Rites of Passage

Our human lives contain many transitions.  At such points, the comfort and structure of a religious community can be invaluable.  It can be important, not only for those persons intimately involved, but for the entire congregation, to mark these life events.  Even those rites which are predominantly painful offer an opportunity to celebrate our common humanity.

“The homily is fantastic!  You really have a gift for what you do.  We’ve loved everything you’ve written.”
–Kelly Reardon

I try to honor this universality in each service, while making it specific to the individuals involved.  Baby dedications speak of new hope for all, while providing specifics on the child’s name and the family into which she or he is being dedicated.  Weddings and unions speak of love in general, and of the couple and their relationship in specific.  The same is true for graduations, “empty nest” ceremonies (as children leave home), divorces, retirements and, of course, funerals.

“Our pleasure in the service during the memorial cannot be expressed in words.  Every one of us felt comfort and satisfaction in your words, honesty, truthful caring and sympathy.”
–family of Barry Hunt

It is an honor to be present as people go through such transitions; this is one of the privileges of being a professional minister.  I have officiated at 50 weddings, in Illinois (8, 2004-2005; 2012), Indiana (6, 2012) and Michigan (36, 2006-2012); one holy union of two women (Michigan, 2010); and one religious ceremony recognizing the previous legal union of two gay men (Michigan, 2009).  I have led or co-led 25 Memorial Services; seven in Illinois (2003-2005); three in Indiana (2008, 2012); fourteen in Michigan (2006-2011); and one in Ohio (2001).  I have dedicated or baptized a score of children, in a dozen different ceremonies (using liberal Christian, UU and pagan rituals), and performed one adult baptism (after a long, deep conversation!).

For examples of my work, you can click on the “Weddings” tab above, or choose “Weddings” in the “So May We Categorize” drop-down menu on the middle right.  I have posted a sample baby dedication, and here are some elements of a memorial service:

some elements of a memorial service

Good morning, and welcome to the Unitarian Universalist Church of _____.  In this place of memory and hope, our time here is made holy by our presence and our intention together.  We begin by lighting a chalice, the symbol of our religious tradition, and a beacon of hope for all humanity.  We also light a candle in honor of John Doe, our friend and companion.

Opening Words  (adapted from M. Maureen Killoran)
Please rise as you are willing and able for our opening words.
We are here to acknowledge the death, and celebrate the life, of Mr. John Doe.  We come together from the diversity of our grieving into the warmth of this community, to give stubborn witness to our belief that even in the midst of sorrow, there is also joy.  May we hold fast to the conviction that what we do with our lives matters and that a caring world is indeed possible.
Please be seated.

Invitation
We are not alone this morning.  We are joined by the ghosts of every person we know who has already passed from this earth.  Although we are here to honor John Doe, our memories are full of those already gone.  Our parents, our partners, our children, our friends and loved ones of all kinds—our grief for them and our grief for John intermingles.  It is inseparable and it is appropriate.  Our dead live on in our memories.  Their lives are now our lives.  As each life is part of the One Life, so is each death mourned in all death.  We welcome our ghosts, and invite them to join us as we, the living, honor John Doe.

{Readings, Meditation on Life & Death, Eulogy and Sharing by family and friends omitted for brevity}

Prayer
Please rise as you are willing and able to join in prayer.  Please remain standing for our benediction.

O Spirit of Life and Love, Unnameable Source of all that is, Resting Place of all that has been, We are grateful for this day.  We are grateful for this opportunity to celebrate the life of John Doe.  Although we will miss him, we are grateful that his life touched our lives.  We are grateful that he spent time among us on this earth.  We desire that our grief be comforted.  We pledge ourselves, in so far as we are able, to comfort each other.  We desire to remember John, his cooking and his art and the twinkle in his eye; we desire to re-experience the way he made us feel. We pledge therefore to keep him in our hearts.

Pulse of Life Within and Silent Stillness Beneath, We mark the human life of John Doe,
that his joy and his memory might be made complete in our lives.

Praise for his life.  Praise for all life.
So may we be.

Charge
It is to each of us, then, that the living memories of John Doe’s life are committed.  To our hearts and minds go the enduring remembrances of his journey among us.  As we prepare to leave this place, as we take our memories of John with us, let us also take a deeper understanding that our lives are brief and precious, and let us go with a renewed commitment to live as fully as possible

Extinguishment
After the benediction, the family invites us all to join in coffee and cookies, in the fellowship hall.  I look forward to sharing more memories of John with you, there.

We now extinguish John’s candle, just as his light and breath have left this earth.
{blow out John’s candle}
However, because he lives on, in the memories of this gathered community, we will not extinguish our chalice. This symbolizes John’s light, living on in our hearts and minds…