Chester Church: Home Communion
By Luke Johnson | March 15, 2020
Some days you just can’t get to church. Maybe it's a snow storm, maybe it’s a broken leg, maybe it’s an out-of-control pandemic.
My family has had plenty of those days this year because of some longer-term health considerations. Wishing to provide some familiarity and continuity for my kids, I devised a Home Communion liturgy with all the same components as a regular Eucharist service, but simplified for the comprehension level of young kids.
If you are unable to attend church in person right now, Chester Church might be for you! (We call it “Chester Church” because we live on Chester Road.)
You’ll notice there are icons or pictures at various points throughout the liturgy. This is to help your kids keep up with where they are in the service. My kids enjoy having something to focus on as they listen and participate. (“We’re at the ‘praying hands’ now.”)
Here are some rubrics, and some note for how to get your kids actively involved.
- Gather your congregation: Our family is pretty small: just my wife and I and our two kids. That makes for a pretty tiny congregation. To fill it out a little, our kids grab all their stuffed animals and seat them all around the living room where we hold our service. This is also a helpful signal that it’s time to start. “It’s Chester Church time! Grab all the stuffies!”
- Preparing a cross: We created a cross to carry in the Processional by taping together some empty gift wrapping roles. It doesn’t need to be fancy. It just needs to be cross-shaped and something one of your kids can carry.
- Music: My wife often plays “Jesus Loves Me" or a hymn the kids know on the piano as we walk in.
- The Crucifer: It turns out that carrying the cross is a pretty sought-after job. We alternate weeks to let both our kids have a go. The crucifer should hold the cross nice and straight, and up high, and should walk nice and slow so that you can get through at least one verse of your opening music before you reach the living room. It’s taken some practice, but even our 3 year old can keep a pretty steady pace!
- Walking in: We line up in our porch area and walk slowly to the middle of our living room.
Greeting and Opening Prayer
Having processed, we lay the cross on the kitchen table where it is easy to grab, and I welcome everyone with the words, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ…” With repetition, our kids have grown used to the response lines and are starting to put some of the liturgical prayers to memory. (E.g., “To you all hearts are open, all desires known…”)
Here you’ll want to be sensitive to your kids' attention spans. For the sake of the document, I list the “Reading”, the “Psalm”, and the “Gospel Reading”, but we usually use just 2 readings: typically a short reading from a psalm, followed by the Gospel Reading.
This is a great place to involve your kids. ("Go grab the cross for our Gospel reading!”) My son is just learning to read, so I print off a text with some of the verses marked off for him to read. We go back and forth, sort of reading responsively.
For the Gradual Hymn, my wife often picks something we sing in church that is familiar to the kids, and usually just sing one verse.
For the “sermon” time, I simply ask some questions about the readings we just completed to help our kids to mull them over a little bit. I try to pick texts that have fairly obvious thematic connections so that they can feel the “rush” of noticing the links. And then I try to say a few sentences about what the texts mean, and what they lead us to think about God or our place in God’s work in the world.
Then we stand up together and recite the creed -- with actions. Ham it up. Create some actions together and have fun with it. These tenets of faith are life-giving, so make reciting them a fun part of the service.
Prayers of the People
At this point, we all sit in a little circle on the floor.
Following the typical flow of the ‘proper' Prayer of the People, we think about ways we can pray for ‘the world’, then for ‘our communities’ (the people around us), and then for people or events in our own lives.
We keep a “prayer jar” of names of the people in our life, so on mornings when there aren’t obvious things to pray about, we each grab a name from the jar.
Our kids are just 3 and 6, so they often need some help finding the words. This is good formation! Take a moment to help your child come up with something, even if they simply parrot you. “Dear Jesus, please bless Aaron and Shelby. Help their baby to grow healthy and strong. Amen.”
Confession and Absolution
I’m not ordained, so we keep the confession prayer in first person. (“We” instead of “You”).
I recite the officiant’s opening words, and before the corporate prayer of confession, I tell them, “We’ll have a little moment of quiet to think about our own sins — the things we do that aren’t loving to God or others.”
And then we recite the prayer together.
And then our kids’ favourite part — sharing The Peace!
Again, I’m not ordained, so it might feel a bit funny, depending on your tradition, to lead the Eucharistic liturgy. But if you are facing many Sundays without regular church, I’d rather risk some liturgical insubordination than remove the Eucharistic prayers from my kids’ worship time.
Our kitchen has an island counter in the middle of it, and it works really perfectly as an altar.
Setting the table
- We grab one of the kids’ small blankets and lay it over the island as the corporal.
- Grab a small glass dish and place some pieces of bread (or something similar if you avoid gluten), enough for each person.
- For the cup, I use a port glass (since it's the closest thing we have to a goblet). We just use water because our house has a lot of food sensitivities, but you might use some red-coloured juice or red wine. I place the cup on a small plate next to the bread. (I use a plate so that the cup can stand sturdily on the corporal blanket.)
Going through the Eucharistic prayers
When the table is ready, I invite everyone to come stand around the table. There we go through all the prayers. I lead what isn’t bold, and whatever is bold we all pray together.
We sing the opening lines of the Eucharistic prayer, and sing the Lord’s Prayer. But follow your own church’s tradition here.
With the prayers completed, come around the table and distribute the elements to each person. In turn, you could get one of your kids to give you the bread and cup.
This is a rich moment. Getting to say the words, “The body of Christ broken for you” to your own child is one of the truest and most meaningful things you can do. And then to hear the same repeated back to you on the lips of your child… There is nothing second-rate about Home Communion when it comes to a shared moment of thanksgiving to God for what he has done for you and your family.
Ending the service
After the Doxology, the crucifer lifts high the cross again, and leads all the participants out the way you came.
Designate one of your kids as your deacon to say the final words, "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” We usually get our 3 year old, Molly, to do this. She always rolls her eyes at me and asserts, “I know the words, Papa,” but then always needs help to remember…
With that, the service is over! Aside from escorting your stuffed-animal congregants back to their homes.
Keep your family ‘at church’ even when you can't be at church.
All told, this service usually takes us 30-40 minutes. That might sound long, but it goes by quickly. And you’ll find that as the adult, if you place a lot of importance on this time of worship, your kids will too. They take their cue from you.
If you are stuck at home or apart from your church family, this Home Communion might be a good way to set aside some time as a family to do what is most essential for human beings: spending some time together in community, communing with the One who saves us.
I’d love to hear how it works for you!