Random Thoughts

Coming of age

... rites of passage -- all cultures have them

by John Averell

My wife and I just recently returned from a lovely Bat Mitzvah celebration for her grandniece. It was a time of happiness for parents, grandparents, and the gantze mishpocah (the whole extended family). A time when Eliana, the "child", became a Jewish woman. She gave a thoughtful and studiously prepared talk on the personal need to face up to the responsibilities of repentance.

This was not my first experience of the Jewish coming-of-age ritual. Other Bat Mitzvahs and several Bar Mitzvahs have been a time of pleasure and insight. The boys especially have to prepare at great length, and I gather considerable stress, for their part in temple service, reading from Torah and commenting to the congregation. The celebrations afterward can be on the scale of a wedding with food, dancing, and impromptu speeches.

I thought about my own experience in the Christian coming of age. My Catholic friends, and Protestants who practiced infant baptism, had Confirmation ceremonies. Like the Jewish Bar Mitzvah, this had the intent of showing by personal study of doctrine and public confession of faith, that the new adult confirms what had been a family commitment up to that time. I never attended a Confirmation service. At that time we didn't visit other churches outside our group.

Being Baptists, our family didn't subscribe to infant baptism. In our family the coming of age meant a time for baptism by immersion as an adult, with understanding that this was an outward sign of an inward faith. Of course any adult could be baptized, so, strictly speaking, this was not limited to "coming of age". There was no big celebration. However the ceremony was quite lovely in my case, since it took place on the shores of an inlet of Long Island Sound in Tokeneke, Darien, Connecticut at the Tjader Estate. The individual participants did not give an extended discourse on a doctrinal subject. My memories of the event are more tied to the incredible display of heads of game animals in the meeting room, that Mr. Tjader had collected while on safari with Theodore Roosevelt.

At the right is a picture of my classmate at school and church on the day we were both baptised. We think this was 1946 or 1947. On the left is my father Phil, who was Chairman of the Deacons at that time. On the right is our pastor, Rev. Siegfried V. Hanson. Being baptised is Jeanette Toms Iglesias, now living in Florida with her own big family. Thanks to both Janey and Wes Hanson for finding this picture.

I guess there are lots of coming of age ceremonies in "pagan" areas that really celebrate puberty, and the responsibilites of the adult male in society. I've read of similar female ceremonies among tribes and cultures.

What sounds like the most fun is the Latina celebration of "La Quinceanera" on the fifteenth birthday of a girl. It seems to be rather more secular than the formal religious ceremonies, but with all the fun parts!

Anyway, if you really want a big list, just google "coming of age".

Kids need all the support and happiness they can get as they enter adulthood these days.


The Tjader Estate at that time was owned by the widow of Richard Tjader. She used the large house and grounds for religious services. Since our church was Swedish in origin, there were connections with the Tjaders, also Swedish. After Mrs. Tjader's death, her daughter Marguerite donated the building and grounds, called Vikingsborg, to the Convent of Saint Birgitta. You can still use their grounds for group retreats or personal contemplation at http://www.birgittines-us.com.


October 2, 2009


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