Rite of Passage

Life is full of moments.

Most pass by with little thought given to them, but others – other moments are burned into our minds as snapshots of time we can never forget. We hold them up as Defining Moments in our lives – moments we can point to and say, “there. Then. That’s when I decided [fill in major life change decision here]. That’s when I felt….. That’s when I knew…….

Defining Moments.

We all have them.

A precious few of those Defining Moments, though, stand out even further. They’re even more pivotal. More special. More precious. More Life Changing.

They become Rites of Passage.

Growing up in The Salvation Army, there were ceremonies for everything. Ceremonies to mark time and spiritual growth. Ceremonies to mark the coming of age.  Rites of passage in that culture.

And I experienced nearly every major SA rite of passage there was. I was dedicated as an infant on October 12, 1980, became a “Jr Soldier” [child member] of the corps on August 21, 1988, was enrolled as a Senior Soldier [full member of the church] on August 21, 1994, marched in the welcome of cadets [the formal induction into seminary] on September 2, 2000, and on June 9, 2002, I was commissioned as an Officer and received my ordination as a minister, in the grandest of all Salvation Army ceremonies – in front of a packed house at the NJ Performing Arts Center [which seats 3,352].

Rites of passage.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about pivotal moments in my own life, and I’ve come to an important realization. While the ceremonies themselves are meant to be rites of passage, the moments I remember FEELING like rites of passage, while linked to ceremonies, are often far quieter and more ‘hidden,’ if you will.

I remember the day I became a senior soldier. I stood under the flags and affirmed the Articles of War that I’d signed at the altar – the officers prayed over me, and I was declared a soldier of the Army of the Lord.

But the moment I FELT the shift, the moment that stayed with me, was later, in the band room behind the platform, when Anita Cocker Hunt, the music director, helped me put on my Senior Soldier Tunic Jacket for the first time, and swapped out my navy knee socks for off-black pantyhose. I looked in the mirror and knew that everything was different. I was no longer the person  I had been.

On the day I was ordained, there were almost 4,000 people in attendance. A 75 piece brass band provided the accompaniment to this most important rite of passage. I knelt before the commissioner, scripture was read, prayers were prayed, and I rose up as an ordained minister and commissioned officer.

I was honestly startled that, as I stood up from the kneeling bench, I didn’t *feel* any different. I was oddly puzzled by that lack of feeling until the end of the service, when our ordination music, a piece titled Total Praise, began to play, and we as a graduating class rose to sing. As we began to sing, I stole glances at my fellow newly-ordained clergy, and the words I was singing stuck in my throat. “You are the source of my strength. You are the strength of my life. I lift my hands in total praise to you.”

And there it was.

Everything was different now.

My rite of passage.

This was it.

My defining moment.

The moment by which  I would live the next ten years of my life – pastoring churches and caring for the people in the communities in which I served.

That song, Total Praise, became incredibly special to me. It’s quite popular as a congregational benediction in Salvation Army circles, so we sang it often, and every time, it reminded me of that defining moment. I have sung that song so many times that I know it by heart. Every word. Every note. It’s MY song.

And then I wasn’t an officer any more.

And I didn’t attend the army any more.

And I didn’t hear that song any more.

And slowly, as the years passed, what became the soundtrack of my defining moment began to drift further and further back into the file of my memory.

And then I found UUCV – where songs with such overtly theist/Christian language aren’t exactly the norm, and I began to build a new repertoire of songs that swell my soul.

We have beautiful music at our church, and an incredible music director, who is spiritually sensitive and does a fantastic job with us as a choir, and with the congregational music as well.

The hardest thing for me, coming from a very musical background in a very music-focused denomination, is that every song, every Sunday, is a new song for me. Every choir piece is foreign. And that’s a challenge that I mostly love – but it’s also a reminder that everything is different now.

I’m not the person  I was.

A few weeks ago, I walked into the sanctuary one Tuesday evening and picked up the music for this coming Sunday [MLK day] – and I audibly chirped with glee, “Hey! I know both of these!”

The first song was “Wade in the Water” – an old spiritual that basically anyone who has ever gone to church in the south knows.

The second, and it took me a second look to confirm this –

You guessed it.

Total Praise.

I was so happy that I actually KNEW both songs that I didn’t give the fact that it was *my* song a second thought – until David put on a recording of it for us to listen to, since no one else seemed to know it.

It hit me like a TON. OF. BRICKS.

The lyrics.

The soaring melodies.

The sheer power and conviction of the piece.

Oh yes. I know this song.

But I don’t just know this song.

I KNOW this song.

In my bones.

In my soul.

In the very inmost part of my being.

For five years, I’ve been trying to reconcile the most meaningful rite of passage, the single most defining moment of my life, with the fact that I’m not a pastor anymore. It’s the one thing that  I struggle with DAILY.

Seriously. Daily.

My life has changed. Drastically.

But that moment, and it’s impact on my life, remains.

And as I stand with the choir behind the piano on Sunday morning , I have NO IDEA what will run through my mind, but I do know this –

I will stand.

And I will sing.

And I will know, in the deepest part of my soul,

That everything is different

And that the source of my strength, the strength of my life

Is still there.

S/he looks different now, because I have a different understanding

But I am NOT alone

And THAT, my friends, is a particularly defining moment in itself.


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