I've been wrestling with catechesis and admission to the Lord's Supper for a while. Here are my guiding concerns:
I'm troubled at keeping kids away from the Lord's Supper until they're graduation age. Children can confess the faith, repent of their sin, and desire the forgiveness offered in the Lord's Supper well before they're 14 years old. And I think our actions and our teaching are incongruous. We teach how important the Lord's Supper is, but we tell kids that they can go 14 years of life without it. No wonder they attend for a only few weeks after being confirmed before dropping off the face of the planet.
I'm troubled by what confirmation has become: synergistic graduation. A few sources attribute this to pietism, and I'm always game for blaming pietists. What are we "confirming"? We don't make a covenant with God, we don't receive the "rest" or "more complete" Holy Spirit at confirmation (which is why we lay hands on confirmands). We don't fulfill our end of the deal that began at baptism. And yet, there's something to be said for a public profession of faith (just maybe without white robes and Pomp & Circumstance playing in the background).
I'm troubled at using the Lord's Supper as a carrot on a stick to entice kids to get confirmed and go to catechesis. Means of grace should not be rewards like Snickers.
Originally, I thought divorcing confirmation and first communion would help. First communion could be earlier (like the papists), which would eliminate the carrot-and-stick problem. This was buffeted by the Rite for First Communion before Confirmation found in the LSB Agenda. And there's a Rite of Examination Prior to First Communion in the LSB Pastoral Care Companion. And Augsburg Confession, Artivle XXV says those admitted to the Lord's Supper are examined and absolved. I'd have examined kids whose parents thought they were ready using this Rite in the PCC and then they'd have confessed their sins privately and received absolution.
The problem with that is mostly that it makes travel between congregations difficult. While the Commission on Worship indicates that 25% of LCMS congregations have early communion, I'm not sure it solves all my concerns, either.
What seems to have been the practice of the reformers is a catechetical service sometime during the week to which parents could bring their children and servants when they thought they were ready. The majority of catechesis was done at home. Then, when parents and pastor thought the children were ready to be admitted to the Lord's Supper, the pastor would examine and absolve them before admitting them to the Supper. So, for catechesis all year, we've begun in the sanctuary with a 15 minute catechetical service, using Evening Prayer for our liturgy. It's worked pretty well. And I've been observing from afar the catechetical service of a neighboring parish. All his catechesis is done w/in the Service of Prayer and Preaching.
Add to these concerns the fact that we have a Wed morning Men's Bible Study and a (slightly later) Wed morn Women's Bible Study, both of which are sparsely attended (2-4 @ each).
So here's the idea I pitched to the board of elders last week that I plan to beat with a hammer and anvils until it looks like gorgeous autobody work.
On Wednesday evenings, we'll have Private Confession & Absolution (which we've been doing since July), followed by a 45-or-so minute Catechetical service, followed by some forms of Bible Studies for probably another 45 minutes.
The service will be open to anyone in the congregation. Those interested in being instructed toward receiving the Lord's Supper (baptized youth, curious nonmember adults) will be encouraged to attend this service and the following Catechism instruction during the 45 minute Bible Study.
I also anticipate removing age restrictions from catechesis. If parents believe their children are ready for the service and the study, with my permission, they'll begin. For younger kids (4th grade & younger?), I'll require parents to attend with the children.
Here's a schematic of how it might work.
6-6:45 Private Confession
(also at the same time) Luther League (something the Sunday School director has been working on to encourage Catechism memorization for young children_
6:45-7:30 Catechetical service of Prayer and Preaching
7:30-8:15 Catechism instruction
or Topical Bible Study or study of a book of the Bible (geared toward HS-adult)
That's what I've got so far...