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Dan Harper | Rites of passage

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Outlines for Unitarian Universalist rites of passage, as I would lead them. There is no standard Unitarian Universalist service for any of these rites of passage, and other Unitarian Universalist ministers will do things differently. You're welcome to use any of this material yourself, as long as you don't republish it as your own, or sell it to someone else for profit. This Web page as a whole is copyright © 2021 Dan Harper; you may use the copyright-free readings on this page, but you may not publish this page as a whole, nor may you use my commentary, nor my arrangements of material, nor any other copyright-protected aspect of this page.

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Child dedication

Wedding

Memorial service

Graveside service

Child dedication

The following is how I've officiated at child dedications at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto (UUCPA). The child dedication is normally a part of the regular worship service at UUCPA, and comes after the opening hymn and before children go off to Sunday school.

Welcome and introduction

We have set aside a time in our worship service this morning to welcome a new child to the world [if older child: "to formally welcome a new child to this religious community"]. Could the parents (and godparents/sponsors) of ------ please come forward? (Parents/guardians bring child to front of church, accompanied by godparents/sponsors.)

Opening words

Humanity is our responsibility, human beings are that part of the total universe that we can do something about. Perhaps we cannot make heaven be so, but to our children we can give our love, our care, our respect. (adapted from words by Kenneth Patton)

Reading

The reading is by Edith Hunter, a Unitarian Universalist religious educator, from her book Conversations with Children.

Charles and I were driving up a country road. All around us in the distance were great mountain peaks. “What a view!” I said. “Look at the mountains, Charles.”

But I instantly knew that, at the age of eighteen months, he couldn’t possibly look at the mountains and there was absolutely nothing I could do to make him see them. The only mountain within his range of vision is the slight rise in the path going out to the swing. This “mountain” is just as exciting to him as mine are to me. The infinitesimal piece of mica that lies on his “mountain” and catches the sun, and the tiny ant that is tugging a crumb of his cooky away -- these hold him spellbound. These are the proper objects of his curiosity now.

He’ll get to my mountains in time, and with the same zest and wonder that he now shows, if I don’t rush him.... Children are naturally curious about the really profound mysteries and deeply appreciative of universal and enduring values. But we should have the patience not to talk over their heads or beyond their experience. If we had a higher regard for human nature and a greater trust in reality, we would not be in such a hurry.

Often, it seem that we adults are afraid to let the children probe the perplexing aspects of experience. We are afraid of the honesty and frankness of children, which, when allowed free expression, so often exposes the incompleteness of our knowledge and the parochialism of so many of our values. Their simple logic and clear young vision are apt to reveal our careless thinking and the yawning gaps between our ideals and social reality. We feel as exposed as the emperor in his new clothes.

Naming

Minister: What is the name of this child?

Parents give name of child.

Minister: ------, we welcome you and we give you this name as yours forever.

You are unique. There is no one else like you in the entire world. Your parents and your family welcome you in all your uniqueness. We give you this rose, different from every other rose in the world, as a symbol of your uniqueness.

We welcome you to this community. Water is the stuff of life, water connects all living things, all of humanity. The rose is dipped in water to symbolize your essential connection with all of us in this community. (Minister touches the rose to the child's forehead, and gives the rose to the child.)

Prayer / Meditation

Let us join our hearts together in the spirit of prayer and meditation. We give thanks for this new life that has come among us. Each new child brings us new hope for a new beginning. We see the great potential that lies in every human life, and we know this child will bring [his/her] unique gifts to humanity, if we help [him/her] to do so. May we recognize and nurture the unique gifts of this child. And through all the challenges and joys to come, may this child’s life be blessed with hope and courage and love.

Litany of dedication

Minister: ------, we welcome you among us.

All: We give thanks for your new life, and for the new hope you bring.

Minister: We will appreciate your uniqueness, we will teach you and learn from you, we will love you and respect you.

