I have always had a strong bias toward open communion/open table, both as a UCC pastor and now as an Episcopal priest. I have no interest in checking out someone's baptismal status before welcoming him/her to the table to be fed. So, I'm a bit surprised to confront this particular dilemma. A member of my parish cares for two young boys and brings them to our Wednesday morning Eucharist. They come to the table with her, and I lay my hands on them for a blessing.
The older boy is a bit over 4 years old. I know that he is not baptized and that his parents do not attend church. I do not know his parents, but they know he is being brought to church, and the caretaker has told me that they are not interested in church or having him baptized. He has always been very quiet in worship and most reverent when he comes for the blessing. Last Wednesday, he came forward, looked up at me with big eyes, and held his hands out in the perfect gesture for receiving the bread. I put my hands on his head and gave him a blessing. Later, he asked the caretaker why he wasn't able to have the bread.
I am torn. Though perfectly willing to engage in intentional canonical disobedience on this issue, I'm feeling that with a young child, I might be crossing some boundary by serving him. On the other hand, I truly believe that young children can have a purer, more profound understanding of the sacrament than some of us who are supposedly at the "age of reason." It seems that this could be a significant moment for him. What to do?
Thank you--I look forward to your wisdom.
As I ponder this dilemna I come from the UMC tradition. I speak from both my experience and my heart's leaning on this topic. A sacrament for UMC's is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. I believe that there are times that we get too caught up in the outward sign and lose the significance of the inner reality of the heart and soul. This can be true with children and it can also be true with those who are challenged by some kind of physical or mental condition.
This said, I would be about 99% sure to break the religious rules and respond to the faith the child or other person is expressing in this situation. He may not get all the logistics and specific words but he seems to have a real sense of the community that is the Body of Christ gathered. These are the recipients of this Holy Meal and Sacrament. We come to our Lord's Table, not an UMC or Lutheran, or other denominational table. Depending on the setting and age, I sometimes modify what I say to the person using phrases like "Jesus is for you" or "Jesus loves you". I believe this is what Jesus would do for does he not say, "Let the little children come to me."
Quite a number of years ago I had a young man in my congregation who was in his 30's with Down's Syndrome. He spoke only with exagerated grunts and groans that many of us learned to understand. He was the best greeter ever though his hugs were sometimes a bit too enthusiastic. Everyone loved him and considered him an integral part of our congregation. I got lots of thumbs up and smiles as I preached each week. One day his mother said something about how sad he still was that he could not be "confirmed". I said, WHAT?......of course he can be confirmed! Sigh, somewhere along the way someone had deemed that he could not understand the specifics of membership so he could not become a full member of the congregation. He was soon confirmed after a few meetings with me to put it all together. We all cried as he said I DO in is special language and later showed us all his membership certificate before taking it home to be put on his wall!
And Muthah+ offers:
Dear fellow Episcopalian:
In our parish we are coming across many who are not baptized these days. We practice 'radical hospitality' and proclaim that 'wherever you are on your journey of faith you are welcome at this Altar.'
I am also Catholic enough to understand the ancient understanding of 'baptism by desire'--that the outward and visible signs may not have been acted out but the inward and spiritual grace is already there. Go ahead and communicate him and if your bp. complains--explain to him about 'baptism of desire.'
I do not want children to remember not being welcome at God's table.
Thank you so much, dear matriarchs. What wisdom do the rest of you have to offer? Please join us in the comments section to continue the conversation! And, as always, please send us your questions at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.