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September 23, 2004


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We've just started using the Rite 13/J2A program and so far it's been very favorably received by most of the parishioners, particularly the kids and their parents. Of course, some older folks wonder why we're trying to be Jewish (they're the ones who don't remember that Jesus was Jewish, I guess). Still, the Rite 13 seems to take the place of the confirmation that used to be the rite of passage for people of my generation.

I don't understand why we have to limit our rites of passage to first day of school, graduation, and wedding day. What about celebrating the arrival of menopause that marks a very important passage into another stage of life, or perhaps retirement, or even divorce? So many rites of passage are for young people only. Even us older folks have our thresholds we must pass over in order to move on with life. Maybe they aren't particularly wonderful, but perhaps they should be commemorated as well.

In the youth ministry model I support, a sex-particular rite of passage is integral. I have long thought that our youth ministry models do nothing but prolong childish behavior, while a true rite of pasage more thoroughly incorporates young people into the vitality of the church.

How valuable would it be if the men (of all ages) in the church took the twelve/thirteen year old boys aside and opened up their lives to them, sharing their collective faith and wisdom! Plus, think of the partnerships and mentoring that could occur from such times together. With the men in a church partnering with the boys to help turn them into responsible adults (and the women doing likewise with the girls), wouldn't we be ensuring a better transition into responsible adulthood with the generation coming up after us?

I enjoyed this post very much. I like the idea of a ceremonial transition from childhood to adulthood. The creation of adolescence as you described has progressed to a celebration of adolescence, so that we are never asked to behave as adults. The way our culture has celebrated the youth culture has stuck many in a prolonged adolescent maturity until life forces adulthood on them (Examples include getting married, having children, getting a job). Then we fail at these things because we are trying to do these jobs with an adolescent mindset.

"we want you to go ahead and act like adults though, endulging yourselves in anything and everything."

To me this statement is an example of the messed up identification of adulthood in our culture. As a child you can be free to indulge yourself because of your lack of maturity. As an adult you no longer indulge yourself because of a self-possessed maturity that should come with adulthood.

As a GenXer I have found it difficult to view myself as an adult and let go of childish things. I think that a transition time as you described would have been very beneficial to my personal embrace of maturity and responsibility.

I enjoy your blog. Thanks for the thoughts.


There's a link in a blog entry I wrote a while back to a clip from an "adolescent" targeted TV show "Flipside" with some comments about adolescent rites of passage here in NZ. Interestingly, there's no mention of any religious-type rites apart from some oblique sense to a rite of passage being like putting the old to death and moving into a new life.

My mom dies in may 2002.

The funeral was a few states away -- I was gone for a week or two, and spent more alone time with my dad than ever before in my life.

When I came home, and went back to work, things were different. I came home from work and immediately did all my chores. I even did some extra things around the house that needed doing.

My pastor and i were talking about it a few weeks after that, as he checked in with me to see how I was doing. I told him "It's weird. I feel like I suddenly became more responsible. Without even trying."

He said "Two experiences I've found which 'grow you up' in a quantum way: having a child, and losing your parent(s)"

It hit me "I'm the adult now"

That new-found maturity has slowly waned some, but I do think it was a rite of sorts for me. A painful one, but pretty much the only one I had. so I'm grateful for it.

And I'm grateful for this post and this concept -- maybe we can make a less painful way for our younger brothers and sisters.

Great comments everyone!

Be sure to click on the link that Stephen ended his post with -- it's a very interesting news expose' (thanks, Stephen!)

Mumcat and DLE -- glad to hear you're thinking (and doing) something about all this.

Keith and Will -- I really appreciate the personal honesty about this. It has really encouraged me.

QUESTION: in a world with many different things being considered a "rite-of-passage" in our culture, is there a need for "THE" rite-of-passage? And if we say "yes" and see it connected to a community of faith, "what" do think can distinguish and set it apart from all the rest?

Good stuff to think about, DP (though I could do without the thoughts that swirl when I see that photo!). I would love to see more talk of, more examples of, a Christian rite-of-passage ritual. I have read quite a few times in the last few years of families who have adopted these, but I think it's always been outside the church and not necessarily the role-model that I would want to consider.

I'm not answering your last question at all, just echoing it, I guess!

I find myself wondering what age or stage should we mark? In UK society it is becoming recognised that young people are not going into adulthood until late twenties on average [in the sense of leaving home, buying home, becoming established in some kind of career etc]. In a society where marriage has, at best, become informalised so that the rite of passage is opening the mortgage account together rather than a ceremony, I wonder what we should be looking to do? What makes sense? Christian churches have tended to take their cue from the society that they are seeking to serve and evangelise. So while something at 13-ish makes sense in a pre-modern context it seems incongruous in a post-modern one. And yet by the late-twenties adulthood much traditional adulthood stuff has been done. So what is the transition that we are seeking to mark and ceremonially negotiate [the liminality -in anthropological terms]?

I totally agree that the idea that the young man might be 'inducted' by an older body of men seems like a really great idea, but how could it be done so that it reaaly 'flew' in postmodern society? I kind of envy the Mormon missionary year idea ....

"In UK society it is becoming recognised that young people are not going into adulthood until late twenties on average [in the sense of leaving home, buying home, becoming established in some kind of career etc]."

This statement summarizes where I think part of our problems lie. We are allowing adults to remain as children/adolesents indefinitely. In the next century are we going to say people do not enter adulthood until their thirties?

