Thursday, 1 November 2012
Children and the distribution of Holy Communion
Women Bishops and the Anglican Communion Covenant are not the only items of business at this month’s General Synod. There is also this diocesan synod motion from Southwell and Nottingham, which will be debated on the morning of Wednesday 21 November.
“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 dean; and
(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 school.‟
There are background papers from the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham (GS 1881A) and the Secretary General (GS 1881B). It is clear from the first of these papers that the prime purpose of this motion is to allow (some) unconfirmed children to distribute holy communion.
David Pocklington of the Law & Religion UK blog has summarised these papers and added his own comments in this article: Children, Confirmation and Communion?
The full texts of the 2006 regulations and Canons B 12 and B 15A referred to above are available online.
Posted by Peter Owen on
Thursday, 1 November 2012 at 3:36pm GMT
Admission of Baptised Children to Holy Communion Regulations 2006 are available here (Word document) and here (web page).
Canon B 12 Of the ministry of the Holy Communion
Canon B 15A Of the admission to Holy Communion
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"It is simplistic to assume that children are somehow ‘excluded’ if every possible ministry is not opened up to them;" - Law & Religion paper -
As with the Reception, before Confirmation, of the Sacrament of holy Communion - surely a lot depends on the understanding of the Child (or Adult, for that matter) as to whom the responsibility should be given to distribute the Chalice at the Eucharist.
Seemliness is all part of 'good order' which should always be a priority in distribution, and although we know that 'Christ can take care of Himself' in such matters. a certain maturity is also needed.
While I can understand your point Father Ron, I also think that there is no reason why the same consideration should not be given to children's fitness to do this as adults. We don't just ask any adult to distribute communion (at least not in the C of E). They have to be approved by the PCC and authorised, and in my experience when someone is suggested for this role, one always asks whether they would be someone whom people would be happy to fulfil this function. I can think of plenty of adults I wouldn't want to ask to do this, for all sorts of reasons, and some children and young people whom I would be more than happy to have administering the chalice. It would be especially appropriate in a setting - a youth eucharist or school eucharist, for example - where there were a lot of other children present.
I thought, too, of John's account of the feeding of the 5000 - it is a child who brings the loaves and fishes,(and I wonder whether, since it was his lunch, he also helped to share it out...?)
Seemliness and order are important, as is sensitivity to those receiving communion and a respect for the importance of the moment, but I don't think that age is necessarily any guide to whether people have this or not.
Aren't there safeguarding implications to this? If the motion is carried, it will bring children into close contact, including physical contact, with a lot of unvetted adults.
The safeguarding issues would be no different from those which would apply if a team of servers or a choir included children, which many do. In practice chalice assistants usually simply come up to the front of the church for the administration of communion and then return to their places, and aren't alone with any adults at any point, so in fact I doubt whether there would be an issue at all. Someone would have to train them for the job, so that person might need to have a CRB check , but as that would probably be the parish priest that would be covered anyway.
There's no reason why children doing this should be at any more risk than children who are simply part of the congregation as far as I can see, when they are also in contact (physical contact at the Peace) with unvetted adults.
I don't think the safeguarding issues are any different from receiving communion or being part of the congregation. It's not a question of proximity but of appropriate behaviour and expectations on the part of everyone. Communion is by its nature public but not particular. Of course, this would be part of the discussion by any church wanting to take this suggestion up (if permitted) but I would expect that a church which values children enough to ask them to do this would also have a robust Child Protection policy and practice.
Just imagine if the child Jesus offered you communion. Children sometimes have a purity that might be very fitting. Let the children come, when the context and the moment are right.
Susannah (of the Child Jesus)
Anne: 'In practice chalice assistants usually simply come up to the front of the church for the administration of communion and then return to their places'
... but "distributing the Holy Sacrament" means doing rather more than that, doesn't it?
Anne: '(physical contact at the Peace) with unvetted adults'
Indeed, sometimes that happens [*], and I think it's also deeply worrying.
[*] Although in my Parish, it's quite rare, because children are usually in a Sunday school class elsewhere during the sharing of the Peace.
Susannah and Anne Le Bas are right.
Re Anne's post, it's not just the gospel account of 'a boy' bringing the five small barley loaves and two small fish to Jesus (John 6.9). See also Mark's Gospel: "People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, 'Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.'" [Mark 10 vv 13-14, NIV]
No mention there of any need for the children to be confirmed. And I doubt whether the disciples' rebuke was on the basis that Jesus didn't have have a CRB certificate!
The perceived danger is of children looking up to an adult who is dangerous or of an adult ad a child being alone together. In the case of a child administering the chalice, the child is the one in the position of respect, and the child is not alone with the adult (though I imagine it is children in this position in schools et which is most likely). I honestly do not see any danger in children exchanging the 'peace'. They are in a very very public place. They all need to know the difference between appropriate touching and inappropriate. They neither can or should live in glass bubbles.
David 'And I doubt whether the disciples' rebuke was on the basis that Jesus didn't have have a CRB certificate!'
I think 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased' was a more than adequate substitute for a CRB certificate. Unfortunately, nowadays, we have to make operational decisions in the absence of such authoritative character references. As a result, we need to be more cautious than the disciples.
I think this discussion about safeguarding is not really relevant to the matter. I hope it goes without saying that all who are in positions of responsibility and supervising children (and vulnerable adults) should be checked and that good practice should obtain. But there are not safeguarding issues preventing children serving at the altar, reading lessons, leading prayers, standing up to tell the congregation what they did in Sunday school, and so on. It seems to me that the logic of admitting children to communion is that they share fully in the eucharist and so should be able to be considered as eucharistic ministers as might anyone else be considered. I know the first time a visiting priest handed me the chalice and told me to administer it since no-one else had come up to the altar to do so, I was confirmed but hadn't got permission to do it, and was certainly under 16. Nobody at all objected because, I imagine, I was a respected member of the congregation whom people were accustomed to seeing participate in the liturgy in various capacities.