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The Family at Ronan's Dedication

So we had a wonderful, spiritual dedication of Ronan in the Unitarian Universalist faith last Friday. (If you’re not sure what UUism is, click on the link.) Some 40 family and friends gathered at Brooklyn’s historic Old Stone House, where the Maryland Brigade held off the British while Washington’s Army escaped to Manhattan during the Battle of Brooklyn Heights. (The neighborhood looked different then.)

The service was about twenty minutes long, which seemed much shorter to me. Considering all the thinking we did about what readings, music and prayers we were going to include, it was over eyeblinkingly fast. But it was one of the best services I’ve been to because our love filled the room, swept up the congregated guests and had everyone really happy about Ronan’s coming into the world and pledged to guide him throughout his life.

That night the House was a place of peace, except for the teenagers rehearsing MacBeth outside. ("Aw, Gee! We can’t go in the house!" Said one disgruntled teenager. She was re-gruntled when the leftover food was given up.) Planning a gathering is harder than it looks. We were quite happy that the worst thing that went wrong was that we forgot the orange juice at home.

Writing a spiritual service is not like making a video (my chosen vocation.) With a video you kinda have an idea of how it’s going to turn out before you’re finished. It might not be the same vision you had at the start, but you know midway through the planning whether you’ve got something or not. UU services are more ephemeral. You can read the words in the order of service over and over, but it takes on a life of its own once it reaches the audience. I once attended a service where the celebrant had obviously planned out a complicated and thoughtful experience. The problem was that the audience didn’t want anything to do with the service and immediately after the service began, they created their own. The celebrant left in tears.

Thankfully we’ve been very successful in creating spiritual places for our family’s events. The dedication is our second UU event; the first was our wedding. We’ve also survived a hectic preparation for a baby shower that was really fun. I’ve learned several things between the three events that are important, regardless of what religion you follow. Here are some of them in no particular order:

1.)       Include friends and family in the service. Our minister is a good friend who did both our wedding and Ronan’s dedication. Friends and former students played music. Others came and set up the space, stuffed the envelopes for the invitations, and hit play on the CD player. Some did a lot and some did a little. Having your loved ones involved in all aspects of the service created a spiritual and emotional tone that filled the room with love.

2.)       Go with the flow. Midway through the first hymn at our wedding, the pianist (my high school friend) stopped playing. He had three stanzas. The congregation had five. We all had a good laugh. At the dedication my brave foster brother played the hymn with only a quick prior glance at the score. As he winged it, the whole congregation began to hum the melody. Suddenly everyone was humming along to the slow progression. Ronan wasn’t sure what was going on and started to cry. Despite that it was a really nice moment to hear everyone singing together. I think it was my favorite moment from the dedication. At the baby shower the power went out. So what. Just focus on the gathering, and the power of friendship, family, and love.

3.)       You can have too much food. We gave away dozens of bagels at the baby shower and the leftover pizza and salad from the dedication went to the MacBeth players. At the wedding we didn’t have enough cars to get the leftover food to someone who could use it. I’ll always regret that. As part of your event planning figure out somewhere that can take your leftover food so it doesn’t go to waste.

4.)       Invite everyone you want. I truly believe that this is a non-issue if you plan ahead. Figure out your invitation list before you start sending out invites, and figure that half of the people you invite won’t be able to make it. You know your family and friends, so if you think you need a bigger space, you probably do. If you need to order pasta instead of steak, do it. If people are coming to your wedding or baby shower just for the food, you’re missing the real point of the service.

5.)       Let the parents in. Leave out parts of the service and give your friends and family a chance to speak instead. Yes, one high school friend spoke for a really long time about how much he loved his daughter at our wedding while sprawled across the stage, but it was his statement to me. My parents’ comments at the Dedication were really lovely. You’ll be pleasantly surprised about what people have to say about you. You may learn something you didn’t know about the people in your lives.

6.)       Words on paper mean nothing. The emotion behind them means everything. Every time we plan a service, the last run-through makes me think I’ve suddenly turned Episcopalian. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) The service always feels more formal to me than I think it should. When we’re done I’m amazed and gratified that the people who participated brought themselves to the service and made the words we wrote for them their own. The love and compassion they feel for me and my family transcended the mere writings into something profoundly moving.

7.)       Find your center. The afternoon of the dedication I got some really bad news. I can’t really go into it but it made me really unhappy. I did talk to people about it at the dedication, but while the dedication was going on I was able to forget it and not think about it and just enjoy the service and my family and my baby. It’s hard but find your focus by communicating with your partner and doing what you have to do to leave that negativity outside the circle of celebration.

8.)       Make alternative plans. Before the baby shower, the power went out. If that happened again during the Dedication, we were prepared. The service was at night so we had dozens of candles. We had alternative plans for the music. Thankfully we had lights and sound so we didn’t need them. But they were there if we needed them. I was actually looking forward to a service by candlelight.

9.)       Allow strangers into your spiritual space. Besides the savage fighting in Scotland going on the stage outside, some guests brought people we’ve never met to the Dedication. At the end of the dinner the police showed up for a community visit with the park supervisor. Don’t sweat it – the strangers won’t bother you unless you let them. They may even enhance the ceremony with their presence.

10.)    Focus. Sure, you can have rented circus lions, the Blue Angels, or invite the President of the United States. You could send out press releases and spend a small country’s gross national product on a party. You could; I wouldn’t. The best parties I’ve been to are the ones where the people giving it have put something of themselves into it. Share your wallet and people will talk about that. Share yourself and people will remember for a long time.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 11, 2007 9:15 PM.

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