Church and state came together in an uncommon fellowship Sunday.
Recent graduates of 10 high schools took part in the 10th annual Richmond County Baccalaureate Service, sponsored by a group of churches.
"In 1992, the Supreme Court prohibited board of education baccalaureate services," the Rev. Stephen Dodson, the senior pastor of Trinity-on-the-Hill United Methodist Church, said in his introductory remarks. "But the churches of Columbia and Richmond counties feel very strongly that it is important to recognize and symbolize the right of passage for these graduates through this service."
Blocks of color in the lower section of the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center, where the event was held, represented the various schools' robe and stole combinations.
The students who took part marched in a procession followed by a presentation of colors by the Academy of Richmond County's Air Force ROTC.
The afternoon's keynote speaker, the Rev. Clyde Hill, of Mount Calvary Baptist Church, told the members of the Class of 2004 to follow in Jesus' footsteps.
The pastor spelled out four ways that they could be like the Son of God: apply themselves, believe in themselves, have discipline and dream.
"I have confidence in you. I believe that you can do it. I believe that you can fly," the Rev. Hill told the graduates. "I charge you to rise to the challenge, and you will make a difference in today's world."
He advised the young people to look to God and pray when they encounter difficulties.
"I think the control factor came into play with him praying," the Rev. Hill said of Christ. "That's because prayer changes things, and not only that - prayer changes people."
He also emphasized the need to have personal goals, rather than trying to fulfill others' dreams. The Rev. Hill advised the members of the graduating class to ask themselves what they wanted to do with their lives.
"Then ask what price tag you're willing to pay in terms of preparation and perspiration," he said.
Throughout the baccalaureate service, the Richmond County All-County Chorus led the crowd in song.
Several students also took turns reading from the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.
In response to the Rev. Hill's message, Lissette Claudio, a graduate of A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering High School, said, "We will carry these words with us in all of our future endeavors and achievements."
Reach Dena Levitz at (706) 823-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.