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A blessing at the altar rail does not patronise children

02 November 2006


From Mrs Joan Bentley
Sir, — I have just read Giles Fraser’s article “Safe in the hands of children” ( Comment, 5 November), and am almost tempted to think that we belong to different Churches.

At St Paul’s, Accrington, children come to the altar to receive a blessing. From a few weeks old, they come with their parents; later, they come with the Sunday school. So, by the time they are old enough to be confirmed (and understand just what the eucharist means), they are quite at home at the altar rails. I do not find this patronising; nor do adults, not yet confirmed, who also come for a blessing.

As for his other remarks, I find them baffling. Jellybabies at the altar rail? Load of old rubbish indeed.
5 Epsom Way
Lancs BB5 2AP

From Mr Paul Brazier
Sir, — The inclusion of children at holy communion is laudable. But Dr Giles Fraser’s comment leaves more questions unanswered than it addresses.

Is this practice to be comparable to first communion in the Roman Catholic Church, where children as young as eight years old are prepared and receive (a practice that does not prevent later confirmation or a faith commitment)? To what extent are children in today’s Church of England given the same degree of preparation in terms of biblical or doctrinal education as in Rome, or for that matter in the Evangelical Churches, particularly with regard to sin and repentance?

Inclusivity is to be applauded, but on what grounds — human need or the righteousness of God? What is to be made of children who take the wafer and run off round the church to the home corner to play with it (shades of Pelagianism?), parents looking on, smiling inanely: does this not reduce communion to the same level as the holy Jellybaby that Dr Fraser rightly criticises?

Without proper theological guidelines, is the present approach inevitably an Anglican compromise, reflecting a consumer society that must have everything it desires with immediate effect? And are we in danger of belittling the importance of simply giving children a blessing, grace freely given: “Lord, we are not worthy to receive you, but only say the word . . .”?
64 Oxford Avenue
Wimbledon Chase
London SW20 8LT

From the Revd John Smart
Sir, — It was exciting to read Giles Fraser’s article “Safe in the hands of children”. I, too, both as a grandparent and a parish priest have experienced the joy and privilege of seeing children admitted to “communion before confirmation” around the age of seven to nine. Their preparation groups, which included a teach-in for parents, were an opportunity for purposeful Christian teaching, not just about the eucharist. They looked forward to the day of their admission with excitement and awe. The simple admission ceremony at the Sunday eucharist was a wonderful occasion.

Up to the time of my retirement two years ago, 90 per cent had progressed after three years or so to confirmation. Many are still lively members of the church youth group.

As one parent, who as a child had been admitted to first communion in the Roman Catholic Church, explained to me: “At my first communion, I enjoyed at last becoming a full member of the church family; at my confirmation, as a young adult, I expressed my own personal commitment to Jesus.”
Sunnymede, South Zeal
Devon EX20 2JL

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