Welcoming Children to the Table

Q: How can we publicly welcome children who are ready to participate in the Lord’s Supper for the first time without putting too much pressure on very shy children?

A: Churches are wise to find ways to publically celebrate this milestone moment in children’s lives. Here are a few suggestions from a variety of congregations for doing so in age-appropriate ways:

  • Link children with mentors in the congregation who will promise to pray for them, talk with them at church, and perhaps even take a role in the public celebration (such as introducing the children to the congregation or leading a prayer for them).
  • Consider inviting the children to stand or come forward with their parents. Or invite them to stand to say the creed with the entire congregation. Emphasize their participation in something that the entire congregation is doing.
  • Give them a memento of the occasion—something to hang on the wall of their bedroom or—better—something they can use to guide their own faith practices each day, like a calendar of Bible verses.
  • Invite slightly older children or youth to welcome younger children by writing welcome notes or celebratory cards for them. This could also help those older children think about their own participation at the table. Perhaps your youth group could own this as their regular task in the life of the church.

Q: We have welcomed children to the table for many years. As children continue to participate in the Lord’s Supper over time, how can we sustain their participation in the most meaningful way?

A: Both children and adults can easily slip into “automatic pilot” participation in the Lord’ Supper. Here are a few ideas for sustaining meaningful participation:

  • Host an annual intergenerational meal or education session, a time to practice fellowship and offer some teaching about the Lord’s Supper. This makes it clear that adults need a refresher course just as much as children or youth do.
  • Invite members of your congregation to contribute a brief “Lord’s Supper testimony” about the ways God has enriched their faith at the table. Publish these in your church newsletter or on the church website.
  • Ask kids in your congregation (or maybe artists of all ages) to contribute Lord’s Supper artwork to display in your worship space, church building, bulletin, or church website.
  • Think about different ways to guide children and adults in a given week leading up to the Lord’s Supper (equally appropriate if you celebrate the Lord’s Supper weekly, monthly, or quarterly). You might ask families to meditate each day on one biblical text about the Lord’s Supper or to practice hospitality in ways that echo the hospitality we practice at the table. For both children and adults, the Lord’s Supper is most meaningful when it becomes linked with a way of life.

Q: Do you have any advice for teaching children about the meaning of the Lord’s Supper?

A: When our own children were welcomed to the table, our pastor, Jack Roeda, challenged them to come to the table ready to

  • look back—over the long history of God’s faithfulness, especially in life of Jesus.
  • look forward—to the feast we will share in the kingdom of heaven.
  • look “up”—to the ascended Jesus in heaven, remembering how he prays for us and how we trust in him.
  • look around—at the people of God who promise to love each other and serve the world.
  • look within—to see our own sin and need for a Savior and to remember that we are loved by God and are members of God’s own family.

In twenty minutes, he offered a more robust theology of the Lord’s Supper than is found in a truckload of books I have about it. Putting all five next to each other corrects the major imbalances in Eucharistic theology and piety that have been problematic over twenty centuries of church history. And we can easily remember these five memorable points in our minivan on the way to church on Sunday!

Rev. Dr. John D. Witvliet is director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and professor of music and worship at Calvin University and Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He also teaches in the religion department at Calvin University.

Reformed Worship 103 © March 2012 Worship Ministries of the Christian Reformed Church. Used by permission.