by Mike Durbin
KINGSLEY, MI – Graduation is a special time for high school seniors. All kinds of events surround this rite of passage - senior pictures, prom, special academic and sporting recognitions and that long awaited moment when the students walk across the stage to receive their diplomas. COVID-19 threatened to take all these special moments away from graduating students this year.
One Michigan church worked with the local school and community to make a “graduation” ceremony possible. Pastor Nathan Norman of the Orchard Church in Kingsley tells how he got a call out of the blue one day from the local school superintendent. Many schools in the area were planning drive through graduations or satellite graduations, but the Kingsley school superintendent wanted a physical graduation, and he had a creative idea of how they could do it.
The school had a long history of optional Baccalaureate Services for graduating Seniors. The idea he presented was simple -”If the Orchard Church could sponsor the service, they could also use it to pass out diplomas.” It would be a joint “baccalaureate graduation” event recognizing this significant milestone in the lives of the students.
Pastor Nathan immediately responded, “Yes, the answer is yes. We will sponsor it,” and the planning began. “It actually turned into weeks and weeks and weeks of work. I would go to all the Board meetings.” There were lots of discussions about how they could safely conduct the event. With a smile across his face, Pastor Nathan says, “It finally paid off. We were able to get the Board’s approval, the community’s tacit approval, and the church was fully on board.”
There were lots of logistics to work out. The service had to be limited to parents and step-parents of the students. Everyone had to stay 6 feet apart from each other and wear a mask. People would be asked medical questions to make sure no one was infected, and the service had to be conducted outside.
One member of the church, Sharon Greer, told Pastor Nathan,”You know it is traditional to give Bibles away for Baccalaureate.” He had no idea how they were going to make that work with all the safety precautions that had to be in place. Working with the principal, they decided to put the Bible’s in a gift bag. Pastor Nathan, the Superintendent, and the Principal all thought that they were going to be the small Gideon Bibles, but Sharon had other plans. She contacted LifeWay and was able to purchase the Brown Leather Touch Christian Standard Bible at an incredible price to give to all the graduates.
At the graduation, the Superintendent approached Pastor Nathan and said, “Those were incredibly generous Bibles.” The Principal said, “I can’t believe how nice those Bibles are.” The next day at church, one of the members who works for the head of the Board of Education quoted her boss as saying, “Those Bibles are nicer than any Bible that any person has ever given to me.” Pastor Nathan is making sure that he gets one of those Bibles.
The phone call Pastor Nathan received from the Superintendent wasn’t really, “out of the blue.” It happened because the Orchard Church had spent years serving the community and the Kingsley schools. They had relationships with teachers, with board members, and with leaders in the community. It was decades in the making as they served the mission field around them. They built relationships slowly. There have been a number of times the school has called the church with a need and our answer has always been, “Yes. We will always say yes.” Those “yeses” to needs built trust.
Pastor Nathan says, “It was incredible to see the students lining up, socially distant in masks, and excited to be able to physically graduate. That moment made all the hours and hours of labor worth it.”
During the Baccalaureate/Graduation service, Pastor Nathan was able to read scripture and share with them the hope of the Gospel.
Congratulations to Kingsley graduates of 2020, and to the families, the school board, principal, superintendent, community, and church that worked together to honor these students and their achievements.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mike Durbin is the State Evangelism Director for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Before joining the state convention staff, Mike served as Church Planting Catalyst and Director of Missions in Metro Detroit since 2007. He also has served as a pastor and bi-vocational pastor in Michigan, as well as International Missionary to Brazil.