All: We will delight in your accomplishments, we will share in your sorrows, we will encourage you in every way as you grow into adulthood.

(Godparents: We promise to be always available for you and your parents in the journeys and adventures ahead, and we promise you our loving presence in your life.)

Parents/Guardians: We, your parents, love you with all our hearts, and dedicate ourselves to do all that we can to share with you the beauty and the goodness of life.

All: We will support you and your parents through all the experiences of life.

Closing words May the truth that sets us free,
And the hope that never dies,
And the love that casts out fear
Be with us now
Until the dayspring breaks,
And the shadows flee away.
(from the Khalidasa)

Notes:

In the Unitarian Universalist tradition, children are usually formally named and welcomed into the religious community in a ceremony known as a "child dedication." The child dedication comes primarily from our Universalist heritage; as early as 1770, Universalist John Murray saw no justification for baptising babies, and instead chose to create a naming ceremony in which the congregation dedicated children to the highest ideals (Murray would have said, dedicated children to God). By the 19th C., midwestern Unitarians were combining flower ceremonies with what they called "christenings"; although some Unitarians were also saying they "dedicated" children. In the late 20th C., the Unitarians and Universalists joined forces, and many Unitarian Universalists felt no need to mention God in their naming ceremonies. Child dedications have now taken on several interrelated meanings: (1) We welcome children into the world, and into the religious community, by formally giving them their name; (2) We dedicate children to the highest ideals of life; (3) The congregation dedicates itself to supporting the parents/guardians and the child/ren, as the child/ren grows up; (4) We rededicate ourselves to creating a more sane and just world, a world in which all children are welcomed and may thrive.

 


Wedding

This is the typical service I use for a Unitarian Universalist wedding. I'm available to officiate at weddings for members and friends of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Palo Alto (UUCPA), regardless of their gender. If my schedule allows, I'm available to officiate at weddings for other religious liberals in the area with no formal religious affiliation or who are unable to be married in their own church, if the wedding is held at UUCPA (please see the UUCPA Web site for more information about holding your wedding at UUCPA). If all you need is a 10 minute wedding for a legal marriage, see below.

Prelude

Opening words

We are gathered here today to recognize and celebrate the marriage of ------ and ------. Marriage is a bold and courageous act, one I know ------ and ------ do not undertake lightly. They are here today only after long and careful reflection. We are privileged to share this joyous event with them today, and our presence is a sign of support for this decision.

The intimate, yet public, nature of this ceremony reminds us that none of us exists in isolation. We are social beings. Our identities, even our very existence, only comes about because our family and friends, the relationships that nurture and define us. It is through community that we call into being the power of love to build bridges of human caring, to make us feel whole, to allow us to feel at home in the universe.

So it is that marriage cannot exist in isolation from family, friends, community. And so it is that I ask you, ------ (parents or equivalent), do you welcome ------ as a member of your family circle and pledge your support to this new home?

------ (parents or equivalent), do you welcome ------ as a member of your family circle and pledge your support to this new home?

And I ask all who are gathered here, do you promise to support ------ and ------ in their new shared life? If so, please answer, "We do."

(Congregation: We do.)

Prayer / Meditation

Let us enter into the spirit of prayer and meditation, hearing these words from the poet Antoine de St. Exupery:

In a house which becomes a home, one hands down and another up, the heritage of mind and heart, laughter and tears, musings and deeds. Love, like a carefully loaded ship, crosses the gulf between the generations. Therefore we do not neglect the ceremonies of our passage: When we wed and when we die, and when we are blessed with a child; when we depart and when we return, when we plant and when we harvest. We live not by things but by the meaning of things. It is needful to transmit the passwords from generation to generation.

Readings

I'll loan you an excellent book with many excellent readings at our first meeting.

Reflection

Specific to each couple. I write this reflection after getting to know you as a couple.

Intention

Now we come to that part of the ceremony where each member of this couple voices their affection for each other, and where they call into being the devotion needed to sustain their marriage in the years ahead. We now engage, — with our eyes and ears, with our hearts and minds, with our bodies near one another in this place — we engage in the creation of family.

