I like rituals and ceremonies. We are a people who tell stories and the structure of our story, the meta-narrative of who and what humanity is, is written around and defined by the many rituals and ceremonies that comprise our existence.

Sometimes the rituals are small. I have small daily practices that matter. There is an element of ritual and ceremony when I host a Monday Night Dinner. We have more interpersonal rituals too – the marriage ceremony in all varying forms and the dedication, christening or baptism of children. In fact, most of these rituals are birthed in religious practices, this ancient calling of deep to deep that acknowledges in some small way there is still something magical and otherworldly about the most primal of our calls to mate and procreate. We celebrate Lent, Easter, Yom Kippur, Ramadan.

We observe, we remember. We make milestones.

But how do you create meaningful rituals for yourself or your family if you are not religious? Ceremonies and rituals bring us together. They are a chance to state what sometimes goes unsaid – that of course, parents commit to raising their children well. That friends and family commit to support the promises of marriage and family. So you have to write one of your own, which Mark and Paula asked me to do this week.

On their wedding day 3 years ago, they asked me to write and read a poem. On that day, we celebrated their marriage but also the dedication of their first-born daughter, Gracie. This week, we gathered on that same anniversary to celebrate and dedicate their second child, Olivia.

What does it mean to dedicate?
The idea of dedication was derived by the Evangelical Protestants who believed that traditional Catholic and high Anglican child baptism did not ensure salvation. Ultimately, the choice to follow God must be the child’s own, made of their own volition at an age where they had comprehension.

So parents dedicate their child to God, a promise to raise the child in the ways of the parents’ faith, as part of the Church until such a time as they can make their own decision. In more recent years, it’s become increasingly common for that series of promises to include the church community, friends and extended family also promising to support the parents and the child.

So, in case you have need ever, of a non-religious dedication … here’s one I wrote this week.

The rough outline is as follows

Addressing Olivia as a gift
Acknowledging her as a sister
Siblings commitment
Acknowledging her as part of a broader family
Acknowledging her as a daughter
Parents commitment
Godparents commitment
Readings by the godparents
Friends and extended family commitment
A blessing
– fin.

Welcome everyone. We’re here as family and friends of Mark, Paula, Gracie and now Olivia, to celebrate a special milestone and significant day in the life of the Southon family. It was on the 24th of February 3 years ago that we gathered here to celebrate Mark and Paula’s marriage, and dedicated their first born. Today, we celebrate their ongoing commitment to one another and welcome Olivia to the family.

Olivia is a gift.
First – she is beloved. She was hoped for and greeted with joy from the moment we knew she was on the way. Olivia, since before you came to be, you were loved and desired as part of this family.

Second, she is a precious sister for Gracie. Sisters are a chance to grow up with a best friend, true confidante and someone always willing to help you grow and shape your character through thoughtful input. Or sometimes, to pull your hair and borrow your clothes.

Gracie – do you welcome Olivia as your sister? Will you be a good friend to her, share what you have and teach her what you know?
Sister responds:

Olivia – you are a daughter to Mark and Paula. You carry part of each of your parents – their kindness, generosity, hospitality, talent, love and that of each of your families. You have grandmothers, aunts, uncles and cousins who would love to be here to today and we remember and acknowledge that you are part of a much bigger family; some of whom are no longer with us. But we remember them and all the lessons they have left us with.

Mark, Paula – do you dedicate yourselves to loving, nurturing, caring for and helping to shape Olivia’s character as her parents? Will you share with her the lessons you’ve learned from your own parents, siblings and life experience? Will you open doors for her but set her free to become her own person when the time is right and always offer her the comfort, love and support that is “home”? And lastly, will you dedicate yourselves again to one another; along with the task and privilege you share in of parenting both Gracie and Olivia?

Parents respond.

And finally, Olivia is a gift to us – who are lucky to count ourselves friends of the Southons. She will continue to give us joy as she grows, learns to walk, giggle, talk and becomes her own person. It is our privilege to walk alongside Mark and Paula as they parent Olivia and Gracie. It is our privilege to walk alongside Gracie and help her become a great big sister and offer our support in raising Olivia.

Mark and Paula have asked Emma and Seb to represent their friends and family in the special role of godmother and godfather. To offer wisdom, care and support to Olivia, and the family as she grows.

Emma and Seb, will you commit to caring for, supporting, encouraging and nurturing Olivia as she grows?

Godparents respond.
Reading #1     (read by the godparents)
When you were born, little one, we sang over you
Sweet songs of hope and light
We sang you to the stars and the moon
We sang to you of the ocean and the mountains
We sang you to sleep and we sang you to life.

When you are grown, little one, sing back to us
Songs of a life fully alive
Sing to us of the skies you fly through, the dreams you see
Sing to us of the world you know, of the love you have
When you are older, sing sweet songs back to us.

Reading #2  
From small seeds grow mighty trees.
A tree reaches up to the sky with all its strength
Bows to the wind but does not breakLittle birds fly across golden skies
Small feathers grow into strong wings
Wise birds return home to the tall, tough trees
When the tall strong tree touches the blue-gold sky
And the bird returns home on the wind that blew
There we will always make a space for you.

And for the rest of us. As a family we must also be willing to hold one another accountable to the promises we make. To support and encourage when times are tough and to laugh and celebrate when times are good, like today. Friends, will you commit to stand beside the Southons, supporting and encouraging their family?
Friends respond.

Blessing for Olivia.
Olivia, today you may not understand the love and commitment that has been expressed around you and for you.

But you will come to know it, in the same way you’ll know the warmth of the sun on your skin, the wind in your face and the rain that comes to water the earth in each perfect season.

You are loved and may you know that love all the days of your life.

When days are dark, may you find the arms that will hold you fast through any storm.

When days are bright, may you find yourself always in the company of the good and the wise.

As you grow, may you learn from all those who have dedicated themselves to you. And when you are old, may you remember how you were loved and what you learned, to pass on to those who will come after you.

May you be good and may you be kind. May you be strong, self-assured and compassionate. May you be full of laughter and integrity. May you know joy and peace in the blossom of your life.

We pray that any hardships serve to teach you, that your blessings serve as generosity towards others and we pray that you will always know the way home, no matter where life takes you. You are home in our arms, in our love and in our hearts for all the days of your life.

Welcome. Nau mai haere mai, moko.

Of course, as with the Garden poem which has now been read at some twenty or so weddings that I know of, you are welcome to use this material also. Change the names and the details, but you are welcome to the outline. The poems are my own. Email me and let me know too, I’d love to hear your stories.