We are proud to recognize special milestones in people’s lives. These are the wonderful “rite-of-passage” we honor at First Parish of Sudbury.
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 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.
One rite-of-passage is the “first chalice ceremony” in recognition of the fact that our 8-year-olds are entering the stage some developmental experts call the “age of reason”. 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 at First Parish (like peace, love, equality, etc). We also invite them to talk about someone they think is “courageously loving” and ask if there was a time when they did something courageously loving. Then we consider strategies that might help guide them in thinking for themselves about right and wrong when making decisions. The kids join us at 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.
Another Youth Sunday rite-of-passage is a ceremony for our youth who are eleven or who are middle schoolers new to First Parish. We recognize the significant steps they are making as they become more independent members of both our world and our religious community. We want to acknowledge them as they step into this new stage of increasing freedom and responsibility. 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 “First Parish friend” symbolic of their ability to create their own relationships with adults at First Parish. Each youth and adult friend will meet several times to talk about why it’s important 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. The mentors will present the youth with a small gift from First Parish that symbolizes our ongoing affirmation and support for them.
A highly regarded 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. The goal for this program is for the youth to explore and define their self-identity as UUs. This includes but is not limited to actively participating in discussions about deep theological questions; developing a close relationship with a First Parish mentor; exploration of social injustice and involvement in Social Action work; and involvement in meaningful worship. A program highlight is the presentation of personal credos and the invitation to become a junior member of the church during the Coming-of-Age ceremony.
Another recognition is a ceremony in honor of our high school graduates. We share what each youth is planning to do after graduation and present a congratulatory gift. It’s an important time to affirm our love and commitment to our youth as they take a significant step out into the world.