Community Baccalaureate Service

February 28th, 2013
This article is featured in the Outreach 2013 (Nov/Dec/Jan 2012-13) issue of Circuit Rider

One of the ways that local churches can be in ministry with their community is to be aware of the transitions that others are experiencing. One of those “endings” my local church had already been marking was the yearly graduation of our high school seniors. Not only is this a significant event for teenagers in our community, but also for their parents and grandparents and teachers.

In 1998, our community ministerial alliance began a baccalaureate service, held on an evening the week before students of our local high school graduated. While not a school-sponsored event, it was a chance for the churches in our community to celebrate our graduates and to give thanks for all they had learned.

It has been a joy to participate in this service during the five years I have been serving in Marengo, Iowa, and an honor to share a glimpse into how we have made this service work.


About two months before graduation, the pastors and/or education ministers from each church gather together to begin preparations. Our first task is to determine a host church for the event—which rotates every year—and then to select a speaker. Our baccalaureate speakers have ranged from folks we brought in and paid a small honorarium, to recent graduates, to pastors from the churches in our community. This last option is the most affordable and also helps ensure that the person speaking is a key player in the planning process.


The next step is to get a list of graduates and their addresses. We have found that the secretary at the high school can pass along the information we need. While the separation of church and state might be an issue in some places, our school was willing to work with us, knowing that attendance was not mandatory nor would it occur on school property.

One church (typically one who is not hosting the event) takes the responsibility for printing and mailing invitations to each senior and his or her family. For the class of 2012, our invitations read:

We are very excited that you are graduating this spring from Iowa Valley High School and we want to celebrate this important moment with you.

Each year, the Ministerial Alliance hosts a Baccalaureate Service. This big fancy word basically means that we are having a worship service in celebration of YOUR graduation and in thanksgiving for lives dedicated to learning.

This year, our service will be held on Wednesday, May 16th at 7:00pm. It will be at the First United Methodist Church, 895 Court Ave. You and your entire family are invited to attend and be a part of the celebration as well as stay afterwards for refreshments.

As a graduating senior, you are invited to arrive no later than 6:45 pm. The senior class will meet in the Fellowship Hall at the church and will all enter the worship space together. This is your big day and we want to honor you in the process!

We hope to see you there!

Invitations are also sent to each faculty and administration member, as well as all of the members of our school board. Our high school secretary helped us distribute these invitations in the teacher mailboxes at school. Depending on the number of students your local school is graduating, the costs involved include stamps, envelopes, paper, and of course, time.

If your church is located in an area with many local high schools, you may need to publicize the event differently—through posters or flyers, or word-of-mouth via the high schoolers from each participating church.


The next task is to plan the actual worship service. Based on the direction and scripture our speaker chooses, our worship follows a fairly simple format:

  • A time of gathering and prelude music while family and friends are seated and the graduates gather.
  • Processional hymn/music and entrance of the graduating class
  • An opening prayer
  • Scriptures and special music
  • The baccalaureate message
  • Recognition of the class that is graduating and (if possible) the reading of their names
  • A prayer for the graduates
  • A closing hymn
  • A “charge” to the class and a benediction for all who have gathered
  • Postlude and transition to the reception

We try to include as many different churches as possible in the leadership of the service—from the reading of prayers and scripture to the offering of music. Our goal is to make the service meaningful and yet also be sensitive to those who are unchurched. The cooperation of many different styles of worshiping communities often helps us to find the right balance.


Once the service is planned, the major responsibility falls to the host church. The week before the service, bulletins are printed and folded. On the day of the service, ushers are needed to direct guests to the sanctuary and hand out programs. Volunteers from the host church also donate desserts and staff a reception following the service. This past year, my congregation hosted the event and provided juice, coffee, and home-baked cookies for the reception.


A unique aspect of our community’s baccalaureate service is that we also present two awards following the recognition of the graduating class. One is a scholarship of $400 that goes to the graduating senior whose life best exemplifies Christ. The student is chosen based on nominations from the pastors in the ministerial alliance. The second award is a gift of $100 to the faculty, staff, or administration member whose life best exemplifies Christ. All are welcome to make nominations for this award and the recipient is chosen by the ministerial alliance. It has been a powerful way to recognize the witness of students in our community and to encourage and support teachers who share their faith in their whole lives. The funds for the two awards are donated throughout the year by the member churches of the ministerial alliance.

In five years, has anyone joined one of our churches because of baccalaureate? Probably not. Have they changed their faith commitment to Jesus because of baccalaureate? Maybe, but there are no great testimonies I have heard. What we have done is simply be present with members of our community during a significant moment in their lives. We have celebrated with them, given thanks to God for them, and have sent them on with blessings and encouragement. We are planting seeds and now each of the students who have passed through our doors knows that not only do we care about them, but God does too.

comments powered by Disqus