NWC churches finding new ways to celebrate graduates during pandemic

Rites of passage are critical in an adolescent’s life. They help students and their families mark the transition from childhood into adulthood. In our culture, the high school graduation ceremony is one of the most important rites of passage.

Here’s how several Northwest Conference churches are honoring this big moment in the lives of their high school seniors.

Bemidji Covenant has 20 students graduating from high school this spring.

“I’ve made lawn signs with their senior photo and name, plus a gift bag containing ‘Starting Now’ (a devotional for the first six weeks of college), an 18+ phase guide for their parents, blessings written by me and their small group leaders, and lots of fun stuff like confetti, silly string and Swedish fish candy that is attached to memories of youth group,” said Youth Pastor Sarah Holt. “We also have a senior video we’ll show on our YouTube channel and for Sunday church online.”

Alexandria Covenant has 32 students graduating from seven different schools. Brian Farka, Pastor of Student Ministry, explained the church will be hosting its celebration right before the high school’s online graduation so students can get home to watch the live stream later that evening.

“We are planning to have people in cars in the parking lot to cheer and honk. They will get a grad brochure with pictures and grad info. The graduates will drive up, get out of their cars for a gift and to wave,” Farka said. “I’ll announce each grad over loudspeaker and possibly FM broadcast. They will then drive away and we’ll repeat for the next one.”

Amy DuFrene, the Christian Formation pastor at Oak Heights Covenant in Hutchinson, MN, is also utilizing the church parking lot to gather.

“We are going to do a drive-in/drive-by tailgate type graduation Sunday,” she explained. “We’ll have each graduate decorate their car, hand out cake from the kitchen and have families drive to each station.”

Smaller groups allow for a different kind of celebration.

“With four students we will have them show up for Friday night worship taping. And, with safe distancing under 10, present our fun/crazy gift baskets and this year’s grad parade pictures,” explained Pastor Craig Johnson of Mahtowa Covenant. “We are trying to go the extra mile this year with our amazing seniors.”

Some ministries are creating videos featuring the seniors. Nathan Nelson, Associate Pastor of Youth at Mission Covenant in Poplar, WI, created a senior slideshow as part of their Sunday worship service. He included a bio of each student and a flier for everyone to have.

Matt Christiansen, the Youth Director at New London Covenant Church, is combining video with a small, live gathering.

“I recorded Zoom interviews with our seniors and am having a student compile them into a video that we’ll put up on our church website and social media for the church family to see,” he said. “It’s taking the place of them getting up in front of church and sharing their future plans. And we’ll have a small in-person Senior Night around a fire with affirmations pre-submitted by underclassmen.”

Alicia Vela Anderson, Pastor of Youth and Young Adults at Roseville Covenant, adds a personal touch to the celebration.

“Every year I buy books for the graduating seniors based off where they are at spiritually, and I present them and interview them in a service,” she said. “So, this year I’m delivering their books along with letters from their leaders/Sunday School teachers and we’ll record a Zoom call to add to our Sunday Worship service.”

Whether you are graduating from high school, or perhaps college or graduate school, or maybe eighth grade or kindergarten, the Northwest Conference staff celebrates this rite of passage with you and prays for God’s blessing on your future.