Keeping tradition alive

Published 7:00 pm Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Main Street Baptist offers baccalaureate service

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Everyone knows graduating high school is a time for parties and celebrating a big life accomplishment, but the members of Main Street Baptist Church are continuing the tradition of injecting a spiritual component into the festivities. 

This is the fifth year Main Street Baptist has invited local graduating seniors to its annual community ecumenical baccalaureate service, this year scheduled for June 2 at 6 p.m. and the public is welcome to attend.

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“Many still seek that spiritual insight,” said baccalaureate coordinator James Ford about the service. 

Ford said the service fits into the church’s emphasis on civic relations, community engagement, education and development. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

“What better way is there to execute these types of initiative goals than with our teens and young adults — the generations Y and Z — our future community leaders and statesmen?” said Ford.

This year’s service at Main Street features Elder Terrell Batten of Rising Star Baptist Church, music by the Smithfield High School band and choir, special litanies and prayers and a portion where different groups in the community — the elders, the students and the village, that is parents, families and friends — take turns speaking.

The whole service is conducted by the students, dressed in their caps and gowns.

“That is the fun part about it,” said Ford. 

Baccalaureate services used to be a regular part of the public school graduation ceremonies, but a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court decision basically ended the practice on school grounds. 

In Lee v. Weisman, the Court ruled against prayer at graduation ceremonies, a continuation of the 1962 decision that ruled against prayer in schools. 

A 1994 story in The Smithfield Times stated that the Smithfield Ministerial Association wanted to revive the service, and at the time it was thought that the last baccalaureate service held on school grounds was in 1989. 

Ford said he did not remember a baccalaureate service at Smithfield High School when he graduated in 1980, but by the time his children came along in the early 2000s, it was being held at Trinity United Methodist Church. 

Ford doesn’t know why that practice stopped. 

The baccalaureate service is believed to have originated at Oxford University in 1432 in England when each bachelor was required to deliver a sermon in Latin as part of his academic exercise. Since the earliest universities in this country were founded primarily to educate ministers, the British practice of the baccalaureate service was continued. {/mprestriction}