Rites of passage

Jodie McNeill

As my children begin to approach the age where, at least biologically, they are becoming more like adults than children, the notion of a rite of passage comes to mind.

When I recalled my own experience, the closest I can remember to such a rite was the time that I first shaved my face. I remember this because my Dad came into the bathroom and proudly took a photo as a memento of the occasion.

As far as ritual was concerned, this was a little on the casual end of the scale compared to many other cultures.

In some ways, I’m quite pleased with this relatively-relaxed transition to adulthood, especially given the fact that the only thing cut by a sharp object was my facial hair, not another significant part of my male body.

However, in other ways, I would have liked to have a more-formal event signifying the fact that I had successfully traversed the painful and dangerous crossing from childhood to adulthood.

This notion of a rite of passage was vividly brought home to me last year when I had the privilege of chatting to a gentleman from Africa. He told me about how it is normal for men to take their boys away into the wilderness for a special week-long camp to mark the occasion (and to also painfully mark their bodies in the process).

For his culture, this was a normal part of life. Yet, his church sought to redeem this somewhat-pagan event by running similar camps for Christian men and their sons. This meant that they could have the same core outcome of signifying the event, without subscribing to the un-Christian rituals normally present.

When I had this conversation I wondered whether or not there might be something in this for us in Sydney, Australia. Would there be some benefit in us running week-long wilderness experiences for fathers and their pubescent sons? Could we provide a time to celebrate the transition from boy to man, whilst offering a powerful platform for encouragement from the Bible about what God considers to be true manhood?

I chatted about this yesterday with my colleague at Youthworks, Jarrod Booker, whose full-time ministry involves encouraging and supporting ministry to boys. He came to me with all sorts of great ideas about how we could possibily make this work.

I’d love to see this sort of thing come to fruition. I’d love to see how fathers and sons could spend a week celebrating manhood and hearing from God about what matters as a man.

Do you think it would work? What problems could you foresee? Would it work better as a wilderness experience with tents and pit toilets, or would it be more successful with mattresses and ensuites? Would a weekend be long enough or would a whole week be more beneficial? What age or school year would be best for the boys?

If it is true that Christian men need encouragement to lead their families and churches with courage and conviction, then certainly it would seem that this kind of camping activity would be a powerful tool in men’s and boy's ministry. Do you agree?

Jodie McNeill is the Executive Director of Youthworks Outdoors.