I also wonder when is a good time for this rite of passage. For us in the United States I think possibly the age of 16. We get our driver's license then, we are just one or two years away from leaving home. That allows us to try on the mantle of adulthood for two years under the guidance of some men or ideally our father while still in the home and under their/his protection. I believe that as men we need to be thinking as adults and assume those responsibilities by the time we enter college or the workforce at age 18. I see no reason to prolong adolescence into our twenties when some of us may be marrying, having kids, holding down jobs, or making decisions about graduate schools or careers.

As far as determining what the rite of passage could be, I am not sure. I determined before I had my sons that I would do some sort of ceremony at around age 16, but I have yet to determine what form it might take. I do want it to involve significant men and boys from our local congregation (ones that have played a role in my sons' lives) so that I recognize my sons as men before my peers and my sons peers. I have always envisioned it as probably being on a camping trip with some sort of formal ceremony commisioning them into adulthood, challenging them to fulfill their role as men of God, and praising them for leaving the role of child behind. The other significant aspect would involve how I addressed them and spoke with them after the ceremony. There will need to be on my part some sense of reaffirming that my relationship with them has changed. Instead of father, teacher, and leader, I will want the relationship to progress to father, friend, and counselor. That lays the challenge before me of being sure I have taught them about God and life by the age of 16. (Now I am really starting to think this is tricky.)

All of that said I don't want to squelch a childlike spirit, but I do want my boys to put childish ways behind them. (Luckily I have 14 years before my oldest reaches 16 so I have time to sort this out).

Thanks for letting me ramble.

I think each church could sponsor a "rite" retreat. The men and eligible boys go away for a weekend and do the rite. That plays into the separation ideal.

But the key elements of this rite have to be in place before the retreat:

1. There must have been some commitment to Christ on the part of the young man before the retreat. (It might be possible to include boys who have not made that commitment in the group retreat, but not in the rite itself until that commitment is there--that would be up to the church and how they view evangelism and Christian education.)

2. The men in the church should already be aware of spiritual gifts the young men possess, so as to offer them the best use of their gifts within the church during that retreat.

3. Existing ministries should be considered for these boys to move into, or new ones started in order to best utilize their gifts.

4. Some kind of vision development needs to be in place.

5. The men in the church have to buy into the rite as much as possible. If they don't believe it is necessary, then neither will the youth.

The women and girls would do the same.

One last thing--concerning what age to do this, I would think that it could be modified as the acceptance of the rite grows stronger in the church. In the beginning, I would start older, maybe 16. Over the years, it could be ratcheted down to 13.

Just a few thoughts.

This is all fascinating. I have already booked with my twin sons that I will take them to the pub for their first public alcoholic drink when they are 18. That's the closest to a rite of passage that I can think of is natural with them in our society. I have long held that we should confirm kids/young people at 16 when our church recognises that they can vote and take part in the governance of the church. And I have long thought that a retreat as part of that would be a good idea and perhaps even finding ways to encourage a few months or a year of voluntary service should be in there somewhere [a la Mormon and as national service once was]. All such points might lend themselves to liturgisation at some level [I think a ritual expression is actually quite important and I have two years to think how to do it with my sons' first public drink!]

Wrt delaying adulthood; I think we may need to recognise the fact that maturing may be slower in our society for all sorts of reasons and if we don't like that then we need to play our part in restructuring capitalist society [globally] to change the socio-economic realities behind it. In the meantime we may need to have several stages in the road to adulthood [RCIA has staged rites for people seeking baptism, for example]. When young people go off to college, do we as local churches do anything with that? It's clearly an important part of the life cycle [and for their parents, come to that] ...

But -and it may be a biggie- we need to recognise the informality of our society so that we don't over-do things on the heaviness scale and perhaps have a variety of options to fit to people and circumstances. The underlying question is what hjourney are we seeking to take them on and what are the outcomes?

I'm the publisher of Journey to Adulthood (J2A), an Episcopal youth ministry program that has Rite-13 (Celebration of Manhood and Womanhood) and several other rites of passage. A parish developed this and over the last 10+ years the Episcopal church (along with other churches) has worked on improving it. The program has essentially moved the age of confirmation to at least 16 (or older) because the Rite 13 liturgy (held near one's 13th birthday or at least in that year) provides that rite of passage that both children and their parents need -- it says "you are no longer a child -- you now are on a journey to adulthood." The next two years are focused on gaining adulthood skills and culminate in a pilgrimage (another rite of passage in which the young person leaves his/her home and seeks God where others have found the sacred and then returns and is re-incorporated into the community as a young adult). The last two years, that young adult identifies and is commissioned for a ministry (with a mentor), prepares a Credo (which may be presented at confirmation or a special service) and the group leads the congregation in a mission/service ministry. So, in six years, a child goes from Sunday School/home into a youth community, through acquiring adult skills and then into being a fully participating member of the adult Christian community. The last rite of passage is a sending forth as a missionary on behalf of the congregation -- carrying out into the world the faith they have gained.

While there are no formal studies of this program, we hear lots of stories about how it impacts youth, their parents and the congregation as a whole. I think that some of the most important elements of J2A are the rites of passage. One mother told me about her daughter's changed behavior afterwards. She asked her why she thought it happened. The daughter's explanation: something changed, I realized I had to start growing up now, and that meant I needed to relate to you (her mother) more like an adult and stop fighting you over everything. So, now we talk it out instead.

Underlying principles of J2A are: Manhood and Womanhood are gifts of God. And: Adulthood must be earned. However, unlike most churches, J2A assumes that the adults in the community (not just the parents) are responsible for helping the child learn those adult skills and behaviors and so asks at least six adults to walk with the youth (3 groups/2 yrs. each) on that journey. And it assume that the congregation will accept the young adults
as fully participating members NOW -- not as the "future of the church."

It's certainly not the prefect answer, but I sure wish I had something like it when I was in parish ministry!!

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