In order to make any Rite of Passage meaningful, rituals are an important component of the weekend. Rituals are crucial to the success of a Rite of Passage because they provide structure and keep the group on track. Without rituals and a clear program to follow, if you put a bunch of guys together in a cabin for a weekend, they will most likely spend the whole time fishing! Rituals help the group talk about the important things in life and eliminate a possible tendency to stay at the trivial level. Rituals keep the focus of the weekend where it ought to be: on the boy.
The goal of each ritual is threefold. First, you want to pass down your family values to your son. Second, you want him to be able to ask questions without fear. Finally, you want to elevate him to the status of “man of the family.”
Many of these rituals came from Bobo and his experience with the men’s group that he led for all those years. He attended many retreats with that group, took the best activities that he came across, and incorporated them into the Rite of Passage weekend. We adapted the rituals to suit the needs of a group of four to five men and modified them so they were appropriate for a thirteen year old coming-of-age ceremony.
Entrance Ceremony - Just like other formal events, such as a graduation, wedding, or funeral, the Rite of Passage would officially begin with an entrance ceremony. There are two main reasons why we would hold an entrance ceremony: to invite God’s presence to be with us for the weekend and to provide a clear start to the Rite of Passage.
Sharing of What It Means to Be a Man - The next phase of the Rite of Passage was the informal sharing of what it means to be a man. Some of the best sharing of wisdom and of life experiences would occur during this step. This was the time to give the boy genuine advice on what it means—and what it does not mean—to be a man.
Giving a Gift - After everyone shared what it means to be a man, a special gift was given to the boy to commemorate his entrance into manhood. This gift was more than a birthday present; it was a sign that he could be trusted with something that we considered to be valuable to the family. We would give the boy a family heirloom, something that had sentimental value. It was something that he could cherish and perhaps one day pass on to his own children when that time comes.
Sharing of a Scripture Passage - While the discussion of “what it means to be a man” was typically general in nature, the sharing of Scripture was intentionally set up to encourage an authentic discussion about what our faith meant to us. The purpose of sharing Scripture during the Rite of Passage was to bring our sons into a newer and deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. We did this by sharing a little bit about how the Word of God has shaped our own lives.
Letters - Before the Rite of Passage weekend, certain adult role models were asked to write personalized letters to the boy. There was no set topic or requirements about what must be included in these letters. The intention was that each letter would give the boy a sense of direction, strength of convictions, trust in God, and a solid sense of his family’s undying support for him—regardless of where life might take him. The letters were given to the boy during his Rite of Passage weekend.
Ribbon Ceremony - The ribbon ceremony required us to prepare a number of ribbons that each represented one positive or negative character trait that we saw in ourselves. The ribbon ceremony was designed to manifest the “taking” of positive character traits with the physical “taking” of ribbons, while it also allowed the men to acknowledge their own negative character traits so the boy could see them as well.
Final Blessing - The final blessing was the last of the rituals and marked the beginning of the return phase of the Rite of Passage. At this point, all the gear had been removed from the cabin, and the men would gather in a circle outside. Each man would bless the boy (now a man, but we will continue to use the term “boy” for the sake of clarity) by putting a hand on the boy’s head and reading a prayer. Then the boy would be asked to bless all the other men in an act that signified his new authority.
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