IT WAS the climax of an informal parish event. I turned to the
right, and held up my hands to receive the bread, hearing the
familiar yet profound words: "The body of Christ". They were spoken
by a nine-year-old girl: strongly, if a little nervously, and with
a smile. I had baptised her as a baby, seen her grow up in the
church family, and prepared her for admission to holy communion two
years earlier. Now she was ministering to me as part of the one
body of Christ, to which we both belong.
On the few occasions I have received eucharistic bread and the
wine from the hands of a child, it has always been a most natural
and graceful act of sharing in Christ's love and goodness.
Sometimes it has been in the context of a short informal eucharist
during a parish holiday, or at the end of a special event, sitting
in an all-age circle, where the bread and wine have been passed
from one to another: adults offering the sacrament to children, and
children to adults. Similarly, it has happened with my own children
at home in special family moments, when one of us has been sick, or
else while we have been on holiday and out of reach of a
The settings described were not deliberately set up, but rather
arose naturally in the parishes where I have been Vicar, as well as
from within my own family's spiritual need and worship. At the
time, they seemed the obvious and most real way to express our
oneness, joy, and dependence as members together of the body of
I have never yet encouraged or allowed children to administer
the elements in a Sunday parish communion, although I look forward
to the day when I can do so appropriately, and with the authority
of the Church.
I REJOICE that in the Church of England we now all belong to a
Church that allows for the admission of baptised and regularly
worshipping children to holy communion before confirmation. The
sacrament of initiation at baptism rightly opens the way to the
sacrament of nurture in holy communion. It took us hundreds of
years to revert to what the earliest churches and Eastern Orthodox
Christians have understood and practised from the beginning.
The eucharist is a liminal encounter with our Saviour, where all
hierarchies, whether social, institutional, or age-related, are
laid aside in the oneness of the body of Christ. Why do we not
order our worship accordingly, and use the gifts of all members of
the fellowship more fully?
We neglect the many examples in scripture where children and
young people are called and set aside for leadership and ministry
very early: the boy Samuel hearing God's voice in the middle of the
night; David, as the youngest son, being dragged away from his
sheep to be anointed the next king of Israel.
Most of all, we do not fully honour the way in which Jesus
regarded children and placed them centrally in the Kingdom. Young
children are often servers at the eucharist. Why can't they be
eucharistic ministers also?
The increasing practice of celebrating the eucharist in church
schools, including primary schools, also offers a terrific
opportunity for properly discerned and discerning children to
express this grace and pastoral gift. It takes their Christian
nurture and potential spiritual leadership seriously, and enhances
the quality of worship for all. I know of church secondary schools
where students have been formally licensed by the bishop to
administer in services of holy communion; why not in primary
AT THE General Synod in the summer, we authorised specific
eucharistic liturgies for use when a significant number of children
are present (Synod,
13 July). It follows theologically and spiritually that it is
apt to prepare some of our young disciples to administer the
sacrament in such worship at church and school, as well as to
Some Christian children offer early evidence of the charisms of
pastoral care and spiritual leadership. And Jesus did put a child
in the midst of his divisive, ambitious, and immature adult
followers, as the ultimate example of true and trusting
discipleship. It is a justice issue within the Kingdom of God. Are
they not full members of the body of Christ, and as such to be
given the opportunity to serve?
In both parish churches where I have been a vicar, I have been
privileged to prepare and admit young children to receive
communion, and have seen the worship and life of the church
transformed in doing so. To allow and encourage committed Christian
children and young people to administer the sacrament of our Lord's
body and blood is a natural and inclusive progression. It is
transformative for both children and adults, and enhances our
mutual experience of the body of Christ.
Our Lord Jesus was vulnerable and powerless on the cross, and it
is iconic for adults to receive from a young person with little
social status and influence. In doing so, children are no longer
passengers in eucharistic worship, and can give as well as receive.
They are often more insightful and open, reminding us that you do
not need intellectual understanding to discern the love and
sacrifice of Christ in bread and wine.
There was a seven-year-old with Down syndrome who regularly
signed the nail-prints of Jesus on the palms of his hands at the
communion rail when I held out the bread to him. In the body of
Christ, age, experience, status, and intellect are all laid down at
the foot of the cross.
Jesus said: "Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a
child cannot enter it." Whoever has not received the sacramental
tokens of the Kingdom from a committed, joyful, and yet serious
Christian child has missed out on a humbling, challenging, and
nurturing experi- ence. The General Synod meeting next week gives
us an opportunity, through the Southwell & Nottingham
diocesan-synod motion, to make a change. Let's authorise it.
The Ven. Peter Hill is the Archdeacon of