Unitarian Universalists believe that religion should be authentic. To that end, UUSGS offers programs – for children and adults – that support and encourage the development of authentic religious identity.
Religious education and faith formation begins at a young age and continues on through youth and into adulthood. At UUSGS, we think about this a bit like circles radiating outward from a central point. Our intention early on is to focus on a child’s sense of self… to affirm their evolving identity, to provide a compassionate moral foundation, and to awaken in them a curiosity for the world within, among, and beyond them. As children age, our focus expands to helping children understand themselves in relationship… for example, their relationships with others and with the wider world. We discuss the importance of healthy relationships and good, assertive communication. Finally, in the teenage years, we turn our focus from defining oneself to applying oneself and one’s values. The UUSGS Youth Group provides an active, supportive environment through which to explore, serve and create connections in our wider community.
To mark some transitions along the way, UUSGS recognizes a few rites of passage:
- Naming ceremony: Naming ceremonies are usually done during the first year of a child’s life, when the child is introduced to the congregation. Naming ceremonies are often combined with dedications (below). Usually, a naming ceremony – done during a Sunday service – includes blessing the child with elements (water, earth, air, fire), recognizing the roles of family (and godparents, if present), and introducing the child publicly. The purpose is to celebrate with the family and welcome the child into the world.
- Child dedication: Dedication ceremonies can occur at any time during childhood. The central gesture during a child dedication is an agreement between a family and a congregation to care for one another and support one another’s ongoing growth and development. It has been said that to raise a child, “it takes a village.” Well, dedication ceremonies are meant to make that village visible… and to celebrate what can happen when a family chooses to raise children in the context of a caring community. (Interestingly, some scholars suggest that this is also consistent with the ancient intentions behind the very first baptisms: an entry into a particular community of human beings. The other-worldly part came later.) Dedication ceremonies can occur alongside naming ceremonies for younger children; for older children, it may be appropriate to only do the dedication.
- Coming of Age: The Coming of Age ceremony celebrates the completion of a year-long discernment and mentorship process, and beginnings of early adulthood. While rites of passage up until this point have been largely individual, a Coming of Age ceremony typically recognizes several matriculating youth at once, usually on a Saturday afternoon (and often followed by a party). The Coming of Age process at UUSGS is such a valuable experience, the culmination of which is something called a credo statement. (Think “This, I believe…”) After meeting with an adult mentor throughout the year and participating in various experiences meant to expand horizons (e.g., service projects, visits to neighboring faiths), each student prepares a short statement describing their own spiritual identity. The statement is then shared publicly and celebrated as the first step of a lifelong process of discernment and dialog. Coming of Age is often done in tandem with Our Whole Lives, a comprehensive and age-appropriate sexuality curriculum that is also based on self-awareness and good communication. Usually, this takes place during a student’s 8th-grade year.
- Bridging: Bridging is the name we give to high school seniors who are leaving the Youth Group, and sometimes the immediate area, as well. Bridging – often observed during a Sunday service in June – combines the congregation’s thanks and well wishes. We are grateful for time shared, for the opportunity to learn and grow together… and we are honored to send our youth into the world with a solid foundation, a community that will also welcome them home, and with encouragement and resources to live an authentic, connected life.
We do occasionally observe other rites of passage, as needed… but these are the big ones. As with most of what we do, these touchstones are meant to be undertaken with reverence but also an abiding sense of joy & fun.
Should you have any questions about rites of passage at UUSGS, you are always welcome to contact Darcie Farber, Director of Family Ministry.