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Asking the Clergy: Why are coming-of-age rituals important?

Rabbi Mendy Goldberg of Lubavitch of the East

Rabbi Mendy Goldberg of Lubavitch of the East End, the Rev. Natalie M. Fenimore of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock and the Rev. Thomas Cardone of Kellenberg Memorial High School. Photo Credit: Richard Lewin; Unitarian Universalist Congregation; Ray O'Connor Photography

Growing up may be harder than ever in this rapidly changing world. But a number of religious rituals are available to help guide the next generation. This week’s clergy discuss how their faiths prepare youngsters for the challenges, rights and responsibilities of adulthood.

The Rev. Thomas Cardone

Chaplain, Kellenberg Memorial High School, Uniondale  

In the Catholic tradition the sacramental life of the church and service opportunities become pivotal coming-of-age rituals for young people.

Receiving the Body of Christ at their First Holy Communion is a reminder of the growth in faith when they are no longer children. It is like moving from the kid’s to the adult’s table on holidays.

With Confirmation, preparing to receive the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit often includes church and community service projects. At this point youth believe that they become more decisive in their faith in saying yes to following Jesus more faithfully.

At Kellenberg Memorial, we have a philosophy of youth ministering to youth; 175 of our upperclassmen serve as the retreat staff for grades six to 10. This empowers them to share their faith with peers. We also conduct missionary trips to Lourdes, France, where students actively assist the sick and the dying. Bearing witness to Christ through service and the sacramental life are key moments in the faith life of youth.

Rabbi Mendy Goldberg

Lubavitch of the East End

The bar/bat mitzvah experience can determine the child’s attitude to Judaism. If the event is shallow and pretentious, they will see Judaism as shallow and pretentious. But if it is meaningful and inspiring, their Jewish identity will be reinforced and they will be proud of their heritage.

Judaism teaches us that the moment the child reaches bar/bat mitzvah (13 for boys, 12 for girls), they then receive spiritual maturity and are obligated and liable in all of God’s commandments. They can no longer blame anyone else for their actions. Why is that? Because as children they experience either a pure happiness or sadness. They see all as black and white, either love or hate, bad or good, body or soul.

Once a child reaches the age of bar/bat mitzvah, they have the ability to differentiate right from wrong and merge the two worlds of body and soul. The rituals in the bar/bat mitzvah process give children the ability to see how one can merge the two worlds of bad and good, and love and hate, guiding them to view things with their soul in multidimensional layers as they mature into adulthood.

The Rev. Natalie M. Fenimore

Minister of Lifespan Religious Education, Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock, Manhasset

Coming-of-age rituals exist across cultures and faith traditions because they honor and guide the transition from childhood to youth with the benefit of parents and guides. The experiences of many generations are gathered together and shared through these rituals.

Our yearlong Coming of Age program includes learning about our religious history and traditions, working with mentors, doing community service, participating in worship services, having a celebratory party and taking a trip to our denominational headquarters in Boston.

Each child is asked to write their own personal belief statement, or credo, and present it to the congregation. Our youth can be proud of all that they accomplish as eighth-graders. During what can be a turbulent and confusing time in life, as a child turns toward adulthood, coming-of-age rituals can bring some direction and relief. They can enable family and community to give guidance while respecting the normal exploration and questioning that are a part of growing physically and spiritually.

Rituals can move beyond the recitation of a creed and allow time for youth to reflect upon that which they hold true and dear. There is great value when they help each young person connect to the common life and long-held traditions of a faith community.

DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS you’d like Newsday to ask the clergy? Email them to LILife@newsday.com. Find more LI Life stories at newsday.com/LILife.

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