Tag Archives: Bridging Ceremony

Bridging ceremony

Yesterday, we had a bridging ceremony here at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Geneva, for all those young people who are finishing up with high school this year. For those of you from UUSG who couldn’t be there (and for those readers who live far away), I thought I’d put the text of the ceremony up on my blog. If you don’t know what a bridging ceremony is, it’s explained below, in the text of the ceremony.

I’ve appended a few comments at the end of the ceremony, as well….


Bridging Ceremony

UU Society of Geneva, June 4, 2005, 9:00 a.m.

Each year, a few young people from this church end their time in high school. Usually after they are through with high school, they head off to find a job, to join the military, or to attend college or further education. And most often that means that these young people move out of town, or have busy schedules that don’t permit them to come to church as often.

I believe our young people enrich the life of this church immeasurably. They bring their own perspective to church life, they bring their own talents and enthusiasms. Sometimes, they can help to challenge the assumptions of older generations, and that can inject new energy and life into this church. So when the end of high school requires some young people to move on, it’s a real loss to the congregation.

But it’s also a time of excitement. We are so pleased that these young adults are entering a new phase of life! They may not be around as much as in the past, but we want them to know that we will always be glad to see them here, and that we hope they continue to be a part of this church. We want them to know, too, that we will support them as they make the big transition away from high school and into something new — we will support them in their dreams, and their emerging new lives.

This is our chance to recognize these people in what has become known as a “Bridging Ceremony,” bridging the gap between youth and adulthood. And I’m glad the children are here to see this ceremony this morning — some day you, too, will finish up with high school, and will have your own bridging ceremony, and I want you to look forward to that.

To start the bridging ceremony, I’d like to ask anyone who, like Lindsay [Bates, senior minister at UUSG] and me, spent part or all of their growing-up years in a Unitarian, Universalist, or Unitarian Universalist church, to join us up here at the pulpit.

Next, I’d like to ask everyone who is still in high school, and those adults who have served as youth advisors, to come stand up here in front of the pulpit.

Now I’m going to read the names of those people we know of who will be ending their time in high school and moving on to new things. When I read your name, please join us up here at the pulpit….

[names omitted for privacy]

[minister turns to face those who are bridging]

Welcome to each one of you! We welcome you into the community of adult Unitarian Universalists.

Those of us standing here at the pulpit also grew up as Unitarian Universalists, and we have either stayed, or we have come back. It can be done! We hope you, too, decide to remain a Unitarian Unviersalist. Know that you will be welcomed into other Unitarian Universalist congregations, as many of us were — and if you aren’t welcomed in, you can do what some of us did and demand to be welcomed in!. Know that you will always be welcome here in this church — come back and visit, or best of all remain here as members.

[minister turns to face the rest of the congregation]

And I deliver this charge to all the adults in this church: whenever you meet a young adult who grew up in a Unitarian Universalist church, you have the privilege and the responsibility to welcome them here to this church — just as other Unitarian Universalist congregations will have the privilege (and responsibility) to welcome some of our young people into their congregations.

One last word to you who are bridging this year. As you know, I’m headed off this year to a new church in New Bedford, Massachusetts. If you ever find yourself in New Bedford, Massachusetts, stop in at the Unitarian Universalist church there, and I can promise you will be welcomed there!


Comments about the ceremony: (1) The bridging ceremony took place as part of the intergenerational flower service. (2) Lindsay and I gave each person bridging a copy of the book, “With Purpose and Principle,” telling them that way they’d have a reference guide whenever anyone asked them, “So you’re a Unitarian Universalist — what does that mean?” (3) After the worship service, someone who is a twenty-something remarked that the comment about demanding to be wlecomed was appreciated — this person’s experience in two UU congregations was that young adults did have to demand to be welcomed, adding, “I haven’t given up yet on UUism, but sometimes it is frustrating.” (4) Our small sanctuary does not allow the elaborate staging of the bridging ceremony at General Assembly, but that didn’t really matter.

Maintaining contact when teens leave town

Phil from Phil’s Little Blog on the Prairie happened to be in the area today, and he stopped by the Geneva church to say hello to Lindsay and me. I told him how great it is to hear that the Prairie Star District of UU congregations (for whom Phil works as program consultant) has made it an explicit goal to grow lifelong Unitarian Universalists. We got to talking about how to make that happen. We agreed that one crucial moment for retaining young people is when they leave high school, and go off to college, military service, or the world of work. Often that’s when we lose touch with our young people. I mentioned three easy things any UU congregation can do to keep in touch with high school graduates, and Phil suggested I list them here on this blog. People here in Geneva have already heard me say these things, but other people read this blog too — so here are those three things….

(1) Include a time in a worship service in late spring where you recognize all those young people who are graduating from or otherwise leaving high school. You can have an elaborate bridging ceremony if you like, but here’s the simple ceremony I prefer —

Pick a Sunday in June (or after high school graduation) when you replace the “story for all ages” in the regular worship service with a short recognition ceremony (you replace the “story for all ages” because we want the little kids to see what they have to look forward to when they get done with high school). Have the youth group stand on one side of the church with the graduating seniors, and on the other side of the church get a group of people who grew up as Unitarians, Universalists, or Unitarian Universalists. One by one, the graduating seniors walk away from the youth group, are welcomed by the minister(s) halfway, are told that they will always be welcome in this church (and I like to present them with the UU Pocket Guide and a meditation manual), and then are welcomed by the lifelong UU’s on the other side of the church. The message is simple — we’re glad you’ve been with us, you are always welcome here, and here are a bunch of other people who have remained Unitarian Universalists just as we hope you will do.

(2) In the late summer issue of your congregation’s newsletter, place a notice saying that you will send the newsletter to every former member of the youth group, and request college or military mailing addresses. (Usually parents/guardians or friends will send in the addresses.)

(3) If you have a Christmas eve service, plan a youth group reunion. This is a time when college students are usually back home, and those in the military may get leave over Christmas. Reserve a room in the building after the Christmas eve service, or between the two Christmas eve services — supply chips and drinks — invite current youth group members (who may know the grads) — and send out invitations to everyone who is in college or the military, or who is working nearby. (This church tried this for the first time this year, and while there are a few bugs to be worked out, generally it went very well.)

So there you have it — three cheap, easy, effective ways to maintain contact with the young people of your congregation after they leave high school. And thanks to Phil for prompting me to post these three ideas.