Bridging Ceremony Part I
On June 4th [at the University Gathering], our congregation celebrated Laura Eldridge-Flores’ bridging over from the Children and Youth Program into our Young Adult community. Many have known Laura since she was a baby. Her mother, Amanda Howard, intentionally raised her as a Unitarian Universalist which allowed all of us to be a part of the village that helped guide her to that bridge.
The ceremony departed from the typical one we usually have. Normally, prior to bridging, youth should participate in four workshops that have them reflect on their transition to adulthood in three main areas: Unitarian Gifts and Identity, Dangers and Opportunities, and Courage, Commitment, and Claiming Adulthood. Since Laura was the only youth who was going to bridge, we asked her if, in lieu of workshops, she would be willing to answer the questions as a part of the ceremony. She agreed.
The ceremony began with a homily from a member of our elder community. Anne Laukaitis shared the journey of Piedmont UU Church’s religious education program and the presence of Laura in that program. Amanda then gave a homily as Laura’s parent. She gave us insight into Laura’s journey in the Unitarian Universalist faith and how Laura expresses and stands by her beliefs as an independent young adult. Laura, wearing a haku lei and white dress, began her journey to the bridge. Laura moved through three different “stations” in the front of the sanctuary. Each station represented one of the three main areas covered in the workshop. At each station, Laura was asked a series of questions aloud by adult members and Upper Youth from our Salisbury and University gatherings. After Laura answered all the questions at one station, she moved to the next one. In between stations, members, friends, and visitors in the service had cards on which they could share words of wisdom to Laura. Additionally, before each set of questions, members representing key groups in Laura’s growth in our church charged a bowl of water with their blessing for Laura. The groups were Religious Education (Anika Davis, Chair), Service Assistants (Eva Dew Danner, Lead), Music (Dr. Carl DuPont, Director), Young Adults (Emma Gardiner-Parks and Majel Wolfe), and the congregation (led by Susie Benner). Rev. Lee also gave a minister’s blessing and presented Laura with a rose with thorns. It is a common practice in our churches when we dedicate a young child, to give her a rose with the thorns removed to protect her from injury. The rose given to Laura at her ceremony had all its thorns, which signified that we can no longer always be there to protect her from harm. Rev. Lee advised her to take all the tools and armor her family and church provided and be her own first protector. After she completed the stations and all blessings had been given, Laura gave her commitment speech from the pulpit. For the final steps in her journey, Laura stood on one side of the bridge with the Young Adults while the representatives from the key groups awaited her. When she was ready, Majel and Emma walked her across the bridge into the congregation. Once she was safely across the bridge, Karen Dutton and Vivian Lord presented her with a basket of gifts for her journey forward. Finally, during the offering, youth from our Children and Youth Religious Education program collect the wisdom cards and placed them in a gift box they decorated for her.
One final tidbit, we asked Laura to choose all the music for the service. As a surprise for Laura, Zoë sang Scars to Your Beautiful with Kai as a backup singer and Nia Williams accompanying them on the piano. Laura listed the song as one of her choices, but did not know until it was performed that we had included it in the service.
From Laura: “The Bridging Ceremony was very eye opening to what Unitarian Universalism is as an adult. It was a truly inspiring experience and I would recommend it to any youth of age to participate in.”
Bridging Ceremony Part II (Behind the Scenes)
The Bridging Ceremony was more than just the Sunday celebration many experienced on June 4th. What happened leading up to the ceremony speaks to the synergy our community can create when multiple people come together and add their creativity and passion to a common goal. The unspoken covenant of the team was that we all had an equal voice in shaping the ceremony and that feedback and concerns were considered gifts. This is all to say that many people complimented me on the ceremony. I thank you. The crafting of the ceremony, however, was truly a team effort. Let me share how…
Eva Dew Danner – Made sure the team created opportunities for the congregation to participate in the ceremony. Once she pointed out that the ceremony had limited participatory opportunities, our team came up with ideas such as the wisdom cards that invited everyone to have a role in Laura’s ceremony. Eva was also the creative lead on the reception. The beauty in the cake display was all Eva.
Vivian Lord – Signed on early to assist in any way for the ceremony even though she would be out of the country for most of our team’s meeting. Nevertheless, she made sure at our initial meetings that we were cognizant of how long each element of the ceremony would take and that we let each participant know their time limits. Her feedback meant that a team of us, literally, sat down and practiced examples of homilies and blessing with a stopwatch so we could time out each element. Her feedback meant that we had a ceremony that flowed smoothly and peacefully. Vivian was also the lead on finding a local florist who could make Laura’s haku lei (Vivian even made sure we used flowers from our region!)
Susie Benner – Made sure our children and youth had a role in the ceremony since they were not going to have an opportunity to bless the water. Susie took the lead on having the children and youth decorate a box with their fingerprints weeks before the ceremony. She then organized a group of youth to collect the wisdom cards during the service and store them in the box for Laura. (Thank you Stephanie Nelson for the beautiful finished project!)
Karen Dutton – Offered an artistic and reusable alternative to flowers for charging the water. Instead of flowers, Karen suggested that we use different colored glass rocks for each blessing – something we could reuse each year. Karen, unknowingly, also set the tone for the co-creation of the ceremony. Before there was a team, I began sharing my ideas for a Bridging Ceremony with her. She listened, guided me with the history of bridging ceremonies in our congregation, and, comfortably, began to build on my original idea.
Rev. Lee – Brought a tradition of Hawaii to the ceremony – the haku lei. The haku lei is a Hawaiian crown of flowers worn at special occasions. We were unsure if Laura would be open to wearing it or if we could find someone to make one, but she was and we did.
Most importantly, Rev. Lee granted us permission to draw outside the lines. When he first joined our church, I shared the idea with him, and he opened the door to let me – let us – try something different.
And, although I shared contributions as if they were one person’s idea, the truth is that some ideas were co-created because that’s how our conversations flowed.
To many, Laura represented the fruit of our investment in our youth and our faith. We are not often able to witness whether the energy and passion we breathe into our religious education program is enough to sustain our youth into adulthood. Many of our youth are given the choice to opt out of religious education once they enter high school. Others stop coming because they want to be seen and treated as older teenagers and not children. The onus is on us to offer/create/support opportunities that speak to our Upper Youth’s spiritual growth needs so they want to stay and let us nurture them. Our Upper Youth need to be invited into our teams, our committees, our conversations. Let’s continue to create a synergy that carries our children through to young adulthood. Be on the lookout in the next few weeks for opportunities to have a hand in guiding our youth towards that bridge.
Thank you all,
Jolena James-Szanton, Director of Religious Education