My grandson’s naming ceremony and teddy bears’ picnic took place in the family’s cottage garden beneath a willow tree. The joy of preparing for this special celebration with my daughter and her husband made me realise that many other young parents may like to explore such possibilities. This is a chapter from my yet unpublished book of Naming and Welcoming Ceremonies.

Recognising a sense of the divine in the natural world, Carrie and Brian have always felt most at peace while in the countryside, whether on horseback or walking the dogs.

The Family: The safe arrival of Adam Thomas was announced to the world via e-mail, with an image attached of mother and baby. When Adam was only a few hours old, the family returned home where he was introduced to the animals that would become an integral part of his life: dogs, Tara and Bramble and Billy, the horse.

Action Plan: With no formal links to a church and recollections of baptisms that were impersonal, Brian and Carrie wanted to celebrate the arrival of their son in a unique way. With their love of all things natural, they decided to hold the ceremony in their garden beneath the willow tree, where, if there is a God, he surely would abide. Carrie suggested that we create a celebration together and asked if I would officiate. Four Life Guardians were chosen for Adam, people whom they could trust and who held similar views on life as themselves. Contingency plans were made. If it rained, proceedings would take place beneath the shelter of the stable-yard.

 Invitations: Decorated with pictures of teddy-bears, the invitations were ordered on-line with matching, order of ceremony sheets picnic boxes and thank-you cards. Adults and children alike were asked to bring teddy bears and picnic rugs.

The Setting: The weeping-willow formed a temple where sunlight filtered through the leaves and wind-chimes tinkled in the gentle breeze. A rustic table was the focal point on which stood two bowls, one containing water the other earth and a goose feather. Beside them stood a posy of wild flowers and a lit candle. A lantern with a special candle bearing Adam’s initials stood ready to be lit during the ceremony. Friends and relations gathered as jaunty music played on CD and tall glasses of Primm’s were served with fruit juice for the children. Picnic rugs were spread in the shade of the willow tree with bales of straw covered with rugs for the less agile.

The Ceremony: Carrie welcomed everyone to Adam’s naming ceremony. She explained the reasons for their choice of occasion, and that at the end of the ceremony her father, John, would plant a special tree for Adam. She then introduced me, known to Adam as ‘Goatie,’ but from now on known as the ‘celebrant.’

I spoke about the privilege I felt at being invited to conduct my grandson’s naming ceremony and explain the significance of the willow tree. According to ancient custom it is a sacred tree, sometimes called a ‘moon tree,’ known for its healing qualities. Billy, the horse, intuitively knows that willow is an analgesic and that it eases his arthritis. The willow is also believed to have the power to make wishes come true. I invited everyone at the end of the ceremony to write their wishes for Adam on the strips of cotton fabric provided and tie them to the tree so that their wishes may be absorbed by the elements.

Celebrant: “Let us now invite into our midst, the elements that sustain life: earth, air, fire and water.”

“Today this beautiful tree offers us a magical temple of flickering light and shade, where God surely resides. Every life is a flame and can be seen in this candle which burns to remind us of loved ones who are unable to be present for whatever reason. Let us remember them as we focus on the flame and sing the hymn: ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ accompanied by James on guitar.”

“Let us remember that we are all a part of the great cycle of life, that birth and death as we understand them are but a part of a larger whole. No one is ever really born and nothing ever really dies and we are constantly being given opportunities to behold this Truth. The birth of this child is one such opportunity. Adam’s presence is a reminder to us all that there is more in heaven and earth than we can begin to imagine.”

Carrie lit a special candle for Adam while Brian held him. They both made their promises to their son:

“We promise to love you unconditionally,

To honour who you really are, a child of God.

To support you physically, emotionally and spiritually,

To be there whenever you need us,

To listen to you and respect you,

To cherish and guide you,

To teach you respect for others and for the beautiful world in which we live.”

Celebrant: “Carrie and Brian have asked four very special people to be life guardians to Adam. The purpose of this role is to love and support him, with a particular emphasis on the life-skills that have been gifted to them. Nick has been invited to be Adam’s guardian of creativity, Zoe, his guardian of spirituality, Janette, his guardian of wisdom and Graham, his guardian of male youth.”

