Rites of Passage Solidify Your Identity in Christ

As I Was Saying

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As I was growing up, some of the life events that helped to solidify my identity as a young person entering adulthood were experiences such as getting my driver’s license, getting my first job, and driving to work with my first car.

I come from what is now known as the Sixties Scoop generation. As an Indigenous person who was adopted into a white family and then connected with my birth family and community later on in life, I’ve learned some important lessons. Those lessons are connected with solidifying a person’s cultural, personal, and spiritual identity through rites of passage—life events that help us claim and remember who we are in various aspects of life. These life events help us move forward in growth and maturity within the kingdom of God. It took me years to realize my identity, not only as a young person, but also as an Indigenous person and contributing member of society.

Traditionally, my Indigenous ancestors had rites of passage that helped a young person claim their identity. When a young person received their Indigenous name, through a ceremony, it solidified who they were deep inside and the place they held within their tribe. Historically, other rites of passage included when a man became a hunter and made his first kill or when a girl became a woman and was now able to have children. A person’s cultural background will determine what rites of passage their cultural group had in the past or still has. These rites of passage, no matter what your ethnic background is, definitely helps to solidify your identity from a young age. Yet there are many young people today, within the Indigenous community and without, that struggle with knowing who they are and being at peace with their identity.   

Identity and the Church

When I look at the local church, I also have seen certain spiritual rites of passage. We don’t call them rites of passage, but there is always some sort of ceremony involved, and they always mark a vital part of a person's spiritual journey. When our pastors are solidifying their position in the local church community, they get ordained, which is a type of rite of passage as a spiritual leader. When a couple gets married, they are declaring before all those as witnesses that the two people have become one and will be faithful to each other and support each other. When a person dies, we have funerals or memorial services to acknowledge and celebrate that person’s life and whatever accomplishments they might have had. It also marks their entrance into the direct presence of God by entering heaven. These are spiritual markers or rites of passage in a believer’s life.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here,” declares 2 Corinthians 5:17. As believers in Christ, we spend our entire lives living out this new identity as Christ followers. We spend our entire lives living out this new identity. Sometimes we do a great job of this, and other times we fall away and have to start again. Your upbringing, what you have endured in life, what part of the world you are originally from, and what choices you have made will determine how this identity is lived out. Our young people need to experience and have certain rites of passage acknowledged by their families and communities in order to discover early on who they are.

As I have been coming to the final year in my doctoral studies, I’ve noticed more and more that my fellow Indigenous people have endured a cultural identity crisis for a variety of reasons. It’s too great of a task to explain how the history of Canada has had a negative impact on my people, but my point is to say that many Indigenous people have suffered an identity crisis. For most Indigenous people, the negative effects that lead to this outcome started at a young age and progressed as they grew older. It is a known fact that Indigenous youth are the most at-risk younger population—the most at risk for addictions and suicide 

When a person is publicly acknowledged as they enter various stages of life, it reminds that person who they truly are and meant to be in life. Someone from a matriarchal tribal society will tend to see the importance of the role of women in society as leaders. Someone from a hereditary tribal group, where chiefs are given their positions in their community by the family they were born into, will be more likely to live out their life as a leader. Why? Because they know they have been born with this responsibility. A young man who was acknowledged when he had his first kill as a hunter would be more likely to live out his potential as a hunter for his family and community.

The more rites of passage that are acknowledged publicly in a young person’s life, and as they grow older, the more likely they will live out who they are meant to be. If we learn to celebrate the accomplishments of the people around us, we would be doing a great service to them, their identity, and the quality of our communities. Someone who grows up having their faith and roles in life celebrated in public will only grow in confidence and security. If someone in our church community gets a new job, graduates from some sort of post-secondary education, or starts a new volunteer position in our church, we should publicly acknowledge these markers and rites of passage.

We do this so that we can give that person the best chance of claiming and solidifying their identity as new-creation Christ followers. This solidifies their roles in personal life, family life, the workplace, and in their church communities. Then all this confidence in their identity will overflow into the community at large and start to manifest the kingdom of God more clearly and vibrantly for all to benefit from. Then young people, no matter their ethnic background, will feel more secure with their personal and corporate identity.

About the Author

Parry Stelter is originally from Alexander First Nation that is part of Treaty Six Territory. He is a doctoral candidate in contextual leadership with Providence University and Seminary who offers workshops on grief, loss, and intergenerational trauma. He is a member of Hope CRC in Stony Plain, Alta. His website is wordofhopeministries.ca.

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Thank you Parry for your insight, study, and wonderful article! 

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