Tonight I watched a friend of mine be called to the bar. He became a barrister. The ceremony had touching moments and was held in the perfect setting, the Temple Church in the Temple in London. If you've read the Da Vinci Code, you will know of this church and its associations with the (murky) Knights Templar--their effigies lie in state--and the Holy Grail and so forth.
The novices lined up down the aisle of the church and when it was their turn the reader at his lectern would announce the name of the barrister, their degrees obtained, and the name of the sponsor. The senior official calling the barristers was the treasurer of Inner Temple, one of the four Inns of Court. Each would walk to the treasurer and bow while the sponsor moved to call the barrister. The new barrister would then bow to the treasurer once more and turn and bow to the sponsor. The treasurer then made a few comments about being a barrister--in turns serious and humerous. One could tell that all those participating and those watching, the parents and friends, came away satisfied. Something happened, but what? In mundane terms the candidates received certificates with fancy scrolling on them. However, it was a rite of passage. One of the attributes of a rite of passage is that the participants actually want to go through it despite the fact it might be harmful or painful. It signifies to the wider community that you have earned your status; it wasn't just handed to you. I don't think becoming a barrister was painful, but the novices tonight did dress in funny clothes--suits, gowns, wing collars and white bands. Every one else more or less wore normal clothes. However, it did remind me that when I dined at an Oxford college recently, I had to wear a gown while sitting at high table. Nevertheless, these barristers wanted to be barristers so badly that they were prepared to dress strangely and perform odd movements in public. We, the audience, accepted it as natural, no matter how remote it was from our own experiences.
It was all so different when I accompanied a friend to her bar admission in Chicago, Illinois some years ago. Standing in the balcony of a downtown theatre several hundred people raised their hands and swore fealty. That was about it. All very mechanical, no intimacy, merely a necessary step to becoming a lawyer. All the more wonder it wasn't just done online with a digital signature.
My friend tonight joined a tribe. He will be loyal and he will enjoy some support from it, but I don't want to over-egg this pudding. He knows where he belongs. I wish him well.