From The Formational Pastor
One of the things that the church can do to provide a healing, formational atmosphere for the people it serves is to model healthy relationships and behaviors. We know that the ways in which we celebrate and welcome newcomers into the family of God in our particular place can create positive memories for them. If we make habits out of these celebrations they may become a part of the culture of the congregation, and people will assume “this is a church that celebrates people.”
Many churches celebrate the addition of infant members into their midst through a rite like a Dedication, or the Sacrament of Baptism. The words and form of these rites not only welcome these children into the local congregation, but since the rites also have some root in history we are saying that the children are being welcomed into the church through the ages as well. But there is more that we might do, I think.
At our congregation, when it comes to distributing the Lord’s Supper we have a few people come up to the front of the church at a time, where they kneel at a rail. One of the elders goes along the rail and gives out the bread, and I follow to give out the wine. We encourage children to come along with their parents. Although we don’t give communion to small children, I do pause at each one, place my hand on their head, and bless them because of their Baptism and the death and resurrection of Jesus, praying that “He will fill them with all joy and hope in believing in Him” or something similar. Most of the children seem genuinely happy to receive this blessing – even the infants are enthralled.
But there is one more step I use to celebrate the presence of these children of God in our midst. If one of the persons at the communion rail is a pregnant woman, after I give her the Blood of Jesus I pause, place my hand gently on her head, and pray a prayer of blessing for the child that she is carrying. These unborn ones are part of God’s family in our place, too, and deserve the prayers and anticipation of the entire body just as they do from their immediate family. And when we begin to celebrate them before they are born, we know that they are already a beloved part of our family when we finally do see them.