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This article was first published in the January 1993 issue of The Journal.

Alexandra’s First Communion

Our daughter Alexandra attends our local Catholic primary school. When the school announced that they were to delay preparation for First Communion until the age of eight we breathed a sigh of relief. Apart from anything else, neither of us thought that Alexandra had a sufficient understanding of communion in a one-church situation, let alone in two churches.

Many of the other parents were less pleased. Her best friend, the youngest of five, received her First Communion after being prepared by her parish. But by the age of eight, when the class were being prepared, Alexandra was beginning to take much more interest. We began to discuss with her the First Communion day and that Daddy (who is an Anglican) would not be able to receive communion with her. We also told her that if we arranged for her First Communion away from home it would be possible for Daddy to receive too. It is hard to know how much a child re ects her parents' input, but two things were clear: she wanted to receive communion with her friends and she wanted Daddy to be able to receive too.

We asked our parish priest, who is very traditional, for his views. He said that it was not possible for him to decide to give William communion, but he agreed that if we could persuade the bishop to sanction it he would be very happy to do so.

No Exceptions
Mary is involved with the Catholic diocese, and she arranged for us to see the bishop. The whole family went, and the result of a reasonably friendly discussion was that as assistant bishop he did not have the right to permission, and he very much doubted if the diocesan bishop would either. It was really not acceptable for Anglicans in England to claim that they did not have access to their own priests, and urgent need did not include "social occasions" such as First Communion, weddings and, yes, funerals.

A letter to the diocesan bishop requesting an audience elicited a polite but firm "No": communion is the goal of ecumenism, not the means, and other diocesan bishops who allow exceptions are wrong to do so.

A Way Forward
Alexandra found the bishop hard to understand, and said that if there were any chance of Daddy being able to receive communion she would gladly wait.

Shortly afterwards, we attended a mass celebrated by the bishop. Some Anglicans present were given communion (no doubt without his knowledge) and this struck a raw nerve. William was cross and accosted a priest friend who was there with the challenge "Your bishop is trying to pull our family apart". Instead of the defensive reply we expected, this was what we got: "William, of course you are allowed to receive communion and if you come to my church I will gladly give it to you. If the bishop objects I will tell him he is wrong."

The warmth of this reply was overwhelming and we came away uplifted and encouraged. Were we not right to perceive the openness of Christ himself? But after the mountain top experience comes reality - how was all this to be achieved? It was now past the First Communion date anyway so we had a year to prepare.

During the year the possibility of Daddy being able to receive was demonstrated when we all shared in the joy of the Bard family at Ellen's First Communion (see Interchurch Families no.23). We now had a way forward but was it the right one? Alexandra still hoped to receive First Communion with her friends, and what were we going to tell the parish priest? She was beginning to feel more and more left out. Going to mass began to provoke tantrums.

Belief and Commitment
We thought we would try again in a nearby parish where some of her friends went to church. To our surprise, the parish priest did not reject the idea out of hand. He said that he took each case on its merits, and that if he found William's attitude to be as Mary described it, he would have no difficulty in offering him communion. Alexandra had better come for the final lessons as the First Communion day was in three weeks' time! Alexandra was over the moon!

Needless to say, the few days before Daddy's interview with the priest were rather tense, but our fears were unfounded. What our priest wanted was a belief in the eucharist, and commitment. He was quite clear that the latter existed, and he would take William's word for the former. As both parents were responsible for bringing the child to communion it would be unnatural if they did not both receive it with her. He would also be happy for William to come to communion on other occaSIons.

What about complaints from his parishioners? He was quite good at explaining to people that the object of the church was to help people find God. Were these words the fruit of ClTor or were they how Christ would have spoken?

Our Vocation
The First Communion mass was a wonderful occasion. Alexandra looked forward to mass again although Sunday School still had its attractions - and it became a more fulfilling experience for the whole family. William no longer felt le out, and for a while we were able to share in the worship of the Catholic community without the weekly reminder that the church was unable to acknowledge the unity in our marriage. We actually prefer the more spontaneous worship in the Catholic church, and for a while may have been tempted to take a less fuJI part in the Anglican community, although there remains much that the Anglican church has to offer that we value as a family.

However, we were brought up short when the Catholic priest had to leave the parish unexpectedly, and William again feels less welcome at mass. Perhaps this was a reminder from God of our vocation to continue to be a visible sign of family unity across denominational boundaries.

Would it really be Christ's will that we give up the struggle to promote good relations between our local churches? as not our enthusiasm for Christian unity by God as a gift to be shared with both communities?

William and Mary and Alexandra