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Activity 4: WIT Time — Memorial Ritual (20 minutes), Session 6: Thinking of Death

In "Riddle and Mystery," a Tapestry of Faith program

Materials for Activity

  • Newsprint, markers and tape
  • For Part 1: Candles and matches or a substitute; (optional) a large tray filled with sand for supporting multiple votive candles; (optional) copies of the words for unison reading(s) or song(s) you plan to include; (optional) recorded music suitable for a memorial service and music player
  • For Part 2: Copies of Singing the Living Tradition, Singing the Journey and/or other resources for songs and readings used in your congregation

Preparation for Activity

  • Decide whether you will conduct a remembrance ritual with this group, plan a ritual for the wider congregation, or do both. Base your decision on the interests and energy of the group and the time you will have. Be sure to save time for participants to process the activity or activities you choose (see Concluding Discussion).
  • Be aware of any life-threatening illnesses or recent deaths participants may be experiencing.
  • For Part 1. Create a simple order of service for a ceremony of remembrance. Include the opportunity for participants to speak the names of people, or pets, they wish to remember. Choose one or more readings or songs used in your congregation. If you will ask participants to join in a reading or song, make and photocopy a short order of service and include the needed words. If you wish to light real candles, secure permission in advance and have a fire extinguisher nearby.
  • For Part 2. Talk with your religious educator, minister and/or lay worship leaders to determine when and where the Riddle and Mystery group might lead a remembrance ritual. Determine the parameters for the ritual—e.g., duration, location, availability of the congregation's music director or volunteer musicians—so you can guide the youth to make a realistic, appropriate plan.

Description of Activity

This is a two-part activity. In Part 1, youth experience a candle-lighting ritual in remembrance of people and pets they have lost through death. In Part 2, they plan a UU memorial service suitable for use in their own congregation.

Tell the group it is WIT time—What I Think time—but this is a different kind of WIT Time. Instead of thinking right now about how they would answer today's Big Question, youth will experience (and/or plan) a ritual having to do with death. Doing/planning a ritual will help them understand what they think about death. Maybe they will realize what they think about death during this activity. Maybe they will realize some things later.

Part 1. Lead a simple candle-lighting service. Invite youth to remember people and pets they have lost through death. Remind the group of the UU idea that those who have died live on through what they have done in life and through the memories of families and friends. Say that a simple ceremony like the one you have planned can help keep the memories alive.

Explain the ceremony. Perhaps you will light the chalice, play quiet music and invite each youth to take a votive candle, light it from the chalice and place it carefully in a container you have filled with sand. As they do, they can speak or not, as they wish. If they do speak, they can name the person or pet they are remembering. They can say what they meant to them or something that person or pet has done that will live on—explain the deeds that outlive a person, or a pet, are their legacy.

Go first to model the action, but allow a moment or two of silence first, so youth can decide who they wish to memorialize. Be brief and serious as you light and place a candle, mention somebody you have lost and what that person meant to you, stand for a quiet moment, then move back so somebody else can have a chance.

Keep the activity serious at all times. It may have great significance for some youth.

Keep a careful eye on lit candles. Watch that loose sleeves and hair are kept away from flames.

When all who wish to have lit a candle, conclude with an appropriate, short song or reading, or a simple "Blessed be" or "Amen." Carefully extinguish flames. If music is playing, turn it off.

Part 2. Ask youth to plan a memorial service to be used in the congregation. If you have made specific arrangements with congregational leaders, explain the parameters for the service. Clarify whether this will be a generic memorial service or a service of remembrance for a particular person (tell the group who). Point out that a memorial service gives the full congregational community a chance to remember the person together, to express emotional responses to the loss of a member and to support the family and close friends of the person who has died. Ask if the youth can think of other ways a memorial service helps the community after someone has died.

Lead a group brainstorm. Record ideas on newsprint. Mention that youth who have experienced such a service can be especially helpful. Invite youth to describe a Unitarian Universalist memorial service they have attended and to identify elements they liked about the service. Prompt as needed, but be sure to seek the group's assent before adding your ideas to the brainstorming list. You might suggest opening music, opening words, chalice lighting, candle lighting by individuals, hymns, choir anthems/musical performances by others, readings of words that the person wrote or enjoyed, a talk about the person by a minister or somebody else who knew the person well (sometimes called a "eulogy"), sharing by friends and family members about what the person was like and what the person did in life, moments of silent meditation, closing music, and closing words.

Distribute copies of the hymnbook, Singing the Living Tradition and any other UU resources you have brought. Allow individuals or small groups to look for appropriate readings and music. Show the youth how to use the topical indices in the back of the hymnbook; it has a "Death and Life" section for hymns (page 671) and readings (page 643). Regather the group and invite them to share their suggestions; list suggested readings and songs on newsprint with book and page references. You might invite youth to add ideas from other sources—songs, prayers or readings they know which they think might add to a UU memorial service.

If you have time, use another sheet of newsprint to draft an order of service. 

Concluding Discussion

Prompt with these questions:

  • (For Part 1) Was the person or pet you lit a candle for someone you think about often or someone you had not thought about for some time?
  • (For Part 1) What was it like to think about a person or pet you have lost? Did you feel sad? Did you enjoy thinking of the good times you shared?
  • Have you ever attended a funeral? What happened at it? How did you feel being there? Have you ever attended a memorial service? What happened at it? How did you feel being there?
  • Some people plan their own funerals or memorial services before they die. Do you think you would ever do that? Why or why not? If you would, what kinds of plans might you make?
  • (For Part 2) How do you think people will feel during the memorial service we have planned? How do you think people will feel afterward?

Including All Participants

Be alert to any life-threatening illnesses or recent deaths that may concern your youth. Be prepared to make a co-leader available to leave the activity and offer listening comfort privately, if a youth becomes emotional or needs to talk .

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

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Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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