Bridging Ceremony – Rites of Passage

This Sunday the podcast is text only. Credo Statements from the some of the bridging youth are below, with their permission. We respect the privacy of all our members, and especially our youth.

On Sunday, May 18th, UUCA marked two major sets of life passages at the Rites of Passage services.  At the 9:30 service, our 8th grade students who completed the Coming of Age program this year read their Credo statements and were honored as graduates.  At the 11:15 service, UUCA’s graduating high school seniors bridged into young adulthood.  Both services were marked by moments of high emotion, including the transfer of chalice pendants from mentors to graduates during the Coming of Age ceremony, and the laying on of hands during the Bridging ceremony.  Each of the graduating seniors will keep the chalices gifted to them during the ceremony as a marker of their UU faith as they enter into adulthood.  The Coming of Age graduates were Hannah Bowman, Claire Orson, Cydnee Klausner, Sagan DeCastro, Grace Bishop, Tessa Guthrie, Nicholas Simon-Brecke and Tucker Martin.  The high school seniors bridging into adulthood were Will Baker, Charlie Beech, Phoebe Warren, Jessica Bryant, Will Macon, Chatfield Thompson, Connor Jones, Daniel Easley, Autumn Kirkendall, Emma Antennen and Amanda Burns. 

Note: Each year during the Bridging Ceremony Rites of Passage service, an out-going youth advisor delivers the homily as part of their departure from working with our youth.  This year, Amelia Shenstone, who has worked with the current group of graduating seniors all four years they were in high school, spoke about her own process of coming back to UUism during young adulthood.

I’m Amelia Shenstone, and I’ve had the privilege of being a youth advisor for exactly as long as these guys have been in high school. You’re amazing people and I’m so proud of you.

Dear youth, dear families, and dear larger UUCA family that has embraced these youth through their lives so far:

I feel very blessed to be here today addressing you. Thank you for letting me share some thoughts from the vanguard of the millennial generation – that’s where we remember life before the internet and cell phones, but just barely.

Most of us millennials seem not to have much use for religion. I think that’s too bad, though I understand why: too many religious traditions try to tell us there is only one way to be, despite the huge universe of information and options at our fingertips. We also have lots of other communities, both physical and virtual. And we have many ways to contribute to making the world a better place, from service learning to organizing gay-straight alliances to making beautiful music.

I have no illusion that all of you will go to church every Sunday once you bridge here, but I do imagine that your UU values and the comfort of this home may draw you back. I want to share some of my experience in the hope that you will pay attention to the ways UUism can guide you through the next steps in your life.

I took a little vacation from UU practice during college – the campus group was sporadically organized, and had sub-par snacks. Yet I hungered to learn the answers to the classic questions of theology that deep thinkers had already come up with. Some of you might recall Reverend Makar mentioning the Ontological Argument for the Existence of God in a sermon several weeks ago (ask him about it if you don’t remember), which stands out as the most fascinating three-page reading assignment I’ve ever had. I eventually became a philosophy major because I loved asking questions so much. I also loved trying out different answers and having to defend them, but still leaving room for them to evolve. Picking my study focus turned out to be my UUism in action.

As I’ve moved around the country since college I always stopped in for a service at the local UU congregation – including in West Virginia, where “stopping in” required a 2-hour drive – each way. One of the things I know drew me back was a feeling that going to church was a valuable ritual. Our congregations give us rituals that recognize important milestones, like the coming of age and bridging rituals today. They also give us more informal rituals that bind us with our community. You, youth, are probably very tired of hearing about my youth group in Massachusetts’ annual youth-alumni cookie swap, with accompanying annual controversy over whether playing Wink will result in too many skinned knees; climbing up the balsam-scented flatbed truck to throw down hundreds of frozen Christmas trees for our annual fundraiser tree sale; or ferrying across Cape Cod bay to bicycle 36 miles down the Cape to the annual church retreat – with the requisite stops for Frisbee, polar bear plunge, and ice cream, of course. I wonder what rituals you will carry with you from UUCA, and what new rituals you will discover and create. Don’t forget how important they are, whether you are in a congregation or on your own.

