Welcoming children, encouraging youth, celebrating loving unions, and honoring the passage out of this life — all these journeys invite us to reflect on our identities and the moments when they are irrevocably changed.
When a parent comes to ask that their child be welcomed into the community, there are important conversations that follow:
- What is the meaning of our welcome?
- How is the child dedicated, and to what or to whom?
- To what degree do we the congregational and family communities dedicate ourselves to the care and nurture of the family before us?
These questions are what we–minister and families–must consider before and when we gather in joy around the water and the rose, the flame and the kiss of blessing, the calling by name and the welcome of the congregation.
Coming of Age
Coming of age, when the community acknowledges the passage from childhood into young adulthood, is a particular joy of mine, and also much-ignored in our culture. While graduation from high school or entering college may serve similar purposes, we don’t all share those experiences, and one comes of age with or without formal educational milestones. As a religious community we help support our youth, welcome them into new identities, and listen carefully to what they have to teach us.
I was supported–even saved, you might say–by supportive adults during my youth. I was blessed to know that I could trust some adults with the concerns with which I wrestled so mightily. I needed those adults. We were in it together, my mentors and I, and I am forever grateful to them.
Coming of age programs, as part of multigenerational learning communities (our congregations) offer youth and adults the opportunity to know one another. Mentors listen to and support youth members of the congregation, ideally gaining as much from the relationship as do the young participants.
Ceremonies of Union
Ceremonies of Union are among our most joyful celebrations. Whether they express simply the joy of the community or also state-sanctioned, civil marriages, union rituals are one of the delights of ministry. Planning a wedding is an occasion of pastoral care, of question and counsel, of accompaniment and attention.
I ask couples who want to be married to to meet with me three times well ahead of the wedding to have open conversations about communication, conflict, “love languages,” sexuality, and money, among other topics.
I also have extensive conversation with the couple regarding the ceremony itself. For example, I ask several questions:
- Who will be involved and how?
- What elements do the couple want/not want in the ceremony?
- What kind of music would the couple like and and by whom would they like it to be played?
The ultimate goal is a ritual that celebrates the couple’s life together, as well as their relationship with family and community.
Planning memorial services is some of the most significant pastoral care offered by any minister. Not only that, but memorial services have been among the most important and loving times I have spent with congregants. From the death of the 15-month-old toddler to that of the 99-year-old former Board President, I have had the chance to accompany families during many kinds of grief.
Time with a grieving family is tender, complex, and an honor, as well as sometimes difficult. Memorial services remind all of us of our own deaths, lead us to wonder how our community will gather around our memory, and what pastoral care our family will receive.
Memorials celebrate the life of those now gone, as well as acknowledge the ongoing ripples of their memory and legacy. Furthermore, a well-done memorial allows family and friends to feel safe in expressing their grief or simply sitting in the embrace of a supportive assembly. The service holds the congregation and other mourners comforted in the knowledge that when their time comes, those who love them will be held and they themselves will be remembered well.
Rites of Passage as Pastoral Care
Rites of passage are occasions for great care. In discussions with families, theological conversations with youth writing their credos, and care for those in mourning, I bring great love for the work of worship and the honor, joy, and grief we express through ritual.