Graduate tradition in trouble

A 13-year tradition of ending high school careers with a prayer is in jeopardy in Richmond County.


Each year, churches have come together to rent James Brown Arena for a baccalaureate service around graduation time. But for the past few years, Trinity-on-the-Hill United Methodist Church has shouldered the financial burden of sponsoring the community-wide interfaith service.

The annual event could end this year because of downturns in the economy and drops in church collections, Outreach and Missions Pastor Scott Parrish said Wednesday.

"I guess like everybody even churches are struggling. We base all of our ministries on what people can give," the Rev. Parrish said. "My fear is that if we don't quickly come up with co-sponsors, this great community event will die."

The church needs $7,000 to hold baccalaureate services, he said. The cost goes to renting the arena, printing bulletins and other costs. The event attracts about 5,000 students, family members and members of the community from all 10 Richmond County high schools.

"It really is a unique opportunity to gather the community," the Rev. Parrish said.

Anticipating a budget shortfall, he said, Trinity is reaching out to the school system and other churches for assistance.

"I think this is an opportunity to establish a broader partnership again," the pastor said. "It's a special tradition we'd like to keep alive."

Louis Svehla, the school system's director of public information, said efforts are being made to find a way to continue the tradition.

"It truly is an economy story. It's not a story about people not wanting to give," Mr. Svehla said. "As the economy goes down, people aren't giving as much."

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or


The Rev. Scott Parrish said donations to support the baccalaureate program can be made by giving to Trinity-on-the-Hill United Methodist Church and designating the gift for the program. For more information, call the church at (706) 738-8822.