Rituals of Community

This Sunday, we’ll be doing two of the rituals of community.

The first is our membership ceremony. This we do fairly regularly, as a way to welcome in new members, to share our enthusiasm that these members are now committed parts of our community, and to ritualize the change that has occurred in their life and the life of this congregation. As we say in the ceremony:

Today, the identity of all members, old and new, is changing. This congregation gets a new identity, because you change us. We are now your church. And you change, because you now add “a member of Live Oak” to who you are. Simply put, with these promises we make to each other, you become ours and we become yours.

It is a simple ritual, but every time, I am filled with awe at what is happening. There is the potential that this joining may prove to be lifechanging both for the individual and for the church itself. We know this when we look at photos from membership ceremonies in the past. “Oh, that’s when ____ became a member. Look at how they have changed us, made us better!” People who have now become lifelong friends say, “Look, that’s when we first met!” I have seen it from the other side, too — when my parents retired, their best friends and frequent traveling partners were a couple they’d met decades before, at a small Unitarian Universalist church.

This Sunday, we will also be doing our Child Dedication. This ritual is when we, as a community, pledge ourselves to supporting the faith development of this child and their family. That perhaps seems a small thing, unless you understand how we Unitarian Universalists understand faith development. We say, quoting Connie Goodbread: “Faith development is all we do. Unitarian Universalism is the faith we teach. The congregation is the curriculum.”

Everything we do is faith development. The kindness we show to a child is what will shape how they view concepts such as community, Unitarian Universalism, love, and life itself. When we ask them to light the chalice, or help us put away crayons, when we help them get a snack, we are teaching them about what it means to be an intentional village. When we remember that they had a science test at school and ask how it went, we are teaching that people care about them beyond their own family.

(And that holds true with our adult members, too. How we treat each other shapes how our adult faith develops.)