First Communion Changes at St. Paul

Separating First Communion Instruction from the Youth Confirmation Program

In the past our First Communion instruction has taken place for the second year confirmation youth during the last six weeks of the program. This instruction has involved the pastor and the youth with little involvement from the parents.

Rev. David Petersen, the pastor at Redeemer Lutheran in Fort Wayne, Indiana, wrote an article that helped influence my thinking regarding the separation of First Communion from confirmation. He shared the tension he feels between wanting to get our Lord’s body and blood to His needy children as soon as possible and the desire to continue the Lutheran heritage of an intense period of formal doctrinal instruction culminating in Confirmation.

Our congregation’s practice of withholding participation in the Lord’s Supper until a youth has been confirmed has placed me in the uncomfortable position of withholding the promise-filled Lord’s Supper from God’s children who I know have faith in the presence of Christ’s body and blood and trust in these words, “give and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

When I accepted the call to be the pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, I expressed a long term desire to move this congregation towards the practice of separating First Communion from Confirmation. I also shared my concern that this move should not be done in a way that diminishes the Youth Confirmation program. After being here for nearly three years, I have developed confidence that our Youth Confirmation program is strong enough to withstand this change.

When First Communion is separated from Confirmation in other congregations, the concern has been raised that the Youth Confirmation program will be ignored. In the midst of their busy schedules, what motivation would parents have to bring their children to a two year Confirmation program? I believe that the motivation for parents and youth to participate in Confirmation will be built on a desire to support the faith and promises of Holy Baptism. The Youth Confirmation program at St. Paul Lutheran Church is not a program designed to dump a bunch of information into a young brain. Our program supports relationships with Christ and helps shape youths’ understanding of living in the promises of their Baptism.

Our practice at St. Paul Lutheran Church will be as follows:

Baptized children are admitted to the Sacrament of the Altar prior to Confirmation with the blessing, approval and support of their parents after they have learned the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and received careful instruction in the Gospel and Sacraments. Like all who are invited to come to the Lord’s Table, they will confess their sin, their trust in their Savior, their desire to receive the Lord’s Supper for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of their faith in Christ, and their love toward others.

There will not be a set age or grade level that a child will need to reach to be admitted to the Sacrament of the Altar. The judgment of readiness will not be based on seat time in a class or having reached a certain age. Readiness will be determined by the parents and pastor after the child has learned the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and received careful instruction in the Gospel and Sacraments.

The Small Catechism, written by Martin Luther, begins each chief part with the words “As the head of the household should teach them/it in a simple way to his household.” This introduction expects the head of the household to instruct the members of his home in the basics of the Christian faith. In the history of the Lutheran Church it would seem that the pastor has assumed this task from the father. Through our support of parents in Faith Stepping Stones we have been supporting the role of the home in raising children to fear, love and trust in God above all things. It is time we bring this recognition to the task of preparation for reception of the Lord’s Supper.

Beginning this year the preparation to receive the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner will take place in the home with the support of the pastor. The pastor will teach a three week course for the parents. This course will equip the parents to teach their children in the home the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Gospel and the Sacraments. When the parents feel their child is prepared to receive the Sacrament in a worthy manner, they will present their child to the pastor for entrance to the Sacrament of the Altar. When there are no parents or adults in a home to provide spiritual leadership, the congregation will step into that void to ensure that the child will be equipped to receive the Lord’s Supper.

– Rev. Evan Gaertner

Martin Luther answers the question of who receives this Sacrament worthily:

Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training. But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.’ But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words, ‘for you’ require all hearts to believe.

Here are the standards established by the first note in the Lutheran Service Book Altar Book in the rite entitled “First Communion Prior to Confirmation:”

This rite is intended to be used to admit to the Lord’s Supper baptized children who have not yet been confirmed. Candidates for admission to the Lord’s Supper have learned the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. They have received careful instruction in the Gospel and Sacraments. Confessing their sin and trusting in their Savior, they desire to receive the Lord’s Supper for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of their faith in Christ and their love toward others.

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