UNCONFIRMED children who are regular communicants should be
enabled under certain conditions, by a change in the law, to
distribute holy communion, the General Synod has decided.
In a debate on the Wednesday morning, its resolution also
requested that, if the bishop agreed, the power of authorisation
could be transferred to the clergy.
Introducing the motion from his diocesan synod, the Bishop of
Southwell & Nottingham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, told the story
of two children. Kathy, 11, was regarded as a leader by adults and
her peers, who thought that she would be "highly suitable" to help
administer communion. Khalil came to faith after attending a local
faith school, and whose head teacher felt "disbelief and anger"
when she was told that children could not administer communion.
He argued that children were given "all kinds of
responsibilities" in school and parish settings and that enabling
them to assist with administering communion was "a further way of
recognising their full inclusion in the Body of Christ and the life
of the local church". They were "wholly capable of doing it
carefully, wisely, reverently, safely".
The Bishop also sought to address an "anomaly in our systems" by
allowing bishops to delegate the authority to clergy, and PCCs to
approve licences for the administration of communion.
Prebendary Stephen Lynas (Bath & Wells) put forward two
amendments in order to prevent the Measure's being "hybrid" by
removing all reference to children, and stating that the sacrament
could be distributed by any authorised regular communicant "who has
been confirmed". He had researched the history of enabling lay
people to administer communion, regarded in 1958 as dangerous.
Since that time, the Church had seen an "explosion" in lay
ministry, and it no longer treated lay leadership as
Thus, he argued, it was "inconsistent" for the ministry of the
eucharist to go to the bishop for authorisation. It was a
"nonsense" to say that bishops had "any way of knowing whether any
of these people [recommended for the ministry] exist, let alone are
Canon Dagmar Winter (Newcastle) supported the inclusion of
children in administration of communion, but disagreed with the
delegation of approval from the bishop to the local clergy, and had
put down an amendment to that effect. It seemed to her to carry a
"highly unfortunate narrative of downgrading the role of
administrating communion". The bishop may not know the volunteer,
"but the important point is that volunteers know the bishop".
The Revd Jeremy Fletcher (York) spoke in support of the motion,
which "rejoiced my heart". He introduced a "friendly amendment",
recommending that the list of those licensed to administer
communion be subject to regular review and various kinds of
Fr Thomas Seville CR (Religious Communities, York) spoke in
support of Prebendary Lynas's amendment, and wanted to explore on
aspect of it: the part played by confirmation. He suggested that
the Synod needed to give "some thought" to the relation of the
eucharist to confirmation, and the use of alternative expressions
of faith other than confirmation.
The Revd Professor Paul Fiddes (Baptist Union) said that the
Baptist Church and Church of England agreed that those who
distributed communion represented the Church "in its serving of the
world following the example of Christ the servant". These servants
could, he said, only represent the whole Church "if they have fully
entered into the fellowship of the Church and are completely
initiated into the body of Christ". Initiation was not complete
until a person had confessed a personal faith in Christ, and was
commissioned as a disciple to share his or her ministry in the
world, and receive the gifts of the Spirit. Thus, those who
administered communion should have been commissioned to serve as a
disciple through baptism or through confirmation.
The Bishop of Grimsby, the Rt Revd David Rossdale (Southern
Suffragans), said that the best children's work involved treating
children as "a normal part of the church community, and not as
exceptions to entertain the adults". This was an opportunity to
"invite children to take their place as a normal part of church
life and ministry and service".
The Revd Charles Read (Norwich) urged the Synod not to be
"distracted by issues of confirmation".
The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent (Southern
Suffragans), said that the Measure raised "serious questions" about
the status of children: "It's very good to say everyone has a
ministry and let them all exercise it, but what is the most
appropriate ministry for them to exercise?" There "must be things
that people don't do because they are not yet at the right stage to
do it". He also urged the Synod to "think carefully" about the
delegation of the approval process from the bishop to clergy.
Prebendary Patricia Hawkins (Lichfield) spoke as the Vicar of a
church in the Catholic tradition. When her PCC originally
considered the possibility of admitting children to communion
before confirmation, they had rejected it; but, after considering
it, they had come back and voted for it unanimously.
"Part of the motivation was our work with Messy Church. I hope
that that church will become a service in its own right, and, as we
gather around the Word, we would also gather around the Lord's
Pamela Bishop (Southwell & Nottingham) said that she
supported the motion and wanted to "speak up for children". She had
recently attended a diocesan education conference where she had
been "challenged to place children central to our thinking and
actions, as this is evidence of a healthy organisation". The motion
was a golden opportunity to do that.
The Revd Philip North (London) said that he welcomed anything
that encouraged children in worship, but was "disturbed by the
motion", as it "confused the nature of childhood and the nature of
the eucharistic worship. . .
"There is a tendency to honour children by letting them to do
anything they like whenever they like." Children could be clumsy,
and the development had the potential to embarrass children if they
dropped or spilt the sacrament.
Joy Gilliver (Chichester) was concerned that the Church had not
addressed the issues arising out of admitting children to communion
before confirmation. Also, adults who are trained as eucharistic
assistants were encouraged to "explore the implications for the
lifestyle, attitudes, and beliefs. . . I am not saying children or
young people can't model mature discipleship. They often do it much
better than adults; but do we place a much greater burden on
children and young people if we ask this of them at a time of rapid
growth and development in their lives?"
Prebendary Lynas's first amendment (including the reference to
confirmation) was lost, as was Canon Winter's; and Prebendary Lynas
withdrew his second amendment. But Mr Fletcher's amendment was
Debate resumed on the amended motion.
Elizabeth Paver (Sheffield) with a "very heavy heart" opposed
it. The Archdeacon of Sarum, the Ven. Alan Jeans (Salisbury), urged
the Church to be "risk-taking and permission-giving". Baptism, not
confirmation, was "the normative rite of initiation". Prudence
Dailey (Oxford) failed to win enough support for a vote by Houses,
and the motion, as amended, was clearly carried. It said:
That this Synod request that Canon B 12 and the Regulations
taking effect under it be amended so that:
(a) the Holy Sacrament may be distributed by any authorized
regular communicant (including children admitted to the Holy
Communion under the Admission of Baptised Children to Holy
Communion Regulations 2006);
(b) if the diocesan bishop agrees, the necessary
authorization may be given in relation to any parish by the
incumbent, priest in charge or (during a vacancy) rural
(c) no person shall be authorized to distribute the Holy
Sacrament without the support of the parochial church council of
the parish or, where the Holy Communion is celebrated in a school
and the person concerned is a child, of the head teacher of the
(d) the authorisation given in relation to any parish is
required to be kept under review in accordance with guidelines
issued by the diocesan bishop.