Magazine article The Christian Century

New Rituals for New Realities

Magazine article The Christian Century

New Rituals for New Realities

Article excerpt

Kristen got a panicky feeling when she saw the older woman marching toward her. Gripping her coffee cup, Kristen glanced around the fellowship hall looking for an escape.

The woman pulled Kristen aside. "Sweetheart, when are you going to have a baby? You'd be such a good mother." The older woman patted Kristen on the back. Kristen smiled and nodded, hoping that her agreeable expression would allow her to dodge the question. Then, as soon as she could, she moved to the other side of the room.

She knew that the women meant well, but the comments made her anxious. She wanted to become a mother, but she had decided to go to graduate school and get into her career before she had children. Now she had a pile of debt and a low-paying first job--still not a good time to have a child. Kristen was wondering if she and her husband should have children at all; she couldn't pay off her debt and save for her child's college tuition at the same time.

Kristen wasn't alone in missing this familiar marker of adulthood. Many of her friends had put off marriage and were struggling with student loan debt. They weren't able to buy homes or set down roots in a community.

Most people understood. But people in her congregation still expected her to meet certain goals. In her mind, past generations had all followed a pattern: birth, education, marriage, employment, babies, and death. (And for many women, employment was optional.) When life didn't unfold in this sequence, people whispered at family reunions, wondering what had gone wrong. And they whispered in churches.

Pastors Eliza Buchakjian-Tweedy and Nick Larson have been thinking about the rituals of the church and how they might mark the life passages of people who follow a different life sequence. They wonder how the church can celebrate neglected milestones and grieve suffering that was once private but is now public because of social media. These new events take on a communal significance, so Buchakjian-Tweedy and Larson write liturgies and create rituals for them.

"When we ritualize, we give the authority and blessing of church and God to new ways of being in the world," said Buchakjian-Tweedy. She points out that the church focuses on heterosexual and cisgender people and wonders, "How can we create new things for those who have not felt welcome? …

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