"Mommy, may I have a sip?"

How to make the Communion service meaningful to unbaptized children.

Carl Hartman is the director of pastoral nurture for the Iowa- Missouri Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

Mommy, may I have a sip?"

"Daddy, why can't I have some of that bread?"

And mommy and daddy wonder, What can we tell our children when they ask to taste of the sacred symbols?

Most of the time children get a one-line explanation: "You're not old enough yet!" But surely, children deserve better than that. Even when patience and tact accompany the explanation, children do show disappointment.

Communion should be one of the most impressive services of the church, and it should have meaning for unbaptized children, as well. They should not feel as though they are being excluded. How can this be done? Here is something that has worked well for me in my ministry.

To begin with, I arrange for a special story for children during the ordinance of humility. Second, after the Communion service I provide a unique activity just for the unbaptized children.

At the close of the Communion service I invite the children to come to the front of the sanctuary and sit in the first few pews. While the closing song is being sung and the children are assembling, the deaconesses remove the bread and wine from the Communion table and take them to the side room. There the wine and the bread are placed in specially chosen containers and returned to the pastor.

While the deaconesses are making these preparations, I select a boy and a girl (usually the oldest) to be the bread and wine bearers. These two follow me, along with the rest of the children in procession, to a preselected spot a short distance from the church. It should be somewhat secluded if possible. In this spot a small hole (approximately five by five by five inches) had already been dug the previous day.

The procession circles the hole, and I offer a prayer and present a brief talk on the closing scenes of Jesus' life. What an opportunity to capture the imagination of the children! I try to help the children understand the meaning and sacredness of the bread and wine. I often include a few words on why these symbols are buried rather than thrown out with ordinary trash. Ideas on what to say to a group of children in this setting are almost endless.

After I finish speaking, I ask the child with the wine to pour it slowly into the ground. Then the child with the bread lays it gently in the ground. A third child pushes the dirt into the hole with his or her hands. I offer a short prayer making an appeal to the children to give their hearts to the Lord and accept Him by baptism. After this I ask the children to return quietly to the church, where their parents are waiting.

This special service for the unbaptized children is effective in helping them to feel they are an important part of this sacred ordinance. It provides meaning to the overall Communion service, which for the children is too often just a boring experience. It also supplies adults with a dignified way to dispose of the bread and wine, which are sometimes carelessly thrown into the trash can and dumped down the sink.

With a unique service such as this, we can help children see the high estimate heaven places on them. "Let the children come to me and do not stop them, because the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these" (Matt. 19:14, TEV).

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Carl Hartman is the director of pastoral nurture for the Iowa- Missouri Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

February 1992

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