Why Rites of Passage Matter

These last weeks have reminded us of the importance of celebrating and honoring milestones. Rites of passage, including birthdays, graduations and weddings, provide communities with ways to lift up transitions with ritual and grace. At this virtual service with Rev. Sue Browning together we’ll brainstorm new ways for our community to acknowledge life’s time-sensitive passages with love.

Find all our recorded services online here.



Sunday Service – May 17, 2020

“Why Rights of Passage Matter”

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton

Unitarian Universalists of the Chester River

Rev. Sue Browning



Welcome. I am Sue Browning, the minister serving the Unitarian Universalist congregations in Easton MD and in Chestertown MD. It is good to be together.

Our service today is about rituals. In our tradition, gathering on Sunday mornings is a ritual. It is a routine; we do it every week. We gather with purpose – intent to pay attention to what is around us another part of being a ritual. Some weeks we use ritual time to shake us up a bit – to ask hard questions. Other weeks we comfort and reassure one another.

Like so many rituals in our lives our Sunday gathering is about making space for heart. It’s about renewal – fresh energy for the journey.

If you have questions about Unitarian Universalism, or our congregations, or our rituals, please be in touch. If you’d like to receive our newsletters please contact us using details on the website.


Chalice Lighting 

We light our chalice today in celebration of rituals in our lives.

We light the chalice in gratitude for again being together.


Opening Hymn “Morning Has Broken”


Introduction (Thoughts for All Ages)

This morning we will reflect on the role rituals play in our lives. As we planned the service, we found rituals and traditions and transitions and celebrations blur together.

Think of your 4th of July traditions. Maybe you have a BBQ and watch fireworks. Maybe not the exact same ritual every year, but there is a way to celebrate and decorate with red, white and blue and wave flags. There is an honor in the holiday – maybe of country, or family.

Some rituals help us move from one part of our lives to another part. These are rituals called rites of passage.

Think of high school graduations;  the ceremonies with square hats and Pomp and Circumstance music. You start the ceremony without a diploma and when “it” – the graduation ritual of speeches and tassel moving – is over you are a high school graduate. For a wedding the couple starts the day not married, and after the wedding ceremony you are married.

I considered one of the rituals our children know best – birthdays. You go to bed one night, and say you are 7, and you wake up and are 8. I asked our kids what they like about birthdays. Hopefully everyone’s input is included here –

Eamon shared, “I like the royalties – being honored – the ‘oh my gosh it’s your birthday-ness’ part.”

Fiona offered, “Cake is best, with presents a close second.”

Logan shared, “I like growing older, doing special things, feasts and gifts. As a family we believe in special occasions.”

Gabriella said, “My favorite part is seeing the look on their faces when they see the awesome gifts I got them.”

Eve shared, “My favorite part of birthdays is the piñata. I make pinatas for all my animal’s birthdays too.

Fantaye offered, “My favorite part of birthdays is being able to make a German Chocolate Cake with coffee frosting. My dad makes dinner for my birthday. This year for my twin brothers’ birthday we had Lasagna and I made a Smith Island cake.”


I also asked our learners why we celebrate events and heard

“We celebrate events because it marks a something good that has happened on that day”

“We celebrate to recognize something important.”

“We celebrate to make people feel loved or appreciated and to be proud of them.”


For about all of us, birthday rituals vary with time. It’s an important message – rituals change; always have and always will.

Yet the essence of why we have a ritual is there: We need to make people feel loved and appreciated. We need to feel the support. It is why rituals of many sorts include cake!


Rituals/Rites of Passage  – A Parent’s Perspective

Reflection #1 – Kim Agee (see online recording)

Kim Agee from Chestertown congregation now reflects on rituals from the perspective of a parent…


Music – Eamon (“When You Wish Upon a Star”)


Homily – Part 1 (Sue)

Thank you Kim and Eamon.

