There was a time in the Episcopal Church (and Anglican Communion) that children could not receive communion unless they were confirmed (which at the time typically took place when one was twelve years old or older). That changed with the adoption of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer that reaffirmed that through baptism, all are full members of the Church. Many churches still did not allow children to fully participate in the Eucharist. Children were still regulated to the “basement” and many adults, parents included, felt that children could not understand what Holy Communion was, so should not receive it. Many churches held “first communion” classes.
Fro the last 200+ years, the predominant model of children’s ministries has been the Sunday school. Its original purpose was to provide a setting for literacy and then to use that opportunity to help children “know about God and the Bible.” Long before Sunday schools, children were nurtured in their faith formation. They came to know God and learned to be ministers of the Gospel, even as children. The whole community supported the formation and well-being of the child. However, with the embrace of Sunday school, children began to be excluded from active participation in the events of the day in their communities as well as their church. Children were (are) not always safe on their streets as they had been in the past also.
Out of this (and other reasons) came a Children’s Charter for the Church, which was approved at General Convention (and re-endorsed at several subsequent General Conventions). It became a model for the Church of England to include children in receiving communion. Today, most of our children have never known what is was like to be “turned down” at God’s table. Thanks be to God!
Where the Charter Came From
Between 1991 and 1997 a group of dioceses were called together by the Office of Children’s Ministries (OCM) of the Episcopal Church – yes, there was once a WHOLE office and staff dedicated to children at the church wide level – to discern how our church might bring children in from the sidelines and help them become the persons they are called to be as members of the baptized community. Twelve bishops responded to the invitation to send representatives to a meeting to discuss the way forward. You can read more from this booklet: Where the Charter Came From: A New Vision for Children’s Ministry.
What is the Children’s Charter?
The Children’s Chart for the Church is a call to the church to respond in new and intentional ways to Christ’s mandate to care for, bless, and bring all children close to him. The Charter is offered in three parts: Nurture of the Child, Ministry to the Child, and Ministry of the Child. Each part recognizes how Jesus cared for children, taught them, and accepted their role in the community. It call us to continue to nurture their spiritual development (at home and church), as will as include them in the life of the congregation. It also spurs us to advocacy within and outside our churches. Our church can evaluate how we fulfill our obligation as a congregation to the children we baptize as well as their families: how are they welcomed and engaged in the months and years post-baptismal celebration? Churches can assess their service, mission, and advocacy for all children in the community, especially those at risk who may not be part of the congregation but live in your neighborhood and beyond. How can we reach out into the community to those children who are at risk? Do children have opportunities to offer their gifts and talents to adults? These are just a few of many questions that can help a congregation fully lift up the ministry of children.
Although written in the 1990s, the following statement still rings true today. In some instances, even more so:
If the church is to live out its mission as the family of God, it will protect and provide conditions which will also allow children to become the person they are called by God to be. Nationally and across the globe, children are facing unjust and adverse circumstances. They may be the most impoverished segment of society. Traditionally the church has provided baptism, Sunday school, confirmation, and youth group experiences. These efforts are directed and staffed by dedicated, caring professionals and volunteers. But we cannot adequately care for the children of our congregations without concern for the conditions in which all children live. The church is challenged by the present social, moral, and cultural conditions to revise and expand these ministries with children and to pioneer new directions. We are called to honor and celebrate the gifts of children; to reaffirm the roles they have traditionally served, and to recognize that they, too, are called to be members and full participants of the Eucharistic community and Reign of God.Taken from “Where the Children’s Charter Comes From”
Numerous resources were developed and disseminated to congregations across the Episcopal Church for every congregation to use to implement the Charter. Sadly, that was over thirty years ago and many who are in leadership positions (clergy and laity) today are not aware of these resources. Scanned and uploaded, here are many of them:
- Implementing a Children’s Charter for the Church: A Study Guide for Congregations is a helpful planning tool for leadership and formation teams.
- Children’s Charter Intergenerational Study Leader’s Guide offers a process for all ages to dig into the Charter as well as session plans focused on audiences of children, youth, and adults.
- Reaffirmation of Advocacy for Children (a liturgy of commitment to children based on the Children’s Charter)
- A Service of Commitment to Children developed by the Liturgical Task Force of the Association of Diocesan Liturgy and Music Commissions
- Children’s Charter Evaluation Tool – a way to determine how your church “measures up” to including children fully and how you can raise the bar of what you are currently doing
- A Children’s Charter bibliography (although dated there are numerous classic titles here) that offers resources for each of the three portions of the Charter
- Download your copy of The Children’s Charter. Print numerous copies and post them around your facility. Download a copy of A Children’s Children’s Charter – a version designed for children.