In the United Methodist Church children are welcome at the Lord's Table. We remember the mandate of Jesus, who invited the children to come fully into his presence (Luke 18:15-17). Likewise in the parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24), Jesus taught that the outcast, the "little people" of society, would commune with God in the coming kingdom.
No wonder Charles Wesley wrote: Come, sinners, to the gospel feast; Let every soul be Jesus' guest; Ye need not one be left behind, For God hath bidden all mankind.
Indeed, John Wesley admitted to the sacrament any child he believed was honestly seeking an experience of God's grace.
Children should be invited and encouraged to commune at celebrations of Holy Communion. Children learn by doing first, reflecting later. Communing from an early age will help them grow comfortable at the Lord's Table and become ready, with greater maturity, to understand the mystery of the sacrament.
Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them. --- Jesus
Parents can help their children experience Communion as a time of thanksgiving for God's gifts, as a meal of love within the church family, and as food which gives us strength to love others during the week. Conversation with children, both before and after the service, can help them sense their parents' appreciation for this special meal. And, in addition to receiving the elements children can participate in Communion by helping to bake bread, by bringing it forward to the Table, and by sharing in the leadership of the service.
The entire congregation can encourage children's participation by welcoming them warmly to the Table. The pastor and Sunday School teachers can help boys and girls reflect on Communion experiences and meanings.
No one wants to sit down at a dinner table and then not be allowed to eat. The same is true for the person who hungers for God's grace at the Lord's Table. Let us both sing and practice in the spirit of the Wesleys:
Sent by my Lord, on you I call;
The invitation is to all.
Written by John Cameron West, this information is part of the series, Children in the Faith Community, published by Discipleship Resources, P.O. Box 840, Nashville, Tennessee 37202.
For further reflection on the place of children in Holy Communion see Children in the Worshiping Community, by Ng and Thomas (John Knox Press), chapter 2; and Liturgy and Learning through the Life Cycle, by Westerhoff and Willimon (Seabury Press), chapter 2.