April 9, 2019

Rites of Passage: Letting Go & New Beginnings – Intensive Class Recap

Written by SKSM student Lisa Kynvi.

These two bookend Rites of Passage courses were brand new and much welcome offerings by Rev. Erika Hewitt, and nearly a fifth of the student body took the leap. In both courses we were guided by a consummate professional into the detailed intricacies of how to really minister to people as they traverse the most momentous times of their lives, and how to create beautiful, respectful, and meaningful rituals to mark these times.

In Letting Go we grappled with theodicy, our own relationship with mortality and death, and the complex family dynamics that often emerge at the death of a loved one. We examined every element of creating a funeral or memorial service, as well as rituals for other types of endings, such as divorces and miscarriages. Erika skillfully guided us through how to sit with family members and plan the service; how to write a sensitive and nuanced eulogy; and how to handle myriad complexities, such as when the person struggled with addiction or died by suicide. To me it felt like there was always room for our emotions, our varied spiritual beliefs, our intellectual curiosity, and our questions and challenges, as well as many moments of levity and connection.

New Beginnings was a deep dive into the world of weddings—the ceremonies themselves, as well as planning, pre-marital counseling, boundaries and ethics, contracts and entrepreneurial aspects, and more. We studied every element of the service, how to help couples write their own vows, and how to run a rehearsal. The level of detail Erika was able to offer us regarding the service itself was incredibly helpful: Where exactly to stand so the wedding photos are as beautiful as possible, how to manage a script and a microphone, how to craft a service for pairs who are SBNR (Spiritual But Not Religious) and whose families are deeply theist—all while holding the focus on really ministering to the couple—for many, teaching them for the first time what it’s like to have a minister. We also examined and designed rituals for other types of beginnings: a new home or job, being released from prison, or a new name/gender.

As with any well-designed, thoughtful, and challenging course offered by a highly skilled and experienced teacher, we learned so much more than just the subject matter. Erika gave us her remarkable energy and honest, engaged presence; her deep compassion and moral compass; her respectful boundaries and willingness to engage with our questions, challenges, and varying viewpoints.


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