ALL baptised people will be admitted to holy communion in the Church in Wales, regardless of whether or not they have been confirmed, the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, said. He was explaining a pastoral letter from the House of Bishops which was released on the second day of the Governing Body’s two-day meeting.
But, in guidance to churches about the new policy, which will come into effect on Advent Sunday, and will be rolled out across the parishes and ministry areas over the following 12 months, the Church emphasises that “wine cannot legally be given to under-fives”.
In a brief debate that followed Dr Morgan’s explanation, clarity was requested on the legal position. Some understood that children aged over five could be given alcohol only with parental consent; and that children in local-authority care could not receive alcohol until they were 18 years of age.
The Church’s guidance says that, in such cases, “Communion can be received in one kind,” or churches could use “a separate chalice containing wine that is fermented from grape juice, but has had the alcohol subsequently removed”.
Dr Morgan said that the new policy followed reports from the Doctrinal Commission about confirmation and admission to holy communion, and subsequent small-group discussions by the Governing Body. The commission “came to the conclusion that baptism should be seen as the full and complete rite of initiation, and, that being so, all the baptised should be admitted to Communion”.
The new policy would, he said, return the Church to the situation that existed before the fifth century, when churches in the West began to separate baptism from confirmation.
“In the Church today, there are many who believe that the witness of the Church to Jesus Christ, and the process of nurturing children and young people in the Christian faith, would be immeasurably strengthened by recovering this earliest symbolism,” the Bishops say in their pastoral letter. “Baptism alone should be seen as the gateway into participation in the life of the Church, including admission to the sacrament of Holy Communion.”
The Revd Chancellor Patrick Thomas (St Davids) welcomed the move. As the honorary pastor to Armenian Christians in Wales, he has seen the “quite wonderful” tradition of the Eastern Orthodox churches where communion was given to babies, usually by intinction.
The Revd Janice Brown (Bangor) said that she had recently been challenged by her son who asked: “Where does it say in the Bible that I can’t take communion without confirmation?” Her son said that this was wrong when people who were “living in sin” were able to receive communion.
She told the story of a six-year-old girl from a non-Christian family who told her parents that she wanted to be baptised. At the invitation of the parents, she spoke to the girl, and asked why she wanted to be baptised. “I love God, I love the Lord Jesus, and I want to be known as a child of God, and so I want to be baptised to show this,” the child said.
In response to a question from Chris Cotterill (Monmouth), who wanted to know whether unconfirmed members of the Church in Wales would be able to receive communion if they were visiting other churches of the Anglican Communion, the Bishop of St Asaph, the Rt Revd Gregory Cameron, explained that four provinces had moved to the communion of all the baptised; and that he expected others would distribute communion to those who normally receive it.