Christ, I felt like asking for their blessing in the same way. They were especially blessed by God, and it was a special day for all of us who shared in God’s blessings through them.

One of the things I think we may learn from children and the Eucharist, is that being a Christian isn’t about logical comprehension or knowing things. It is actually about the simple desire to draw closer to God. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” I am greatly enriched by God’s little ones, who often receive the spirit in such a pure and simple way compared with us complicated grownups!

Fr. Howard Gilbert