Rite of Passage

[I get lots of questions about leading rites of passage experiences for young people. This is an article I wrote for the Journal of Student Ministries (now Immerse Journal) about a rite of passage I helped facilitate along with Nancy Wiens , who is the Director and Co-Founder of the Center for Nature and Christian Spirituality

“Mark, are you awake?  It’s time.”

Unzipping the door to my tent, I looked out across the pre-dawn sky at the dark shoulders of the Mendocino Mountains.  I quickly dressed and joined Nancy and Lori by the truck bed where we kept our food. Nancypulled the coffee kettle off the camp stove and poured me a cup. The three of us looked quietly across the moonless sky.  Somewhere out within the early morning darkness, seven high school students were each loading their packs, preparing to begin their trek back to the base camp.  Three days earlier they had left as kids, but this morning they would return as men and women.

It started with an injustice.  One night at a December youth group gathering a group of ten seniors from our high school ministry announced they couldn’t commit to our summer mission trip.  These kids were at the heart of our ministry and we were crestfallen to hear they were going to miss our annual trip.  After a little investigation we discovered the story behind their decision.

At the end of each school year a local travel agency would meet with the junior class to propose ideas for a celebratory “graduation” trip the following summer.  The agency offered a package deal that included chartered airfare, lodging, and meals at a Mexican resort.  In the agency’s presentation, they mentioned there would be no adult chaperones and emphasized that the alcohol policy in Mexico would be very lenient.  For the past ten years each junior class had voted to do the package trip.  It was now considered a tradition among high school students. Read More

Initiation: Reprinted from Immerse Journal

Immerse Journal just published (in their November/December issue) my tale of my sons’ initiation into adolescence.  Here’s the story below:


On the occasion of my son Noah’s thirteenth birthday, seven men (uncles, family friends, the lone grandfather) gathered to accompany him through his passage from childhood into adolescence.  It was the last Saturday of November and we’d begun the day in our living room within a wide circle of extended family.  After prayers, blessings, and hugs, the men and Noah left the others and drove thirty miles up into the Siskiyou and Cascade mountain ranges that collide along the Oregon-California state border. While the men unpacked, Frank, an old family friend, accompanied Noah to the highest mountain peak within the Greenspring wilderness.  They followed deer trails and logging roads while mulling Noah’s hopes and fears about entering his teenage years.  When they reached the summit, the autumn sun was an orange poppy, wilting across waves of firs, pines, and rusted oak trees.  They paused to take in the descending sky, then Frank embraced my boy, handed him a journal full of soul-searching questions, and spoke the final instructions, “When night falls and the stars begin to shine, look for a fire, then make your way.  We’ll be waiting.” Read More