Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
During the seasons of Lent and Easter this year, I’ve been reflecting on Communion. Over the last two years, some congregations have gone without the sacrament in times when they could not worship in person, others have explored ways to share in the sacrament virtually. As we’ve begun to venture back into our churches, these Communion practices have changed yet again. From Communion in the pews, to continuous-style Communion, to Communion at the rail, there have been a variety of practices and options. Do we use wafers or bread? Juice or wine? Communion in one kind or both? Meanwhile, I recognize that we are not all of one mind when it comes to these decisions. Do I have all the answers? No. But I continue to work with the health team and the council to determine how to proceed with Communion practices in worship.
Thankfully, my experiences with the sacrament have not only been around safety and procedure over these last few months. Every year, during Holy Week, I like to visit our homebound members and share Communion with them. In my previous call, as well as here at St. Paul’s, this practice has been met with surprise from some. “Are you sure you have time to visit with us this week? Aren’t you busy?” Yes. However, the sacrament of Communion is so important that I want to be sure to celebrate with our homebound members regularly. Especially surrounding the church’s festival days, it’s important to me that our homebound members are included in the worshiping community and receive the sacrament, even when they are not able to physically attend church. So, even though it’s a busy week, I set aside time to share Communion with our homebound members. It means that beyond sharing in the sacrament and leading worship, not much else gets done during Holy Week. But I am called as a “Minister of Word and Sacrament”, so I think it’s an appropriate way to spend my week!
As I made my visits during Holy Week, I also asked about having other church members bring Communion to them on a regular basis. While it’s nice to be able to participate in Communion through the livestream, it takes on a different feel when we share in Communion in-person. Over the next couple months, we’ll be resuming our Lay Eucharistic Ministry program and looking for volunteers to visit monthly with our homebound members and celebrate Communion together. More information about this program is included in this month’s Chimes.
And finally, I’ve been reflecting on First Communion. During the pandemic, I imagine many children who would have received their First Communion have not yet done so. Along with that comes the age-old question, “At what age, really, should a child receive their First Communion?” This has been an incredibly divisive issue throughout many churches, and there’s no single right answer.
When my daughter was young, I struggled with this question too, and I had just graduated seminary! When she was about a year and a half old, we’d go up to the rail for Communion on Sundays and she’d put out her hand like the rest of us. Being the “good parent”, I’d gently put her hand down, and say to my pastor, “Just a blessing, please.” Thankfully, my daughter wasn’t one to cry and scream as we walked away from the rail if she didn’t receive something. But I’ve seen it happen plenty of times, and my heart breaks for those kids (and their parents). After about 2 weeks of her reaching for Communion, my pastor took us aside after church, and asked if we were ready for her to receive. We said we were unsure, but my pastor asked us to consider the message we send if we continued to refuse to let our daughter commune: we’re essentially saying to her that Jesus isn’t for her—not yet, because she doesn’t understand, because she’s not in the right mindset, or because she’s not old enough. And that was certainly not the message we wanted Ella to receive. We knew, wholeheartedly, that Jesus was for her and for us all, regardless of age, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, economic status, mental understanding or capacity, or any other reason. So, the next Sunday, at a year and a half old, my daughter started receiving communion. Over time, she’s learned more about what the sacrament means.
I appreciated that my pastor took us aside and spoke to us about Communion. There’s no one “right age” for children to begin receiving Communion. It’s a decision that needs to be made together between parents, pastors, and (when possible) children. But, we should also be intentional about the message we’re sending our children in the time before and after they receive their First Communion. So, over the next couple months I’ll be preparing to celebrate First Communion with any children in the congregation that are ready to do so. Parents are invited to contact me now or anytime in the future to begin First Communion preparation.
Celebrating the Eucharist is at the heart of our life together as a church. In this holy meal, Christ comes to us in body and blood, bread and wine. Week after week, Jesus promises to show up. If you are ever lost, or questioning where to find God’s presence in this world, you can trust that Christ is present with us whenever and wherever we celebrate Communion.
Rev. Jessica Hahn