Our congregation has an open invitation for all baptized Christians to receive communion. Since a traditional first communion is not part of our congregation’s pattern, there is some concern and confusion for parents and children. We started offering an annual Communion Experience Class several years ago that has bridged the gap between the open invitation and families who want more information and preparation for the rite.
Children in preschool through elementary school are invited to join the 90-minute class. I teach the class with the assistance of an ordained minister.
We start by having everyone draw a picture of communion. I do not specify what communion is and there are sometimes some funny responses from the children. The adults often look for more direction, and I might suggest they might draw a memory that they have of communion. We then go around the room and introduce ourselves and our pictures. Some people share stories from their first experience of communion. Others draw a picture of the church where they remember taking communion for the first time. I hand out a coloring page of the cup, the plate, a loaf of bread, and grapes. I tell the children that these elements are always present at communion, even if they look different in different churches.
We read the story of Jesus and his disciples at the last supper from the Spark Story Bible and talk about how Jesus shared such common foods with his friends as a way that they could easily remember him after he was gone. Jesus teaches us through such simple acts that we can deeply connect with one another and God through this meal.
We go to the sanctuary and the sacristy to see where communion is prepared and served in our church. At this point in the class, I ask my coleader, the pastor, to take the lead, sharing names of the elements and talking about how we encounter God in this special meal during worship together.
We divide the group so parents can stay to talk about the theological context for communion with the pastor while I take the children to the kitchen for a fun activity. I love the delight of the children as they enjoy some hands-on learning by kneading bread and squeezing grapes. Employing many senses, the feel and smell of the bread and juice make a deep connection in this moment. The children set the table for everyone, and we share bread and juice as our closing. We do not commune together but rather understand that this meal has a lot in common with the meal that Jesus was sharing with his friends before he blessed the bread and wine. We close in prayer. It is a wonderful time shared, learning and experiencing the love of Christ.