A number of years, ago, my children were dedicated in our home congregation in Milford, NH. They were 5 and 6 years old, aware of what was going on, and full participants in the ceremony. They had already spent a few years in the congregation, and felt at home there. It was a beautiful service, the ritual of which felt important to me.
I trusted the words that came from our minister, Rev. Barbara McKusick Liscord, “For years to come, these children will be a part of our community of mutual caring, concern, responsibility and affection. Wherever they are in the world, they will always be tucked in the heart of this community. Do you, this gathered congregation, dedicate yourselves to nourish their spiritual growth, to welcome and value them, to share with them what you know of life and to learn from them what they have to teach us?”
I heard the words, thought they were lovely, and trusted the members of the congregation would be kind to my children, smile at them, make small talk at coffee hour, and teach their Religious Education classes. I heard those words, prayed they would hold lasting meaning, and assumed that at the least, this congregation would witness their growing up.
The congregation had words of their own for my children.
“We welcome you. We affirm our dedication to you, and we pledge to you our love and our care; and whatever may come to you, whether misfortune, affliction or sin, we promise never to close our hearts against you.”
I smiled. I prayed. I hugged my children and hoped for the best.
I’ve been reflecting on this ceremony in the recent days and weeks. It’s been a tough year for our family. My daughters are just entering the teen years, which are challenging in so many ways. Add to that the divorce of their parents, and I knew we had a potential recipe for disaster. There were days when they didn’t want to talk to either of us to process this transition. We asked who the adults were in their life that they would be willing to speak to. One by one, they listed the names of members of their home congregation. Their minister, their OWL teachers, the woman who had taught their RE class when they were in Kindergarten, a member of the congregation they thought of us a second grandmother, a mystery Pal from a few years back. In that moment, I knew they would be okay.
The beloved members of our Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Milford, NH had been there for my children since before that child dedication ceremony, and had lived up to the promises they had made that day. This congregation took the time to get to know them. They have shared with them, learned from and with them, and have shown them love and respect. The congregation had done this in such a way that it was obvious to my children. My kids feel a part of their spiritual community, and in their time of need, thought to turn there first for support.
Our rituals and ceremonies are important. The ways in which we include and treat our children teach them what it means to be part of a larger community. The way we model pastoral care for people of all ages shows them that it is okay to bring our full selves to our religious home.
I feel extremely grateful that I brought my kids to church regularly as they were growing up so that these lessons could be internalized, these multigenerational bonds could be formed, and this community could have the opportunity to get to know them and be present for them today. I couldn’t be more proud of my kids, our congregation, or this faith.