As part of my role as a school pastor, I have been responsible for leading sessions to introduce Grade 5 students to the meaning and significance of the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion for Christians. With a large percentage of the children not having an active association with a congregation, I have found this to be somewhat of a challenge. I have been particularly conscious of the importance of not merely talking “at” the children, and finding ways of engaging them experientially. So this year I decided that after one introductory session where I explained some of the background to the Lord’s Supper and its meaning for Christians, I would give students the opportunity to experience a Communion service for themselves. I arranged for the other local Lutheran pastors to be involved and for the worship service to be advertised to members of their congregations. Fifteen or so adults attended, in addition to the 70-80 Grade 5 students and their teachers. For a good number of the students this was their first experience of a Communion service.
For the worship service I chose to “gown up” as a Pastor and to use the traditional parts of the Lutheran Communion liturgy (albeit without any chanting!). While the students were not invited to receive the elements (the bread and the wine), they were encouraged to come forward for a blessing if they wished. Their response was fascinating. Whereas I had expected some misbehavior and “this is boring” responses (after all it was a hot afternoon on the last day of the school week) the students seemed to be drawn into and engaged by the ritual of the Sacrament. When it came time for the blessing of students, they came forward eagerly and expectantly, with a spirit of reverence and appreciation. After the service was finished, the students engaged well in a Q&A time with the pastors … and when they returned to their classrooms one of the teachers reported a further 20 minute “sharing time” where students opened up with their spiritual questions and reflections.
What have I learnt from this? For one thing, not to underestimate the power of ritual to engage children and draw them towards deeper spiritual reflection. The “otherness” of formal ritual points to the reality of a spiritual realm that transcends the ordinary. We perhaps err when we strip ministry with children of elements of formalised ritual in the name of supposed “cultural relevance”. Use of traditional forms and approaches can give children touchpoints with the sacred that are not present in the technologically-saturated world in which they otherwise live and learn.