A Unitarian Universalist Welcoming Congregation

Rites-of-passage for Children and Youth

by ucmhadmin
Monday January 3, 2011 at 1:45 pm

We are proud to recognize special milestones in people’s lives.  These are the wonderful “rite-of-passage” we honor for children and teens at the Unitarian Church of Marlborough and Hudson.

Child Dedication
From earliest times, men and women have brought children to houses of worship for special ceremonies of welcome. In the presence of family and friends, the name of the child is spoken, and the parents acknowledge their responsibility. We also acknowledge that members of the congregation are charged with caring for and protecting all children who are part of the community. Most Unitarian Universalists do not use the term “baptism” because of its association with traditional Christian doctrines. Also rarely used is the term “christening”, which means to make Christian.  Many Unitarian Universalist congregations call the ritual a “naming ceremony”, or most frequently a “child dedication”.  Elements in the service include the use of water as the source of life, and a flower as the symbol of the powers of life to grow and renew. While most commonly performed for infants, older children and even adults are welcome to be dedicated into the faith. This ceremony is also most frequently conducted during a regular worship service, but sometimes a private celebration can be scheduled. When Unitarian Universalist congregations dedicate a new life, we affirm the inherent worth and dignity of that person, and his/her potential for making a difference in the world.

First Chalice
First Chalice is a rite-of-passage program and ceremony in recognition of the fact that our 8-year-olds are entering the stage some developmental experts call the “age of reason”. Roberta, our Director of Lifelong Learning, developed it a decade ago when she worked at the Watertown church and it is now a beloved program in a few of our neighboring UU churches. We publicly recognize that these kids are starting to think for themselves and will begin finding themselves in more situations in which they have to make choices based on what they think is right and wrong. The kids have a homework assignment and group gathering that includes defining “for themselves” the words we use frequently in UU churches (like peace, love, equality, etc). and considering what it means to be “courageously loving”. Then they consider strategies that we hope will help guide them in thinking for themselves about right and wrong when making decisions. The kids are recognized during a ceremony on Youth Sunday where they are presented with personal-sized chalices, the UU symbol of our freedom to seek out and follow our own religious truths.

First Mentor
First Mentor is another rite-of-passage program and ceremony (that Roberta also created a decade ago at the Watertown church) for our youth who are are middle schoolers. We recognize the significant steps they are making as they become more independent members of both our world and our religious community. We wish to compliment the loving relationships our youth have with their families and offer them friendship opportunities with other adults who share similar values. To do this, we invite each of the youth to select a “church friend” symbolic of their ability to create their own relationships with adults at UCMH. Each youth and adult friend will meet to talk about what it means to be UU in today’s world and to work together on a small “community service” project. This relationship will be a simplified vision of the “mentor” relationship that they will later have in the Coming-of-Age program. Then during the Youth Sunday service, these mentors will introduce the youth to the community and offer special words in honor of the youth.

Coming-of-Age
A very highly regarded program and ceremony is “Coming-of-Age”, the Unitarian Universalist tradition for recognizing our teenage youth as they are becoming adults.  This is a wonderful celebration and youth led worship service that ends a year of participating in a very comprehensive “Coming-of-Age” program.  This includes but is not limited to actively participating in discussions about deep theological questions; learning about courageous and inspiring UU ancestors; developing a close relationship with a mentor; and exploration of social injustice and engagement in justice work.  A program highlight is the presentation of personal credos during the Coming-of-Age ceremony.

New Driver Blessing
First introduced to Roberta by Rev. Gary Kowalski (when they worked together at the Sudbury UU church), the “New Driver Blessing” is a fun tradition of honoring our youth who began driving during the past year and blessing them in celebration of their newfound freedom and in recognition of the responsibilities such freedom requires.

Bridging Ceremony
Last but definitely not least is another beloved recognition ceremony in most Unitarian Universalist churches called “Bridging”. Bridging recognizes our high school graduates (or the equivalent for non-traditional learners).  Coming full circle from “child dedication” ceremony, we now present to our emerging adults a rose without the thorns removed symbolizing our hope that they have acquired the skills to navigate the joys and sorrows of life affirming that we will always be here for them as need. We share what each emerging adults is planning to do after graduation and present a congratulatory gift.  It’s an important time to affirm our love and commitment as they take a significant step out into the world.

“May ours be a religion which, like sunshine goes everywhere.
Its temple ~ all space
Its shrine ~ the good heart
Its creed ~ all truth
Its ritual ~ works of love
Its profession of faith ~ divine living.”
Theodore Parker