Besides rituals – some familiar, and some unique, I have found, in every UU congregation, what a wise person (on the internet) called “God’s lovable weirdos” building community together. UU congregations are full of people whose identities are not always accepted elsewhere. If you ever feel like you don’t fit in – or like your life needs some shaking up – remember we are here. We’re practicing living with difference. And believe me, we are different: I just read 978 survey comments! Just as an example, a bunch of you feel uncomfortable with our use of traditional religious language – for you I revise my previous nomenclature to “the Universe’s lovable weirdos” – while another bunch of you wish we used more terms like God, faith, and spirit.

Immediately after college, my passion for building community led me to take a two-week service trip to New Orleans to help with Katrina recovery. It seemed to me like a natural thing to do when you have no more classes, no job, a desire to be helpful, and a lot to learn. It seemed only slightly less natural not to return home with my group, and end up sort of accidentally moving to New Orleans. I lived communally on donated food in the classrooms of a gutted out elementary school, with anywhere from 40 to 500 other volunteers. Several of them were displaced residents trying to fix their own homes. It was, needless to say, an intense time.

I found a whole new crowd of weirdos, some easier to love than others. The easier ones were rocking out while cleaning the kitchen together at midnight and then up again for morning meeting at 6. The hardest ones pretended to be part of the work, while actually stealing from it and lying about their intentions. That was very painful and really still is. The ones in between partied loudly in the flood-stricken neighborhood, disrespecting the neighbors, or showed up straight out of jail looking for a place to earn redemption. I did my best to create community by setting clear expectations, working hard, and looking for the best in my comrades. It didn’t always work, but overall we did good things. For me, it was UUism in action.

I love finding people who are concerned about the same issues I am, understanding why they care, and creating a way to work together toward a common goal. My passion for working with people to build the world I want to live in, which is the core of my faith, led me to my career in organizing clean energy campaigns. That career took me to over 10,000 front doors, 8 states in 2 years, and innumerable couches. It took me to live in a house with co-workers in West Virginia, where I raised money to support all of us in starting a new non-profit promoting renewable energy in the middle of the coal-fields. It eventually brought me here, where I continue to put my faith into action. Sometimes it’s inspiring, sometimes it’s stressful, sometimes rewarding, frightening, heartwarming, boring, and sometimes I just get distracted by Game of Thrones. UUism brings me back and keeps me going.

I worry occasionally that the part of my life that makes good stories is over. Given that I’m nominated to serve you as your President-Elect (if y’all vote for me this afternoon at the congregational meeting after the service!), I feel somewhat reassured.

UUism is where we practice being the community we want in the world, and that is never a dull story. We strive to be true to ourselves while also respecting others, and sometimes we mess up. We say how we feel, what we need, even though sometimes we’re not sure. We step up because someone asks or because there’s a need. We learn by doing, and we teach each other. We hold each other accountable. We create traditions. We revel in awesome art. We talk about what is meaningful to us in the deepest core of our beings even when it feels goofy. We make space to fail constructively, and we make space to be weird.

So take our UU spirit with you. Let it guide you to what is most important as you embark on your own amazing adventures. And whenever you need refreshing, and are ready to refresh your community with your gifts, we’re here, we’re weird, and we love you.

