Rites of Passage by Rev. Taryn Strauss

How many of you have ever visited the Ocean ballroom at the Georgia Aquarium?  Let me see a show of hands.

If you’ve ever been there, it’s similar to any other ballroom, except one of the walls is actually one of the largest fish tanks, and the other wall is the side of the dolphin tank.  The other night, I was there for the Center for Civil and Human Right’s annual Power to Inspire Banquet.  The speakers were formidable: a renowned farmworker justice activist, the CEO of Georgia Pacific, an US Olympic gold medalist, and finally Ambassador Andrew Young.  Yet, I could not help but feel disoriented, like the fish were watching us swim around in our ballroom, moving to and fro, some of us in groups, others on our own, gliding along in shiny, colorful dresses, floating with wine glasses in hand, and smart phones.

For our graduates, Kolya, Alex and Sally, Unitarian Universalism is the water they swim in, and always have.

They have always been raised with the assumption that their voices would be respected and our that their faith journeys would be taken seriously.

UU minister Rev. Victoria Safford writes, Ours is a saving church, and by that I mean that lives are saved within it. People say that. They use that old vocabulary. They say: “I never knew there was a place like this, where I could be accepted.” They say: “I never knew there could be a congregation that believed as I do.” They say: “I walked out of the church as soon as I was old enough, but until I came here, I had no idea how deeply I was longing for connection, to other people and also to the sacred.” They say: “I was a spiritual shipwreck, and I’m still drifting, but at least, at last, I have a home.”

These graduates today have never NOT known there was a church where they could be accepted.  They have only known a church where they would be loved beyond belief, encouraged to question further, to love more deeply, to never stop questioning.  They have only known a church where their birth was a blessing, and their worth unquestioned.  They have only known a church that told them, whomever you love, whatever your gender identity, and you are welcome here and you are beloved.

See sometimes in inside of this sanctuary, just like the ballroom the other night, we are trying our hardest to give a speech that will inspire someone, trying to look our best, trying to harness the power to inspire, and the youth are surrounding us, particularly these youth, just swimming in the UU water, borne into it, breathing it in, and understanding with their very being what the rest of us try to learn through philosophy or self-help or right action.

This threshold of graduation is a moment to consider what kind of life you will live.

James Baldwin says

One can give nothing whatever without giving oneself-

that is to say, risking oneself.

If one cannot risk oneself,

then one is simply incapable of giving.

Unitarian Universalism is the water they swim in, and because these youth were borne into the safety of this community, they have the strength of all us behind them, encouraging them to risk themselves, and thus give themselves to the world.

Like fish out of water, they might struggle a bit to find their place in the family of things, but of course they can seek other UU communities or other campus fellowships.  Of course they can always come home again.

Whether today is your first day as a member of UUCA, or your last day as a part of the UUCA youth group, we offer ourselves to your journey.  We are the solid ground you will need to you risk yourself, and give yourself to the world.  Because the world needs you, now more than ever.