RITES OF PASSAGE
Child Naming Ceremonies, Weddings and Memorial Services
The most important events that occur within our circles of community include the birth or adoption of a child, the union of a couple, and the death of someone we love. People in every culture have developed ceremonies and rituals to honor these life transitions, and Unitarian Universalists do so as well.
At the Unitarian Society our ministers are generally the ones who officiate for these rites of passage, although other staff members may assist in a child naming and members of the Lay Ministry Team may assist with memorial services. Rites of passage are available to all pledging members of the congregation free of charge, although families often make a voluntary gift to the minister’s discretionary fund. Our Senior Minister or Associate Minister may on occasion make themselves available for such ceremonies for families outside of the congregation; the fee in such cases is at the discretion of the ministers.
Within the life of the congregation we also celebrate the growing awareness of our children in a “Coming of Age” ceremony. Around the age of 13 our children participate in our Affirmations program throughout the year, and at its conclusion they are invited to share a creedal statement with a celebratory gathering of family, friends and congregants.
CHILD NAMING CEREMONIES
Within Unitarian Universalism the naming ceremony by which we welcome a new child differs significantly from baptism in two ways. First, we do not believe there is an “original sin” from which a baby or child must be cleansed, so there is no sense in which we are washing a child clean of sin in the ceremony. We believe our children — and all human beings — are born to us with pure potential: they are capable of enormous goodness as well as ignorance or cruelty. By welcoming them into the community we acknowledge the complex promise and miracle of human life.
Second, the purpose of the Naming Ceremony is to welcome a child into our faith community and promise our support and assistance to the parents in raising their child. Therefore, the ceremony takes place within the context of a regular Sunday worship service, and is generally available only to families who are members or about to become members of USNH.
Unitarian Universalism honors and celebrates a couple’s decision to marry. Unlike many other faith communities, most UU congregations and ministers have long honored same-sex unions equally with heterosexual unions. USNH ministers and volunteers proudly worked for marriage equality in Connecticut for many years, and we are delighted to live in a state in which gay and heterosexual couples are provided the benefits and responsibilities of marriage on equal legal footing. Like ministers and rabbis of other faiths, UU ministers are recognized by the state in signing marriage certificates.
Wedding Ceremonies are very personal, and couples are invited to work with the minister in shaping the ceremony so that it feels very much like their own. Couples are generally provided with three sample wedding ceremonies, and are free to use one of them just as it is, to mix and match elements of all three, and/or to bring in readings or vows from other sources. Readings from favorite poems may be chosen; family members may be asked to assist in a reading; vows may be re-written in language specific to the couple’s needs. The ceremonies we perform range from large and rather formal, to intimate and informal; each couple in consultation with the minister may choose from several different ceremonies, and/or add in new elements from other sources. A couple typically meets with the officiating minister two or three times before the wedding, both so that the minister gets to know them and in order to shape the ceremony.
Rev. McTigue is generally available to officiate at wedding ceremonies only for couples who are members of the Unitarian Society. Rev. Marion Visel is often available and may be contacted directly at Marion.Visel@gmail.com. The fee for her wedding services is generally $300 ($400 if travel is needed), but may be waived for financial hardship at the minister’s discretion. If the wedding is performed in the USNH sanctuary, there is no charge for pledging members of the congregation; unaffiliated couples must rent the sanctuary and/or the social hall.
One of the greatest gifts offered by a spiritual community is support and accompaniment at a time of bereavement. Nothing touches our lives with the power and pain of the death of someone we’ve loved, and memorial services help us to name our loss, begin the long road of our grieving, and feel around us a community that will help us reshape our lives and carry on.
Within the Unitarian Universalist (UU) tradition, memorial services are crafted very carefully to honor the person who has died. There is a familiar order of service we generally use, but the minister works closely with family members so that the elements of the service are all chosen and written very personally to reflect the life, values and relationships of the person who has died. Readings may be taken from scripture, poetry, prose from a favorite author, or even the writings of the deceased person. The eulogy is generally offered by the minister, but family members and friends also share reflections and memories. See the Memorial Service Resources page on this website for help in planning a Memorial Service.
UU memorial services may include the presence of the coffin, open or closed, but more commonly do not because many of our members choose cremation. The Unitarian Society has a memorial garden available in which members’ ashes may be buried, though no containers or markers are permitted. A contribution of $200 or more is requested to assist in maintaining the garden. When the deceased person has been a member, Unitarian Society volunteers usually provide a simple reception following the service (coffee and cookies); if a more elaborate reception is wanted, the family may hire a caterer.
Our ministers, Rev. Kathleen McTigue and Rev. Marion Visel, generally officiate for memorial services. There is no charge for pledging members of the Unitarian Society, for either the use of the sanctuary or the ministers’ services. Unaffiliated families must arrange separately for the minister’s services and for renting the sanctuary space; the minister’s fee is $300 but may be waived at the minister’s discretion. For further information, please contact either of our ministers or the USNH Administrator, Tansy Birenbaum.