A definition of baccalaureate is “a sermon to a graduation class or a service before graduation at which a sermon is delivered”. Today some schools call it a “Day of Remembrance” instead, to avoid any religious connotations and instead of sermon there is a speech and some music.
Baccalaureate used to be held the week before graduation at schools near the end of the school year. Do these go together: God, baccalaureate, graduation, blessings, prayer, and praise to God for completed accomplishments? For many years, schools had a baccalaureate service at the schools, as well as a graduation ceremony to celebrate the completion of the senior year of high school. Then the Civil Liberties Union challenged whether religious programs could be held in public schools, and whether there could be prayer in public schools. Threats were made and ball teams felt they were forced to quit having a prayer time before ball games; schools felt they had to discontinue baccalaureate services as a blessing on goals reached, completing the task of graduating. Such services were moved out of schools and/or became voluntary. Maple Grove had many people involved in Mapleton Schools as students, teachers, school board members, bus drivers, etc. Do we just drop anything religious? Such as Baccalaureate? – as many schools did? An idea was put forth and an offer made to hold it at Maple Grove.
Near this time Maple Grove Pastor John Ballinger had involvement with Mapleton through his children attending there and through their need for a temporary chemistry teacher during a time of illness for the regular teacher. Because of John’s chemistry background from his training in pharmacy, the principal asked if John could help for a while as there seemed to be no one knowledgeable in that area available. From John’s memories, “When I approached the high school principal about the subject (in 1996, I think), he told me that Mapleton used to have Baccalaureate Services, but then had not held one for about 15 years. He didn’t say why. That’s when Maple Grove got involved …... We volunteered to host it, and the school accepted the offer. One year we did hold the service in the high school gym (before the 2006 school construction project), but afterward folks said they preferred holding the service in a church setting. So that is where it has remained.”
Maple Grove Church already had a nice sanctuary and a basement fellowship hall. It was considering some major remodeling plans to make it more handicapped accessible which eventually involved razing our old building and adding on a new fellowship hall, classrooms and an office making it mostly on the same level. (Completed in 2004-5) The Ohio Dept. of Education was encouraging schools not to be used for any religious-oriented gatherings. And like the “good Brethren” we strive to be: we offered our buildings AND refreshments (chips, crackers, cheese balls, cookies, brownies, cake, punch, etc.) after the service was over for a time for congratulating the graduating seniors and their families. The students planned their service; the church offered the space and the added the joy of any teenager: food and fellowship with family and friends. This has worked very effectively over many years now. And as it continues, it is a blessing to the students, parents and to the community. In 2016 the attendance for the Thursday evening baccalaureate at Maple Grove was around 220. Each family with a grad received a letter inviting them from Pastor John (i.e. the church). Thanks for this extra effort from our interim pastor, John Ballinger.
When the old schools needed to be razed after the new ones were built and Polk, Nova (Ruggles-Troy), and Nankin no longer had auditoriums/gymnasiums to use for meetings and gatherings in the “old” school houses, one gentleman observed, “Maple Grove Church is becoming our location for Polk, Ruggles-Troy, Nova, and Ruggles School reunions, and other meaningful school gatherings. Thank you.” I think this is something God considers a good use of his “house”.
Remembrances such as our history blogs bring us, help us remember our history and our heritage. They will help us accomplish what God wanted the children of Israel to teach their children in the Deuteronomy passage.
Scripture: Deuteronomy 6:20-25 (New Living Translation, italics from Pastor John) highlights the importance of telling our “faith story” to our children. It reads, 20”In the future your children will ask you, ‘What is the meaning of these laws, decrees, and regulations that the Lord our God has commanded us to obey?’ 21 Then you must tell them, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with his strong hand. 22 The Lord did miraculous signs and wonders before our eyes, dealing terrifying blows against Egypt and Pharaoh and all his people. 23 He brought us out of Egypt so he could give us this land he had sworn to give our ancestors. 24 And the Lord our God commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear him so he can continue to bless us and preserve our lives, as he has done to this day. 25 For we will be counted as righteous when we obey all the commands the Lord our God has given us.’”
Prayer: Lord God, bless every person who enters the doors of Maple Grove Church. Help them to feel your peaceful presence, your active indwelling Spirit, and your love. Amen