------ and ------, it is now time to begin your passage into marriage, by declaring your intent to marry and then by making your vows to one another. You have invited us to share this wedding ceremony with you, and to witness the happiness you have found in each other. We know that the commitment between you is already strong. Are you now ready to begin your passage into marriage?

(Couple:) We are.

Vows

Specific to the couple. I'll provide a selection of vows at our first meeting.

Exchange of rings

May I have ------'s ring, please? [minister holds ring in hand] The circle is the symbol of the sun and the earth and the universe. It is a symbol of holiness and of perfection and of peace. This ring is a symbol of unity, in which your two lives are now joined in one unbroken circle. ------, please place this ring on ------'s finger and repeat after me:

I give you this ring to wear upon your hand as a symbol of our unity.

May I have ------'s ring, please? [minister holds ring in hand] The circle is the symbol of the sun and the earth and the universe. It is a symbol of holiness and of perfection and of peace. This ring is a symbol of unity, in which your two lives are now joined in one unbroken circle. ------, please place this ring on ------'s finger and repeat after me:

I give you this ring to wear upon your hand as a symbol of our unity.

Pronouncement

Inasmuch as ------ and ------ have grown in knowledge and love of one another, because they have agreed in their desire to go forward in life together, seeking an ever richer, deepening relationship, and because they have pledged themselves to meet sorrow and joy as one family, we rejoice to recognize them as joined together in marriage.

Closing words

Tomorrow is unto us as a door to be opened,
as a journey, an adventure.
Tomorrow is a springtime and a harvest-time,
and the grain to be gathered is life,
and the flowers and fruit are harmony and understanding.
Amen.

Postlude

Notes:

The only crucial elements in a wedding in our Unitarian Universalist tradition are the intention (which checks to see if both parties are entering into this willingly), the vows (the promises or covenant the couple makes with each other, and with something larger than themselves, i.e., the wider community, God, etc.), and the pronouncement (which publicly affirms that this wedding has been completed). If you need a really quick wedding, include these three elements and you can get the ceremony down to under ten minutes. The concept of consent is built into our tradition in the intention; because of this, the officiant and both people being married must either be using the same language, or there must be a certified translator. For more on Unitarian Universalist weddings, see my 2013 sermon “Marriage as a Religious Act.”

The above wedding service contains material gathered from many sources. The prayer/meditation is copyrighted by Antoine de St. Exupery, included here under fair use provisions of copyright law (excerpt, consisting of less than 500 words, of a longer work). All other material is in the public domain. You're welcome to use all, or parts, of this service yourself.

 


The Ten Minute Wedding

If all you need is the simplest gender-neutral progressive wedding, this service may be what you're looking for. If you'd like me to officiate at a ten-minute wedding for a minimal fee, using these exact words, please contact me to arrange a time. Note that I'll need both persons getting married to speak fluent English, and to be able to prove to my satisfaction that they're the ones listed on the marriage license (see the note on consent above).

[Note: names will be given in alphabetical order.]

A and B, it is now time to begin your passage into marriage, by declaring your intent to marry and then by making your vows to each other. Are you now ready to begin your passage into marriage?

[Answer "I am."]

I, A, take you, B, to be my spouse,
to join our visions for a better future,
to join our voices for equality and love,
to have and to hold,
from this day forward,
as long as we both shall live.

I, B, take you, A, to be my spouse,
to join our visions for a better future,
to join our voices for equality and love,
to have and to hold,
from this day forward,
as long as we both shall live.

Inasmuch as A and B have agreed in their desire to go forward in life together, seeking an ever richer, deepening relationship, and because they have pledged themselves to meet sorrow and joy as one, we rejoice to recognize them as married.

[If couple wish to kiss, they may do so at this point.]

Notes:

See Notes under Weddings above. The vows above are inspired by vows originally written by Jose and Chachi.

