On 10 October at 16:15 Hedi Vilumaa will defend her doctoral thesis “Open Communion of the Word and Eucharist. Admission of baptized children and young people to Holy Communion: Contexts and Conceptions in Estonian Lutheran Church 1917– 2005” for obtaining the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (in Religious Studies).
Professor Riho Altnurme, University of Tartu
Professor Bård Eirik Hallesby Norheim, NLA University College (Norway)
Once it was said, fittingly, that working with children in church is not “a comfortable walk, but rather a steeplechase”. Examining history it becomes evident that the Protestant Church has long shared the word of God, but not the Eucharist, with its baptized young members. However, the principle of open communion of the word and the sacrament – the equal communion for all baptized, the implementation of which was and still is the goal of churches based on the idea of koinonia in the New Testament – is not realized under these circumstances. Theologians have been pondering over the issue of admission of baptized children and young people to Holy Communion for centuries. The question is, under what conditions should the right of admission be issued? Or what role do baptism, communion, membership and confirmation play? How have different models of admission been used in the Protestant churches and Estonian Lutheran church, and what forms the basis for fixed orders of admission? What role does youth work play in the issue of admission? In this dissertation I analyze the ecclesiological and church historical context and the context of youth work of the admission from the point of view of open communion of the word and the sacrament. I also highlight the concepts of admission that evolved in the Estonian Lutheran Church during 1917–2005 and have an impact to this day. I conclude that although the idea of open communion of the word and the sacrament enables the practice of admission, and this principle has been partially followed in the Estonian Lutheran Church during the period under consideration, tradition of confirmation has influenced and still influences the choice of the model and order of admission. Although church law allows the children and youth to the Eucharist on the bases of baptism, there are other models of admission. Therefore, the Estonian Lutheran Church does not have a common understanding about admission and the law of church provides a partial admission, which allows church members to the Eucharist based on baptism or confirmation.