-Amelia

 

CREDO – used by permission of Grace Bishop

“As my black tears slide, fall, roll down my face I realize something. As I look into my mirror I see a different person. I see something that’s not human. I see my, its, our black eyes looking back. I see a demon. A troubled person with no one to keep them sane, to be their root, to hold them down. And as I watch the black tears fall down my, its, our face, I know for sure that I am no longer human. That I am a demon.” – Grace Bishop

The thing I really care about is friends and family they’re the thing that kept me going. Last year I went through a really rough patch. People had said some things about me and they really stung. They called me so many names but I never heard them. It was always my friend who told me. There are time I kind of wish he didn’t tell me and just let them be boys. My friends really helped me last year. But something that did happen is I learned that you can’t always trust the people you call your “friends”. They can always leave you just like that. Yes those two stupid boys broke my trust a bit. One of my favorite quotes about trust is “Trust is like an eraser, with every mistake it keeps getting smaller.” I believe strongly in trust. Like how Trust is something that shouldn’t be played with and how if someone I trust strongly breaks it so bad that I start to lose trust in everyone and everything. It takes a while for trust to get there and once it’s gone it take Millions of years for it to come back.

“The most expensive thing in the world is trust. It can take years to earn and just a matter of seconds to lose it.”- Google Images.

 

CREDO – used by permission of Hannah Bowman

I am a Unitarian Universalist. But what does that mean? I am usually asked this question whenever I tell someone that I am UU. And it’s rather hard to explain in a short, succinct manner.  We don’t have any set belief system, which is part of the reason I love this church, but it’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t know.

Unitarianism doesn’t conform to any one belief system, except for the belief of acceptance and respect for others. As it says in The Covenant of Healthy Relationships, “We need not think alike to love alike.” Even though we are different, we can come together as one, whether it be as a congregation or as friends.

One of my friends is a very religious Baptist. We bonded over Dragonball Z. When the subject of religion came up, she attempted to change my mind. She said “Hannah, you won’t be able to get into heaven unless you accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior!” I told her that while I respected her religion, I did not wish to become a part of it. We moved on to talk about other things and are still good friends to this day.

My other friends are either Jewish or Methodist or not very religious at all. We all get along just fine. I’ve actually visited my best friend’s synagogue on numerous occasions. She’s even come here once or twice.

Unitarian Universalism’s value of social justice and welcoming attitude towards diversity is another thing I like about this church. There are a lot of service projects and programs that help me and others who want to make a difference contribute to the community.

The world is not a fair place, but we can make it better by joining hands and trying to improve this world we live in. That will be my legacy. My journey is taking me down a path of acceptance and equality. If I can improve just one life for the better, then I will be happy. I am a Unitarian Universalist.

 

CREDO – used by permission of Tessa Guthrie

Even the darkest

Night will end and the sun will rise

Things will get better

 

Appearance and possessions

They don’t make us who we are

Our choices do, though

 

Friends protect people

They will help you through bad times

They will support you

 

Happiness is important

You focus on what’s important

And help others too

 

Equality can

Be very hard to achieve

But it’s important

 

Helping others may

Not seem beneficial, it

Will do more than you know

 

CREDO – used by permission of Sagan de Castro

I believe in Science.  I believe in what Science can prove.  If it can’t be proven under scientific or mathematical analysis then it is utterly invalid.  I believe that science is self-correcting with new evidence and that it speaks the truth. The truth is a fluid concept and varies from person to person, and from time period to time period. So what is true to our ancestors may be later replaced with a truth derived from more modern evidence.

Emotions and feelings are a series of neuro-chemical reactions in our brain.   Science gives us guidelines as to what behavior is appropriate.  It distinguishes between which behavior leads to destruction and which behavior safeguards a beneficial future.  I believe my goal in life is to help us identify some of the many paths that will help the human race to a beneficial future.

Science tells us the universe as we know it came from The Big Bang.  Science also tells us that humans, and all life we know of, evolved from the most rudimentary organisms, formed when pools of amino acids and other chemicals essential to life came together in a particular way.  Because of our understanding of DNA, we can discern that all life is interconnected and very much so.  The DNA is incredibly similar between them.  As my namesake, the astrophysicist Carl Sagan once said, “we are all star stuff.”

When we die, there are no more working cells in our brain to produce or respond to any chemical whatsoever.  Therefore, all emotion, all thought, all personality and uniqueness dies with us.  In essence our soul dies with us, and lives on only in the memory of others.  When we die, the material that makes us up is broken down and reused.  Hence, the circle of life.