Within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) the age for first communion has gone through a significant transformation over the past thirty-five years. Early on, most churches allowed first communion in conjunction with Confirmation or Affirmation of Baptism (about age 14). Since the early 1970’s, however, the ages has been being pushed back to a younger age. At first, that younger age was fifth or sixth grade, but over the years, many congregations have gone to even younger ages for communion.
The old argument for waiting until an older age centered around the need to understand communion. Closer examination of the biblical and theological issues, however, led folks to concur that “understanding” or “discerning the body” did not necessarily mean a cognitive explanation of just what Holy Communion was, but rather an understanding of the community (as the body) and the participation with the community in a special meal where Jesus meets us.
It is fair to say that there is no unified practice on this. The matter is left to the local congregation to decide what seems appropriate to them and their faith community. Over the past decade or so, I have seen ELCA churches all over the age spectrum on this matter.
At Perry Highway Lutheran, we leave it to discernment between the pastor, the young person, and the family. Most of our kids are about 5-7 when they first take communion, some are still younger, and some are older. I usually meet with the young person and the family and go over age-appropriate material. We emphasize life-long learning and growing in understanding of the Sacraments’ role in our lives. During the season of Lent, First Communion classes are held for the children and they then receive their First Holy Communion on the first Sunday after Easter Sunday.