 


Memorial service

Below is an order of service for a Unitarian Universalist memorial service as I'd lead it. I'm available to conduct memorial services for members and friends of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto. If my schedule allows, I'm available to officiate at memorial services for other religious liberals, for a fee, if the service is held at UUCPA (please see the UUCPA Web site for more information about holding a memorial service at UUCPA).

Prelude

Arranged with the musician.

Ingathering words

Spoken by the minister.

Hymn (optional)

Possible hymns from Singing the Living Tradition include: #101 “Abide with me,” #336 “All my memories of love,” #27 “I am that great and fiery force,” #96 “I cannot think of them as dead,” #412 “Let hope and sorrow now unite,” #411 “Part in peace.”

Readings

See readings 718 - 722 in Singing the Living Tradition.

Meditation / Prayer

I use a poem by May Sarton for the meditation.

Musical interlude

Arranged with the musician.

The story of a life

An overview of the deceased’s life. This may be written and delivered by a family member, or it may be written and delivered by the minister after talking with family members.

Remembrances by family members

Previously written remembrances read by as many as six family members.

Community sharing

If the family wishes, the minister may ask those present if they would like to share memories. If you wish to have community sharing, it would be wise to shorten "The story of a life," and/or reduce the number of fmaily members speking.

Hymn (optional)

Se above for suggestions.

Benediction / Closing words

I use a poem by Mary Oliver for the closing words.

Postlude

Arranged with the musican.

Notes:

As you plan a memorial service, please consider limiting the time to 60-75 minutes. Grieving families report that services lasting longer than that are exhausting. After 90 minutes, you'll find your feelings start to shut down, and you may not have energy for the reception afterwards.

 


Graveside service

This is the service I use at a cemetery for burial or the placing of ashes. I'm available to officiate at graveside services only for current members and friends of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto.

Here we have gathered in memory of ------, so that we may together perform one final duty of love. As an act of remembrance, with reverence and love, we have gathered to place her/his/their ashes/remains here in this cemetery. In so doing, we trust that somehow what was best in ------’s life will not be lost, but will rejoin the great web of creation.

Let us join together in the spirit of prayer and meditation, first by hearing words from the book of Ecclesiastes, and then with a time of silence.

To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to reap;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to gain, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

So wrote the ancient prophet.

(Moment of silence.)

In this present moment, grief and memories live side by side in our hearts. In the days and months ahead, grief can move from numbness and pain, settling to a deeper place in our hearts; so it may be that the memories of that which was best in her/him/them can shine forth more fully. Let us pause in silence for a moment, taking time to remember our favorite memories of ------'s life. So we may honor that which was best in ------’s life.

(At the option of the family, this may be a time for family members to share memories aloud. Or this may be a time of silence.)

There is a finality in placing ------’s remains in this place. Yet in so doing, we can release ourselves to grieve more fully, to feel more deeply, to remember more clearly, and to let ourselves learn to live out what was best in her/his/their life.

Now we place these ashes/remains in the ground; what has come from the earth goes back to the earth; so the cycle of life turns yet again.

(Lower casket, or place ashes or remains.)

We have truly let ------ go. Having completed this final task, may we go forth in quiet, with a measure of peace, so that we may live out our own lives with renewed memory and with deepened love for one another.

We end with these words:

May the truth that sets us free
And the hope that never dies
And the love that casts out fear
Be with us now
Until dayspring breaks
And the shadows flee away.

We have been blessed by life; go in peace. Amen.

Notes:

The above graveside or interment service lasts for 15-20 minutes. I've officiated at graveside services in pouring rain, bitter cold, swarming mosquitoes, wilting heat, etc., and based on that experience I can say unequivocally that it's best to schedule a 15-20 minute service. Then if the weather cooperates, and if you feel like it, family and friends can gather informally at the graveside for a longer time (though note that cemeteries may limit the time for such gatherings, if other graveside services are scheduled).