Churches, synagogues and other organizations are recovering and reconstructing practices that incorporate rites of passage into their work in order to help ease young people’s journey into adulthood, according to Common Boundary (January/February), a magazine reporting on the interaction of psychology and spirituality.
“Rites of passage currently being conducted include wilderness survival programs; reconstructed African rituals in black churches; revitalized confirmations in Protestant churches and bar and bat mitzvahs in synagogues, and newly created rituals using mythology, guided imagery, art, music, games, and other tools in various settings,” writes Lynda McCullough.
One popular rite-of-passage program called the Journey is finding a following among secular groups and mainline Protestants for its use of mythology. Based on Joseph Campbell’s book, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” the Journey uses guided imagery where boys and girls “travel through time or descend into an underworld where they meet beasts and monsters,” indirectly teaching them coping skills for dealing with guilt, failure, anger and low self-esteem.
In some mainline churches, the Journey is adapted to involve biblical characters and scripture in a reconstructed confirmation program. Each youth being confirmed is assigned a mentor (a feature common in many of the rites-of-passage programs) and attends several retreats. Robb Creekmoe, a Methodist deacon who works with four United Church of Christ churches in the Washington, D.C. area says, “My own orientation has to do with developing a powerful initiation process that [involves] forming a sense of identity.”
In the Jewish community, some families are seeking new forms of bar and bat mitzvahs, while others are reinforcing these traditional ceremonies with preparation seminars to help parents come to terms with this initiation of their children. But it appears to be in black churches where the rites-of-passage programs have caught on the strongest. Churches and other youth organizations employ African rituals to bring meaning, identity and a sense of community to young people’s lives.
The rituals in African-American institutions vary from institution to institution, says Walter Flucker of Colgate Rochester Divinity School, Rochester, N.Y. But typically, young people taking part in these rites-of-passages study African culture, dress in African clothes, and endure physical or mental challenge before participating in a final ceremony acknowledging their adult status. An example of such a program is “Simba,” a ministry based in the Park Avenue Methodist Church in inner-city Minneapolis. Participants pledge to “learn what it means to be an African-American man: spiritually, physically and socially,” reports the evangelical Minnesota Christian Chronicle (Feb. 8).
The Simba program has a strong emphasis on moral values and evangelical faith and eschews black separatism, according to founder and Park Avenue’s pastor Chris McNair.
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