Beyond “Hatched, Matched, and Dispatched”: celebrating rites of passage in children’s lives
Big kid beds, the new baby, and other rites of passage for children.
As a society, we have dozens of rites of passage, some more noticeable than others. Leaving school, getting married, becoming a parent, retiring – these are obvious and important ones, and I wrote my last column on how the church could be better at celebrating the rite of passage from childhood to adolescence.
But there are many smaller rites of passage in the lives of children and young people, which we could take the opportunity of celebrating.
By marking children’s rites of passage, we send the message that what’s happening in their lives is important to God, and to the church community. We treat them as members – not members-in-waiting – of the church family, the Body of Christ.
Here are some milestones in the lives of children, and some ideas for celebrating them.
Beginning of a new school year:
- Blessing the school bags. On the first Sunday of term (or, in a school, on the first day), have all the children bring their school bags up to the front of the church and hold them up. You may use this blessing, or write your own. “Loving God, you made us in your image and gave us minds to learn, hands to make things, and hearts to love. Bless these school bags and the children who will carry them throughout this year. Grant that the books they carry will open up our imaginations, and the work they hold may help us grow in knowledge and understanding. And may we remember, as we carry them back and forth between school and home, that we also carry you, with us in our hearts, wherever we go. Amen.”
- Carolynn Pritchard (no relation) and Stephen Day wrote this preface, based on the famous passage from Ecclesiastes 3. It is designed to be used as part of the new Eucharistic Prayers approved for use when many children are present, and to go with Prayer 2. It can also be used at the end of a school year. “You give us a time to learn, a time to play. A time to be in school, a time to be on holiday. A time to be together, and a time to branch out on our own.”
Birth of a younger sibling:
- First Baptist Church, in Grenville, South Carolina, places a rose in the baptistery whenever a new child is born in their congregation. That child’s name is then read out to the congregation. You could adapt this by having the older sibling or siblings place a flower or other object by the font as they or a parent reads out the name of the new baby and the names of the older siblings. If you wished, you could also commission the children to their new role as older siblings, placing your hands on their head and saying: “X, God has given you a new responsibility, as older brother/sister to Y. As you become a role model and a friend to this new baby, may God give you patience, understanding, and love.”
- At the baptism of a younger sibling, the older children could be encouraged to bring their baptismal candles back to church, and light them at the same time as the new one. The prayer above could then be added to the end of the baptismal service, directly after the prayer welcoming the newly baptized to the body of Christ.
The death of a pet
Often, this is a child’s first experience with death, and should be taken seriously. The church I grew up in had a “Memorial Book of Animal Friends” on display in the baptistery. This was an old-fashioned leatherbound book with gold writing on the front – I have no idea whose idea it originally was. When a pet died, we wrote its name and drew a picture of it in the book. It was immensely comforting, and, whenever we missed our pet, we could go to church on Sunday and look at its place in the Memorial Book. If you don’t have my unknown parishioner’s Victorian sensibilities, or the budget for a leatherbound book, you could buy a sketchpad from an art store, decorating the cover in Sunday School. When it’s done, have the priest bless it and inform the congregation of what it is, and the children can put it in place. I’d suggest placing it by your candle stand, so children can light a candle to remember their pet. It could also go beside a prayer wall, if you have one. Children can write their pet’s name, draw a picture, or bring in a photograph to stick in the book.
Moving from a cot to a big kid bed:
This can feel big and scary to a child and it’s worth drawing on the imagery of Jesus as the Good Shepherd to help them get accustomed to it.
Have a basket with pictures of cots in it at the back of the church. Children who have just moved from a cot to a big kid bed can take one and put it into the tray or bag at the offertory.
Next to the basket, have some laminated cards with the 23rd psalm on it and a picture of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. You can make these, print them out on A5 paper (or 2 on one sheet of A4 and then cut them) and laminate them yourself. Along with the cot, which they “offer” to God, children can take the picture of the Good Shepherd, with the words of God’s protection – and take them home. Suggest to parents that they place the card near the child’s bed and read it with the child at bedtime.
Margaret Pritchard-Houston is the Children and Youth Worker at St George’s, Campden Hill, in Kensington. She is the author of ‘There is a Season: celebrating the church year with children’ and runs Mustard Seed Kids.