When high school youth leave your congregation for college, jobs, the military, or other endeavors does anyone other than their parents notice? An increasing number of congregations are marking that transition from teendom to young adulthood with bridging ceremonies.
A bridging ceremony is a congregational service held generally in the spring, devoted to recognizing, honoring, and celebrating the youth who have, in many cases, been in your religious education program for many years and now are moving on. Jesse Jaeger didn't have the benefit of a bridging ceremony when he departed his home congregation at the end of high school ten years ago. "When I left the church and went to college I sort of fell off the face of Unitarian Universalism for three years," said Jaeger, the newly appointed Youth Programs Director for the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). "There wasn't a whole lot of support. I could have attended a small fellowship during college, but I didn't quite know how to find one."
North Parish UU, North Andover, MA (301 members), holds a bridging ceremony each Mother's Day. Director of Religious Education (DRE) Gail Forsyth-Vail sees it as part of her congregation's ministry to families. "There's a tremendous change in a family when a child leaves home and it's important to recognize that," says Forsyth-Vail. "There's also a change in the religious community, just like there is when there's a memorial service, a wedding, or a baby dedication."
Marking that change also lets young people know that their congregation thinks they're important. Many young adults choose to have active parts in the bridging service, by speaking, designing the cover of the order of service, or performing music. Others simply attend.
Forsyth-Vail meets with the young adults an hour before the ceremony to discuss a questionnaire she has sent out previously, asking them to think about their favorite memories of attending church, the gifts they have gotten from their religious community, and the gifts they have to offer the world.
"I hear from some of them later that they really liked the ceremony," says Forsyth-Vail. "I also hear from the youth who are still in the church that this is important for them as well."
Be sure to invite not only those youth who are actively involved, but those who may have dropped out but whose parents still attend, says Forsyth-Vail. Some youth who are only marginally involved in church will attend a bridging ceremony, she says, out of obligation to family. The ceremony helps give them another Unitarian Universalist (UU)connection at the time when they may be leaving home.
Jaeger estimates 30 percent of congregations hold some sort of bridging ceremony for teens becoming young adults. A bridging ceremony occurs annually at General Assembly (GA) for youth who attend GA and as an example for GA participants. Mandy Jacobsen, twenty-three, Religious Education Director (RE) at UU Church of Silver Spring, MD (250), has helped organize several of those ceremonies. They also occur at district conferences.
"The best thing about bridging is seeing a congregation or group of people at a district conference or GA take time to give this as a gift to youth," says Jacobsen.