Saturday, November 16, 2013

Every Baby Should be Blessed; Every Family Affirmed

I want to urge Unitarian Universalism to go into the baby blessing ministry.  I mean UU ministers and UU churches should commit whole-heartedly to the blessing of babies, all babies, any babies.

A baby blessing is a family ritual.  How being blessed in a ritual changes the baby, I have no idea.  But it can change the family.  At least, it can strengthen all that is good in a parenting situation.  A baby blessing ritual steps outside of the routine of child-rearing and invites the parents, the grandparents, the extended family and friends to express their best hopes for this new child, and to offer their best intentions for caring for it.

There are lots of babies being born.  For many of these babies, there is not an appropriate and meaningful ritual for their blessing.  For young people who are not connected to a religious institution, for young people whose relationship status doesn't conform to social expectations, for parents who are spiritual but not religious, there is no ritual form for them to solemnize their intentions to be good parents.  

There is a spiritual hunger, and we should offer to feed it.

Our baby blessing should come right out of our core theology.  Each baby is a person, unique and irreplaceable.  The baby blessing ceremony should challenge parents and families to respect and honor that child's own soul.  A child is not a toy, a pet, a person who can use to fulfill our own needs.  A child is not here to bring you glory, or fulfill your dreams.  In all likelihood, a child will not turn out as you expect, or hope.  In every baby blessing I have ever conducted, I have heard parents promise to love their child "unconditionally."  That's very hard, and it is a good thing to have made that promise solemnly and publicly.

At the same time, children will be shaped by the networks of people around them.  Our ceremony should challenge parents and families to bring their best and most loving selves to that child, to be mindful of what they are teaching and showing.  Our ceremony should make room for parents and friends to state their best intentions for parenting.

Our religious tradition names the tension between the freedom of every soul and intricate webs of mutual responsibility that makes human life possible as does no other, and the task of parenting is performed in that tension.

I envision a time when every UU church has an extensive ministry of blessing babies and families throughout their communities.  People know us as the baby blessing people.  I imagine our churches being the site of baby blessings on weekends; while we may bless the babies of our congregation on Sunday morning, we bless more babies and families at other times in our sacred space.  There is no reason why only ordained ministers should perform baby blessings.

I can envision other ministries that surround these ceremonies: a pastoral dimension.  Our young parents can be lay ministers companioning other young parents.

We could have a community ministry of parenting support groups, and serve as a contact point for resources for more serious issues.  As we touch more and more young families in our communities, their issues will become our issues: adequate childcare, education, recreation, child safety.

For some families, their baby blessing will be a start of longer term relationship with Unitarian Universalism.

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