How to lead all-age Communion

There were some very interesting responses posted, on the blog and on social media, in response to the case I made in the previous post that we can do all-age worship well, that it is important to do so, and offering guidelines to make it work.

But there was one particular response from those living and working in the more ‘sacramental’ tradition, made in a number of different places: ‘We already have a participatory, multi-sensory, engaging pattern for all age worship: the Mass/Eucharist/Communion!’ (Curious that none used the phrase ‘Lord’s Supper’!). Now, I am not ignorant of that claim, nor of the possibility that this might be conducted in a way which leads to participation amongst all ages. After all, I was that Roman Catholic altar server, helping to facilitate the evening Mass, until the age of 16 when I left to join the Church of England. But despite being an active participant, this did not help me understand and either come to or grow in faith. And I also agree that including a sense of ritual in worship can actually engage and enable the participation of children and young people alongside adults—though it can also alienate them and leave them out, depending on how it was done. Several years ago I made this observation:

I recently had the experience of speaking at an all-age service and then going straight on to a pantomime—a secular all-age event. And it highlighted the key to making these things work well: ritualisation. (‘Oh no, it didn’t!’ ‘Oh yes, it did!’). How does this work?

To be human is to be liturgical—not in the sense of enjoying complex wordy forms of worship (!) but in the sense that we are creatures of rhythm. In conversation, at football matches, on social occasions—in a wide range of contexts you can see people observing ritual behaviour. And this is particularly true of children; they are the ones who know how to respond to: “Good morning, everybody…” better than anyone.

Stephen Cottrell, in his book Praying through Life, includes a chapter on praying with children, in which he describes children as natural charismatics (since they like expressing themselves in worship), natural evangelicals (since they love reading Bible stories), and natural catholics (better, ‘sacramentalists’, because they love rhythm and ritual). If pantomime is anything to go by, this last is true—and if all-age events in church can draw on this, they will engage not only children, but people of all ages.

There is, though, a particular challenge when it comes to the Eucharistic Prayer. Both before and after my own experience of coming to faith, I found this one part of the Communion service long and dreary, and it only really came alive for me once I understood it as a rehearsal of salvation history, moving from creation, through the fall and redemption and looking to the return of Jesus and the consummation of all things, with the account of the Last Supper as the centre and climax of it all. Understanding all that is quite a lot to ask of children and young people!

So some time ago I decided to involve people of all ages in this great prayer of thanksgiving, just as I might involve them in other elements of the service. I was influenced in this by teaching many years ago from Adrian Chatfield, who (speaking from an Anglo-Catholic tradition of worship) argued that it was the whole prayer (rather than any particular ‘magic words’) that was consecratory, and the whole priestly people of God who were those effecting consecration, though the ordained leader as president expressed that focally.

With that, and possible sensitivities around consecration, in mind, I arranged Eucharistic Prayer H into the following five voices, and arranged for five people of different ages (and not just children—this is all-age worship and NOT a ‘children’s service!) to participate. (The formatting does not work well in the blog text editor; the formatted Word document is attached below.)

Prayer of Thanksgiving H

President           The Lord is here.
All                       His Spirit is with us.
President          Lift up your hearts.
All                       We lift them to the Lord.
President          Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
All                      It is right to give thanks and praise.

Voice 1             It is right to praise you, Father, Lord of all creation;
                            in your love you made us for yourself.

Voice 2             When we turned away
                            you did not reject us,
                            but came to meet us in your Son.
All                       You embraced us as your children
                            and welcomed us to sit and eat with you.

Voice 3             In Christ you shared our life
                            that we might live in him and he in us.
All                       He opened his arms of love upon the cross
                            and made for all the perfect sacrifice for sin.

President           On the night he was betrayed,
                            at supper with his friends
                            he took bread, and gave you thanks;
                            he broke it and gave it to them, saying:
                            Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you;
                            do this in remembrance of me.
All                         Father, we do this in remembrance of him:
                            his body is the bread of life.

President             At the end of supper, taking the cup of wine,
                            he gave you thanks, and said:
                            Drink this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant,
                            which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins;
                            do this in remembrance of me.
All                       Father, we do this in remembrance of him:
                            his blood is shed for all.

Voice 4             As we proclaim his death and celebrate his rising in glory,
                            send your Holy Spirit on us that this bread and this wine
                            may be to us the body and blood of your dear Son.
All                      As we eat and drink these holy gifts
                            make us one in Christ, our risen Lord.

Voice 5             With your whole Church throughout the world
                            we offer you this sacrifice of praise
                            and lift our voice to join the eternal song of heaven:
All                      Holy, holy, holy Lord,
                            God of power and might,
                            Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
                            Hosanna in the highest.

