Rites of Passage
Rev Ralph Catts
Revd Dr Ralph Catts retired as the Minister of Hull Unitarians on August 11 2019. He had previously served as the Lay Leader in the Forth Valley in Scotland while working as an academic at Stirling University, and also served with Edinburgh Unitarians and Birmingham New Meeting while completing a Master’s degree in Contextual Theology.
He has since returned to Australia where he attends the Melbourne Unitarian Church and the Melbourne Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. He continues to write and publish and leads meditations for UK Unitarians via zoom. He is also a trained facilitator for the Findhorn Foundation inspired Transformation Game ® experience.
Ralph is a spiritual humanist who draws inspiration from science and from various spiritual and philosophical traditions, especially the teachings of the Buddha, the Tao, and the example of Jesus, and from those who challenged the hierarchical church including Jan Hus, Meister Eckhart, and Michael Servetus. firstname.lastname@example.org
Unitarians believe in original goodness, and hence the act of welcoming a child into a family and a circle of friends is an act of celebration and a commitment to the wellbeing of the child. The traditional term for this type of ceremony is ‘baptism’, but that has a theological meaning that places parents as responsible to God for the child’s soul, whereas we believe that the responsibility for the well-being of a child rests with the parents, their extended family and their friends.
Whatever the name of the ceremony, the focal point of the naming celebration is the commitment of adults to the nurturing of the child’s fullest potential. By working together with the adults concerned, your Unitarian celebrant can produce a ceremony that reflects the values of the parents and is something of which the participants can be justly proud.
The form and content will depend on discussions between the child’s parents or guardians and the celebrant, but will be determined by the circumstances of the occasion. The result will be a ceremony based on the integrity of all involved, respecting the needs of the child and the child’s family. In many traditions, water is seen as a purifying source, but it can also be a symbol of the inherent goodness of the child. There may also be the giving of a flower or plant to accompany the child’s journey toward adulthood as a symbol of the growth, beauty and fragrance of life. There may be readings and prayers drawn from various sources. The resulting ceremony will be something unique to that child.
A marriage ceremony is a legal act that must be performed by a registered celebrant. Although the Fellowship has a member who as a retired Minister can register to conduct a wedding, we at present offer a Unitarian blessing of a wedding. If a couple wishes a wedding blessing, following, for example, a ceremony in a registry office, then we are happy to lead a service anywhere that appeals, including the garden of your home. We welcome equality in marriage, and hence blessings are available to all.
The worship leader will consult with the couple to assist in constructing a meaningful form for the ceremony, encouraging the participants to choose their own music, readings and words of commitment. These may come from many religious traditions or from none. If requested, the worship leader can provide examples of music, words and commitments, and symbolic elements of a service.
A Unitarian celebrant can assist next of kin to construct a funeral service, always having regard to any instructions left by the deceased either in their will or in other instructions. Where a person is preparing for their death, a Unitarian celebrant can offer pastoral care and work with the person directly to plan for the funeral service. Normally, one or more next of kin would also participate in such planning.
The Unitarian celebrant will work with the Funeral Director appointed by the next of kin (or arranged previously by the deceased person). The celebrant will normally prepare the service in consultation with the next of kin. The service can be conducted at the chapel of the Funeral Director, in a Crematorium chapel, or at the grave side.
If attendance is restricted by health or other government orders, or if people cannot attend from interstate or overseas, a memorial service can also be arranged.
What distinguishes a Unitarian Universalist service from a traditional religious ceremony is that the celebrant will not presume to tell those gathered what happens after death. The service will include normally music, an eulogy, some readings and a time for silent prayers or reflection,
There may be other occasions when it is appropriate to mark a significant life event. This could include a separation service in the case of divorce, an acknowledgement of a person’s sexuality, or gender alignment, or marking a retirement. In each case, a Unitarian celebrant will work with the person concerned to devise a form of service that will acknowledge the event and its significance in a form that is appropriate to the unique situation.
Preparing for and Conducting a Naming Ceremony, Wedding Blessing, Funeral or other Rite of Passage.
In all cases our celebrant will arrange to meet the person or parties to plan and prepare for the ceremony. We can also organise for the printing of a service sheet suitable for the occasion. Where appropriate, the support we offer will also include the opportunity for a follow up visit to reflect on the service.
The fees we charge cover the expenses of the celebrant and make a contribution to the costs of maintaining our Fellowship as a community service. It is important that costs be discussed at the outset, and to note that additional costs may arise if additional work by the celebrant is required.