Sunday was a special day for the young man I'll call Brown. Brown was going to get his first bit of biscuit and glass of plonk in the church, all dressed in a nice white frock. He wasn't alone; there were 23 pure and dedicated young people. And just to make it extra special, the Bishop had made a special trip up the road for the occasion. Hat and red frock and everything real pukka.
The transitional children had prepared an exhibition on the transitional papacy, with some material on both the late Jean-Paul and the new Benoit. Candles were lit, the choir was well-drilled, and the young folks had been catechising for months and rehearsing the ceremony and their celebrational song at the end for weeks.
With the sun shining, the crowds began to gather, and before long there was standing room only in the church as syblings, parents, godparents, grandparents and other extended family squeezed in amongst the sometimes bewildered regulars to welcome these children into the adult world of the catholic church.
There are not many ways that we in the west still celebrate the rites of passage from child to adult. The church still does, even as its influence in its host cultures continues to decline. The families are quite adamant that their children will be baptised, confirmed, married and buried in the open arms of the church. Even if most of them have absolutely no idea of appropriate behaviour at such a ceremony.
I'm not religious. Good luck to those that are; anything in that line that helps us get through our lives is OK to me. Organised religion is not my thing.
There could have been a focus on these young people. There could have been some respect for the rite of passage that some significant adults in their lives were trying to celebrate with them. There could have been some awareness of the social context - simply that there were other people in the place. I wasn't expecting reverence, or devotion to the holy trinity.
But there were none of those things amongst 90% of those present. Adults and children talked freely throughout the service. Several times the elderly were denied the courtesy of a seat where they asked for it and had to move embraassingly (for those who had any awareness) further down the pews, looking for somewhere to sit. When the climax of the ceremony was past, (the first communion taken), the new young adults started to move to line up and face the congregation to sing to them, the number of people that were bolting for the exit was astounding.
These are young adults who have just made some effort to celebrate a rite of passage, to accept and recognise the traditional values of their society. I'm not naive enough to think they were all in it up to their hearts, but they were there, and they made the effort, they participated. And they and the service were treated with disdain, ignorance and neglect by their community.
What kind of impact did that have on them? Adolescence is not an easy time, but nor do we have to provoke disrespect by flaunting it. We do not have to encourage our young people to undervalue their communties by flagrantly and rudely undervaluing their positive efforts.