For the first time since 1992, religion will be a part of graduation in Moffat County.
To local religious leaders, graduation is a time when spiritual encouragement helps the transition from an old life into a new life. A baccalaureate service is a time to bless those completing this stage of their lives and wish them a successful life, according to Rev. Elizabeth Purdum of the Church of Grace in Craig.
Until 1992, high school seniors listened to a sermon during graduation ceremonies. After the United States Supreme Court ruled to cease religions activities in public schools, most discontinued this practice. The Supreme Court determined organized prayers at public school graduation ceremonies are unconstitutional even if the prayers are voluntary and non-denominational. The ruling was that baccalaureate services may include prayer as long as they are privately led and not part of the official graduation ceremony.
Over the past seven years, some schools dropped the baccalaureate service altogether while others chose to hold services elsewhere. In Moffat County, the service was just discontinued.
This year, the Ministerial Alliance has decided to offer the baccalaureate service to graduating seniors.
Performing the service has been discussed by religious leaders in past years. According to Purdum, the alliance found unity and strength this year and was able to organize a baccalaureate. The service will be from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. May 24 in the Moffat County High School Auditorium.
"Graduation is a rite of passage. It is a time of new freedoms are coupled with new responsibilities. The baccalaureate service is a gift from the church community to the youth," Purdum said.
Graduation marks new physical, emotional and spiritual responsibilities, she said. Ceremonies without the baccalaureate service show physical and emotional changes but neglect the spiritual side.
"At graduation, every emotion is called forth, from laughter to tears of happiness and sorrow," Purdum said. "It is a time when the human spirit is deeply moved."
The service is not just for religious students but for anyone who believes in the human spirit, Purdum said. "When the courts ruled that all religious activities in public school functions had to cease, it also ended any public acknowledgment of human spirituality."
First Baptist Church Youth Minister Justin Jensen works with students to help spread the message of the baccalaureate service.
According to Purdum, the service consists of two parts sermon-meditation and a blessing. She relates the blessing to a historical aspect, as families would gather together and bless the family member who was leaving the home. Then, as graduation does now, the event marked the end of childhood.
Moffat County High School Principal Joel Sheridan believes the baccalaureate service offers another graduation opportunity for students wishing to attend. The service will be held in the Moffat County High School Auditorium.
The service is something that the Ministerial Alliance, which consists of different views of faith, can completely agree on.
"This is something we all share," Purdum said.
The service will last approximately 30 minutes with a reception, sponsored by Craig churches, following. Rev. Beryl Wright of First Christian Church in Craig will be the guest speaker.
The service is open "to all who wish to show support of the graduates and to once again claim the spiritual side of this important life event," Purdum said.