Congregation conducts a rite of passage Youths are affirmed, blessed, encouraged


DURHAM, N.C. -- St. Philip's is the type of church where worshipers expect something historic to happen. A narrow, Neo-Gothic sanctuary with lustrous stained glass windows, hard wood pews and outsized stone columns, it's the perfect setting for the proper Episcopal parish.

It is here that "Rite 13: A Celebration of the Gift and Challenge of Womanhood and Manhood" has taken place several times. On a warm spring morning, the knowledge of another occasion stirs the sultry air with anticipation.

Conducted between the sermon and Communion, Rite 13 -- which requires two years of preparation -- is celebrated in just six minutes. For the five 13-year-olds whose passage to womanhood and manhood is being marked, each second is rich.

To begin the rite, the Rev. C. Thomas Midyette calls forward the five young people, their families and friends. The celebrants and their families gather on one side of the altar with friends facing them. The priest, standing in the middle, asks the young people if they understand God's gifts of creation and the power to shape the world.

In response, the teen-agers recite passages from the Psalms affirming their dependence on God and the hope that they can be righteous.

The priest calls on the parents to rejoice with their children and to support their journey to adulthood. He turns to their friends, with whom the five now stand, and asks if they will encourage and strengthen them.

Finally, he invites the congregation to share their knowledge with the five. After friends, families and congregation have been charged with their responsibilities, the five kneel for a blessing.

"You have been armed by Almighty God with both the strength of childhood and the creative power of manhood and womanhood; now you must journey forth to gain the skills you will need to assume responsibility as adults," he says.

"May Almighty God fill you with courage, wisdom and joy; may Jesus Christ, your strong companion and never-failing friend, make you strong in faith and love, and defend you on every side; and may the Holy Spirit guide you in truth and peace. Amen."

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