Uniting Church member Cath James believes marking life’s transitions for children and young people can be a vital part of keeping them involved in faith communities.
“Rituals help us mark a time and enter into something that is often too big for us to comprehend in that moment,” Cath said.
“The teenage years in particular are a time when young people might question their parents’ values and behaviours. “Teenagers may benefit from a deeper connection with their faith community as they start looking for other role models to help them navigate life.”
Cath is developing resources on rites of passage and rituals that recognise times or events in a young person’s life when significant change and challenges may occur.
She says a rite of passage creates a point of reference the young person can look back on as a milestone to mark their development spiritually, physically, intellectually and emotionally.
The resources are being developed using studies from the Christian Research Association (CRA) and the World Health Organisation.
From a series of interviews, the CRA found many young people do not strongly identify with a religious belief system or a philosophy.
However, they identify a personal narrative about the essence of what life is all about – friends, family and fun.
They also expressed strong desire for a peaceful world where there are opportunities for them to exercise freedom.
The World Health Organisation has developed a chart to track adolescent development which will help families and faith communities determine when to offer rites of passage to young people.
Cath said that traditional church rites may have to be adapted to recognise more diverse expressions of faith.
“This resource has been designed to be flexible, recognising that God’s people gather in a variety of intentional ways,” Cath said.
“It may be that you choose one of your family’s regular rhythms to incorporate the rites of passage, for example attending church, small groups or camp.
“Or you may wish to create something new and intentional. Adapt them as you see fit and tailor them to your young people’s lives.
“It is important that rites of passage happen intergenerationally. This means they encourage us to do life together; to share, learn, grow and serve in relationships marked by mutuality, reciprocity and equality.”
Cath said parents can find periods of transition as challenging as their children.
“Marking children and young people’s points of transition is also a way of marking transitions for parents,” Cath said.
“It is a time for ‘elders’ to hand over the keys to the next generation. “
Cath argued that rites and rituals are important in a life of faith.
“Consciously or unconsciously they help us be more present to God and the Holy Spirit in our lives and what is taking place,” she said.
“Spiritual growth occurs when the young person reflects on their experiences and through this reflection continues to shape their inner lives.
“God’s hope for us is wholeness. As people made in the image of God we are part of God’s good creation and part of the bigger story of renewal, reconciliation and hope.
“Rituals are part of helping the young person also recognise they are part of this broader story.”