From our stories of birthdays, to Kim’s reflections on welcoming her daughters in the sun and her family’s practices of  daily grace and annual trips, we’re reminded of the intentional parts of rituals.

Practices of welcoming, or union, or remembrance or good-byes. We move through transitions – from our first success at riding a two wheel bike, to getting our driver’s license and a first solo drive. (not always on the driving in that order). Other rituals are parts of daily or annual cycles.

In all of these moments there is emotion; at times profound joy or sadness or surprise; at other times the gentle sense of settling in.

What do we ask of ourselves in these moments? And what do we ask of others? Kim mentioned that in their welcoming of Annie and Alice, the babies were unaware, and yet the babies were the focus for this moment of centering and commitment. In rituals we come at times as honoree; at others we come as celebrant and witness. Author Robert Fulghum describes that in ritual, “to put a frame on a moment.”

We wear many hats around rituals – as child, parent, friend, mentor, lover…how do we help one another pay attention to these moments?


A perspective now from Easton members Judy and Jack Harrald.


Rituals/Rites of Passage – On Transitions and Milestones

Reflection #2 – Jack Harrald/Judy Harrald (see online recording)

Music – Dave Moore “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”


Homily – Part 2  (Sue)


“Why Rights of Passage Matter”


Thank you Jack, Judy and Dave.

For me, high school and college happened in the 1970s. I entered college in the wake of Watergate and the final withdraw from Viet Nam.

As my class approached milestone events, we were left messages from the late 1960s – that graduation ceremonies were “not worth our time” and marriage was “optional – serving no function.” I recall a background din – a warning – that we should distrust government, corporations and institutions generally.

At least that is what I heard as a teen. These were far from the views of all those just ahead of me, and yet based on images in popular press it was “cool” to dismiss these rituals – to reject the establishment.

Yet, graduations kept being held, and weddings were held, and long military and corporate careers – that is jobs which came with benefits and pensions – all continued. Some of my peers skipped graduation (I skipped one), and we have friends in long relationships who opted not to marry. Something was a bit dampened around ritual for those of us coming of age in the 1970s.  We know at UU churches the atmosphere was more sterile – not chalice or joys and sorrows.

And yet birthday parties and vacations did keep happening. There is a need for shared experiences embedded in our human nature. And in the 1980s there was a resurgence in ritual. How many watched on TV in 1981 and Charles and Diana married? There was a hunger for ritual, and in time the tides shifted. For our children, many rituals and celebrations to be sure. For those of us whose children entered school in the 1990s we created ritual around every soccer game and children’s play.

I am a list maker and I managed to list 90 rituals or similar events – collectively I know we could get to 100 (feel free to request the list and add to it!)

I included holidays – some secular, some religious – to rituals tied to ‘first of’ events, to proms, year-end class parties, and military completion of boot camp to being commissioned, to UU new member recognition, and Christmas Eve and Eve of Eve Silent Night and candle … the ritual of going to vote, and the practices of leadership transitions and retirements.

Try listing them – your list will grow quickly. These are common events in our lives. Once in a while we are at the center; many more times we’re one of those gathered to recognize the event. At times, we watch seeing a small role we had as a neighbor of the child getting married, or as a teacher of a graduated.

We often dress to fit the moment – dusting off; these are times of pictures, and dancing. We come out of the moment of ritual understanding something that is hard to describe. We’re touched. We laugh and cry.

In his book, “From Beginning to End: The Rituals of Our Lives” Robert Fulghum notes, “Ritual behavior softens the phases of life when we are reminded how hard it is to be human; ritual behavior enriches the phases of life when we are reminded how fine it is to be human.”

I think back to the 1970s – that pull of wanting to participate in ritual – even if not ‘cool.’ Mostly I did. And regretted a few times I didn’t. We each made choices then, and parents and grandparents were to be considered. It wasn’t all about me, but other’s pride in when me and others completing milestones and entering new stages.