I called upon each Life Guardian in turn to step forward and explain how they feel able to support Adam?

Saying: “Let us join together in blessing Carrie and Brian and Adam’s Life Guardians, that they may accept what cannot be changed and that remembering their own youth, may they honour and encourage independence of thought and action.

“Carrie and Brian, what names have you chosen for your son?”

 They replied: “Adam Thomas.”

“It is with joy in our hearts that we name this child Adam Thomas. In the presence of God and all the generations that have come before you, we welcome you, Adam Thomas, into our world, our family, our circle of friends and the wider community. The meaning of the name, Adam, is ‘first man’ and Thomas is the name of your great grandfather. We make way for your gifts and honour you as a unique being.”

“We now give thanks to the elements that sustain life: earth, air, fire and water. Adam, we bless you with these earthly elements.”

Lifting a handful of earth before Adam, I said: “Earth is the ground beneath our feet into which seeds are planted to grow into the crops that nourish all living creatures. With earth we bless you.”

I stroked Adam’s face with a feather saying: “The element of air carries with it the sound of laughter, the crowing of a cock at dawn, brings sweet music to our ears and the perfume of flowers brings fragrance to our noses. The oxygen that we breathe gives us life. With air, we bless you.”

Holding the burning candle aloft I said: “Fire is the Sun that brings with it warmth, fuel that heats our homes and that cooks our meals. We remember too, the fire of the emotions: anger, passion and love. With fire, we bless you.”

Raising the bowl of water I said: “Water is the source and sustenance of all life. It represents birth, growth and cleansing. Water fills our vast oceans, nourishes the food we eat and is the essence of our tears of joy and sadness.”

 I dipped my fingers into the water and touch the crown of Adam’s head saying:

“With this blessed water from the White Spring in Glastonbury, which is as clear as your spirit, my child we bless you.”

“Adam Thomas Cort, we welcome you into our hearts, our homes, our lives and our world.”

Janette, Adam’s aunt, and cousin Juliet read together, on his behalf, a poem called ‘If I Were a Butterfly’ as cousin, Katie, performed the actions.

Everybody joined together to sing ‘Morning Has Broken.’

I thanked the elements for their presence and read the final blessing:

“Adam, may you always have a rainbow of smiles on your face and in your heart forever and ever.”

Grandfather John, prepared to plant the special tree for Adam. Speaking about the importance of trees in our lives, he said: “Since the beginning of time we have lived alongside trees and could not exist without them. The mountain ash can be recognised by its feathery compound leaf and the bright red berries that are enjoyed by birds and wildlife. The wood is used for tool handles, divining rods, magical wands and walking sticks.”

John set the tree into the prepared soil saying: “I plant this tree for my grandson, Adam.”  He then watered the tree with the remaining spring water.

 Carrie thanked people for coming and as ‘The Teddy Bears’ Picnic’ played on CD, everyone prepared for a picnic.

Refreshments: Champagne was served and picnic boxes distributed, which contain a selection of all the things children like best, plus teddy-shaped biscuits, fruit and a packet of wipes.

 Entertainment: James wandered among the picnickers, as they sang along with him. A bear hunt took place, which was followed by games.

Reflections: Despite their initial anxiety Carrie and Brian were delighted when so many people complimented them on hosting such a creative occasion that reflected their lives and beliefs. Holding the ceremony at home, provided a warm, friendly and relaxed atmosphere.

Gifts: For their baptism/naming presents I gave each of my three grandchildren gifts of livestock, purchased through the charity ‘Send a Cow.’ The animals and their produce will continue to benefit less fortunate families in underdeveloped countries. My eldest granddaughter received a pair of goats, which is how I came to be named ‘Goatie.’

 Notes: I acknowledge and thank two friends, who allowed me to draw on their inspiration for this ceremony: OneSpirit ministers, Revd. Jane Bellinger, West Sussex and Revd. Jacqueline Clark, Somerset, England: www.the-tree-of-life.me