For all that is our life! by Rev. Andrew Clive Millard
A child is born among us and we feel a special glow.
We see time’s endless journey as we watch the baby grow.
We thrill to hear imagination freely running wild.
We dedicate our minds and hearts to the spirit of this child.
— Shelley Jackson Denham
Religions have always paid attention to the transitions between and within generations, finding ways to honor the transformations that people experience at those times through rites of passage. For there is, within our humanity, something that calls us to recognize when a person’s life is not only changing, but is being transformed in a significant way. Moreover, such recognition reinforces our sense of community, by lifting up something that is — or at least can be — common to all of us.
A wedding, for instance, is the rite of passage for a couple entering marriage, something that is earning particular attention right now with marriage equality being recognized by more and more states. And, as well as being at the forefront of that struggle for equality, Unitarian Universalists are known for how we do memorial services, marking the final rite of passage in everyone’s life by honoring what it means to be alive.
Two others rites of passage that we celebrate are perhaps less well known by non-UUs.
At this time of year, Unitarian Universalist congregations everywhere celebrate the “bridging” of their youth into young adulthood, congratulating those individuals who have completed high school on reaching an age of greater self-determination, with all the freedom and responsibility that adulthood implies. As we hear from our youth about what it has meant to be a part of the Fellowship, and about what they have planned for the future, we are also reminded that this transition, significant as it is in the lives of our young people, is not so much about “goodbye” as it is about “see you again soon”. They remain dear to us, whether they stay in town or move far away, and it is always good to see them return. The Fellowship has, of course, been an important part of their growth, for we have strived to teach them, to show them, what it means to be Unitarian Universalists. But at the same time, of course, they have showed us the heart and the future of our faith, and this has always been the way.
Another important rite of passage is the child dedication. This is a way of welcoming the youngest new members of our community, with the whole congregation pledging to support them as they grow in body, mind, heart and spirit. Though it’s perhaps more common to dedicate children as infants, it’s not unusual to dedicate older children, too, in a ceremony involving parents, other family members and even close relatives. There are no set times during the church year for child dedications, so they can be scheduled as part of Sunday morning services for dates that are convenient for parents and other participating family.*
As a rite of passage, the child dedication is part of a long history of religious observances in which parents and their communities give thanks and affirm their shared hopes and dreams for their children. As part of Unitarian Universalist tradition, a touch of water to the child’s forehead invokes the ancient symbolism of purity and blessing, reminding us of the elements that bind us to each other and to our home on Earth. A rose without thorns is also presented to the child, as a symbol of the possibilities hidden within, to be unfolded one by one as the child grows. It’s a rite that we perform in public, declaring that all of us, whether as parents or as other members of our religious community, share responsibility for the care and development of all children. And it’s a reminder to all of us that it’s our task to give them a world of peace and justice in which to grow.
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* If you would like to schedule a child dedication, or have questions about doing so, please do get in touch with me!