Eucharistic Prayer H in voices

To make this work well, you will need to think carefully about the choreography of the prayer. In our church, our usual Communion table is quite high, and it is therefore better to use a lower table, covered in a white cloth, so that people of all heights can see and be seen. On one occasion, I used low coffee tables, and knelt in front of it with the different participants sitting or kneeling on either side.

You will, of course, also need to have thought through your policy on children and young people receiving Communion before Confirmation.

But it is worth doing. On every occasion I have used this, many have remarked how special it was, and how it testifies like nothing else to the people of God being of all ages and from all backgrounds.

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12 thoughts on “How to lead all-age Communion”

  1. “You will, of course, also need to have thought through your policy on children and young people receiving Communion before Confirmation.”

    Are you in favour of infant communion? I certainly am, but am interested to hear your thoughts!

    • I am not sure I have a strong view. But C of E guidelines say that baptised children can be admitted to Communion after instruction, usually from age 7. I am happy with that.

  2. The most vivid communion meal I ever participated in was at a church family meal in France. After a simple service we spread out the buffet, set the tables, put baskets of baguette down tye middle of the table with the salt and pepper and a bottle of Côtes de Rhône. The leader gave thanks, picked up a piece of baguette, broke it and passed it round. Then he poured a glass of red and did the same.

    The shocking thing? It seemed so normal. So utterly common sense. The remembering and the whenever you eat …

    Since that time we’ve been housebound for 15 years and unable to be part of church in a 4-walls sense, but sometimes at table when there’s bread out and red fruit juice we do “remembering”. It may not be “proper” communion and maybe not to be encouraged as a general rule, but thinking of Jesus as the bread and butter of life, as ourselves as still part of the loaf, even if at distance, and ‘bought in’ to the salvation life plan has helped us considerably.

  3. Although I broadly agree with this, your arrangement of Prayer H can be seen to reinforce the idea that the dominical words are the only important bit and that they alone, said by the priest / president, effect the consecration. Why? Because in your arrangement they are the only words said by the president after the opening dialogue. The brevity of Prayer H is a Good Thing, and there must be other ways to do something similar.

    With Adrian Chatfield, I would want to see something that emphasises that the whole prayer is “consecratory” (whatever we mean by that), that it is the prayer, the work, of all the people together, with the president acting as a focus for the people, and also a focus of communion with the wider church.

    • Thanks Simon. The reason is to acknowledge the sensitivity of those who *do* think that certain words are consecratory. Interestingly, on social media a number in the more sacramental tradition have commented that enabling *any* participation of others in this prayer is a step too far…

      • Prayer H as published in CW does, as you say, “acknowledge the sensitivity” of those who think that, but it gives the president a larger share than just those words: the whole prayer is a dialogue between the president and the people. My feeling is that giving the president *only* those words emphasises them to the exclusion of the rest of the prayer as particularly “priestly” and “consecratory”. And I think that is a backward step, even while I tend to agree with the thrust of what you are trying to do.

    • (I think there would be some people who also think it improper for the President not to be the person speaking the Epiclesis–though Prayer H is clearer than others that the invocation of the Spirit is on us, the people, and not the elements.)

  4. As the comments about confirmation and infant baptism touch on, any inclusive Holy Communion assumes a consistent congregation which is not the case in any local church reaching and receiving the non-baptised of whatever ages. Fine of you can but not a wise emphasis everywhere if we keep the Services of the Word and Eucharist together before tea and coffee.

  5. As one of the co-authors of H, I am afraid I agree that reserving the institution narrative to the president is a step in the wrong direction. We wrote H to operate as a dialogue between president and people – so it i a different style to most eucharistic prayers.

    D can be made more participatory – there is more on this and on the other prayers, including making them more all-age friendly, in the Grove booklet I wrote on leading a communion service and which I think you were just about to plug on your award winning blog…!

    • Yes, it is a different style, and I think the interaction (and the clarity of the epiclesis) are what make it my favourite.

      It might look like the institution narrative feels ‘reserved’ for the president on paper (or screen), but in practice it feels quite natural, and all are involved. Interestingly, more responses (on social media) have said the opposite: that it gives too much away…

  6. Just a clarification. In the C of E, churches can admit baptised children (of any age ) to communion before confirmation, but only with the permission of their bishop. There needs to be a process of discussion in the parish and a formal application to the Bishop for this permission. Every diocese will vary in the way they do this, but parishes, still less individual priests can’t just up and decide they will give children communion without this process.


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