Birth | Life | Death / Emerging Church and Rites of Passage

Interesting piece on the radio this morning about the rise of road-side ‘shrines’ in the UK. Flowers, weathered photos, crosses peek out from lamp-posts and hedgerows, marking sites of fatal crashes and lives cut short. One man interviewed had lost his nephew in a car crash, and now visited the site daily, keeping the flowers fresh, the candles lit… And even replacing the paving slabs in the immediate area of the shrine to ‘smooth his path.’ Milton Keynes Council, hardly a bastion of liberal governance, have issued restrictions; grieving relatives are not happy.

One commentator from Durham University was keen to point out that “these are not shrines of course, but memorials.” I’m not sure that he is entirely accurate. The man interviewed clearly treated the place as somewhere to commune with the spirit of his lost nephew, a thin place where they could talk… Not just a stone to remember him by.

Either way, the ‘coldness’ of the traditional memorial was thus highlighted by the presenter; the services and rituals, the markers and stones were not, he felt, connecting with people in their experiences of death. They didn’t want to go to churches and graveyards to think on their loved ones. They’d rather sit by the A57.

The Church has always traditionally been a place where people from the community, whether ‘Christian’ or not, came to celebrate their rites of passage: birth, marriage, death. This tradition has been losing popular support for some time, but traditional funerals, wrapped in mystery and grief, have perhaps lasted longer than baptisms and weddings. Clearly, even they are now connecting with people less and less.

Henri Nouwen, back in 1979, wrote that “I am afraid that in a few decades the Church will be accused of having failed in its most basic task: to offer people creative ways to communicate with the source of human life.” We must face that accusation boldly, not just offering week-by-week opportunities for people to engage with a journey of faith, but also – and perhaps more importantly – profound and engaging ways for those on the fringes to come in and celebrate their rites of passage with us.

Thankfully we never had to deal with a death within the Vaux community, but it’s something we talked about. [We recently did a dedication service for my 18-month son – if anyone would like to see the liturgy I can post it] So I’d be interested to know if people have explored these areas…


2 responses to “Birth | Life | Death / Emerging Church and Rites of Passage”

  1. I’d love to see the liturgy for your son.

  2. Yeah I got a pagan mate leads our kids dedications… we do them in pairs… Ash and Raven were first in a woods in Portsmouth. We blessed the earth with Mead and drank it and ate bread and cheese for Communion, and nominated and blessed our childrens guardians – 2 for each kid – there was about 30 of us. In a year we’ll do Brighid and Solomon (due this week), same kind of format. We use our Druidic Christian influences for these ceremonies.