Choices were to be made and many of us, despite being discouraged from doing so attended events, and have the pictures to look back on.

As I review my list of 90 rituals and events, I recognize that in 2020, many of these traditional ways of honoring transitions and cycles are on hold. There is no choice to attend. Many events have been cancelled – activities tied sports seasons and recitals and concerts. Some events postponed for a year or more – in our case our son’s and his financee’s wedding. Many events cancelled in the traditional form are being re-imagined.

We hear of creative adaptations to assure not only the honoree is honored, but that those geared up to share in the celebration are included. There are glimpses on Facebook of the emerging graduation celebration for Easton High School which is being created in parts and will become a whole.

We adapt and adjust.

And I want to name, this is hard. Much has been cancelled or dramatically modified. The feeling of a good party – the shared smell and taste of cake, and letting loose and hugs, and huge group pictures just can’t happen this year in the traditional ways. It is hard – we miss parts. And there is a cumulative impact of small and large moments of recognition all disappearing from our calendars at the same time, albeit some reappearing on Zoom.

It is helpful to bring forward the parts of each ritual we can. To make space for the emotion – the heart part, by finding ways to talk or Facetime to the niece graduating; To be intentional in these moments – to creatively adapt as we wear our many hats in these ritual moments.

Rituals of commitment, of crossing thresholds and of remembering are foundations of our being human and we will find our path this year. It will be different.  As we find our path and pick up the essence of ritual, I remind us of the words from our children earlier…

“We celebrate events because they mark a something good that has happened on that day”

“We celebrate to recognize something important.”

“We celebrate to make people feel loved or appreciated and to be proud of them.”

For the many ways we are adapting times of ritual and celebration, we are grateful.



I invite you now into a time of reflection and meditation.

Take a moment as you gather a sense of rituals of meaning to you.

Take a moment to gather in your heart all of those who are crossing thresholds this season.

Take a moment to collect your wishes for those close to you, for those in the community to be celebrated. We offer this shared blessing.


Words by Jill Ann Terwilliger.

For the longing that told you it was time for a change, we give you our blessings.

For the courage it took to answer the call, we give you our blessings,

For the choices already made, and for daily choices that will shape the life ahead of you, we give you our blessings.

For the communities that have shown you who you are and the new communities waiting to discover you in your new ventures, we give you our blessings.

For the great mystery of what lies ahead, we give you our blessings and our love.

May you see something of beauty along the way; may you touch hands or hearts with those you love.

Amen and Blessed Be


Joys and Sorrows

A ritual of our community is to share joys and sorrows by lighting a candle. In this time of virtual services please send these to me by noon on Friday.

First – candle for all impacted by virus…

Neenah asks us to light a candle for her friend Janet who delivered twins very early. We send our love to this new family as they work through each day. .

John shares, “It has been a real pleasure for me to get to know some of the UUFE members while we work together in the virtual world. When we are able to move back into the real world, I would like to have a official name tag for UUFE. I will treasure it always.”

A joy from Emily, Todd, Lindan and Linda, whose household in Easton now includes a new puppy named Ruby Pearl. The family picked Ruby up last week. She is just over 8 weeks old and Emily joyfully reports, “She’s slept through the night the last two nights.”


Please take a moment as Eamon plays, “Find a Stillness” to hold these joys and sorrows and our wishes for so many


On announcements,

You should have received a letter describing our plans to continue meeting online for the summer. We don’t see meeting in person soon. The letter is also on our websites.

If any questions for your Boards or me, please reach out.


Extinguishing the Chalice

We lit our chalice today in celebration of rituals in our lives; we extinguish our chalice in celebration of the rituals in our lives.

We lit our chalice in gratitude for again being together; we extinguish our chalice with this same gratitude.

(Extinguish Chalice)

Go in peace, go in love, go knowing love surrounds you wherever you may go.


Thank you Eamon, Kim, Judy, Jack and Dave and the many who made today possible.







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