July 16 • 06:51 PM

Spiritual send off for seniors

Almont community's churches work together for memorable service

Almont’s spiritual community banded together to give graduating seniors a blessed send off. Pictured are (back) Martha McCarthy of Life Ministries, Pastor Brad Standfest of Almont Vineyard Church, Senior Pastor Mark Melillo of First Congregational Church, Jeff Hossler of Orchards Community Church, (front) guest speaker Josh Finklea of Star Outreach and Pastor Keith Langley of First Congregational Church. photo by Catherine Brakefield.

June 18, 2008
It's amazing what can happen when people band together to encourage the power of youth—especially those who are to be the world's future leaders. Almont High School's baccalaureate services earlier this month were one such example, when the Christian community of Almont sent their young people off into the world with God's message.

Anticipation and excitement pulsed about the auditorium in a kaleidoscope of black and white caps and gowns, scarlet dresses and shiny tuxedos. Josh Finklea of Star Outreach drove in from Illinois as Almont's baccalaureate guest speaker to give the largest graduating class of Almont a send off they wouldn't soon forget.

Not presented by Almont High School, this baccalaureate service was planned and paid for by Almont First Congregational Church, Almont Vineyard, Orchards Community Church and Life Ministries of Almont.

Martha McCarthy of Life Ministries of Almont says she's just a mom who loves witnessing to teenagers and explains it this way.

"It is possibly our last opportunity to speak to the graduating class and to send them off with the Lord's truth and blessing," McCarthy says.

Senior Pastor Mark Melillo and Assistant Pastor Keith Langley of Almont First Congregational, Brad Standfest of Almont Vineyard and Pastor Jeff Hossler of Orchards Community Church sat side by side during the evening to make it a memorable event for students, parents and siblings.

"I'm thrilled that we had more churches participating this year," Langley says. "Because we live in a small town, everyone wants to be a part of this, and that's an awesome thing!"

Langley explained to the audience that graduation marks the transition from childhood into adulthood.

"Some of you had to work hard for it, you have earned every moment of praise and we encourage you to enjoy it," he told the Class of 2008.

The seniors did just that. Taking a back seat to most of the speaking slots, the pastors handed over the microphone to the senior class.

Dan Miller, Brandy Ullom, Jenny Hiltz, and Mike Owen had the audience hanging on their every syllable and word. The applause was deafening at times between singers, readings, and speeches as the senior class cheered their fellow classmates to the podium and back again, encouraging them to shed their inhibitions and speak out with their heart.

Mark Owen told of his high expectations for becoming a doctor and humbly admitted that what has happened in his life was no accident. His final destination will come from God.

"What makes us special is that we are God's creation of love. Because of God, we have meaning and we have purpose," Owen said.

Brandy Ullom admitted she was more used to being on a basketball court; however, she witnessed with a catch in her voice and a message in her heart. She had learned even in her short years, she said, "Believing in God took commitment and faith. Asking God for more help only brings God closer." Ullom told the packed auditorium, "God will be there for you, but people need to step aside and allow him to be there."

Ann Marta, Alisa Mazur, Julie Kennedy and Dani Lince taste their graduation cake before slicing into it to celebrate their accomplishments. photo by Catherine Brakefield.

Directed by Dale Rinke of Orchards Community Church, senior vocals Adam Bryant, Angela Davis, Kelsey DiPirro and Courtney Maciejewski sang several spiritual songs.

Sarah Klos performed "Hold onto Every Moment," and The Almont Varsity Singers directed by Mr. Adam Wetzel sang "Do I make you Proud?" and "One Voice." Soprano Angela Davis sang "I Will Be There," as well.

Guest speaker Josh Finklea told of his own senior year, when living a reckless life with drugs, he committed his second felony. He'd reached the bottom that year and suddenly realized "there must be something better."

Challenging the seniors that night to "live dangerously without dangerous failure," Finklea's excitement was contagious.

Finklea explained he was born with a birth defect. Needing immediate surgery, his mother was told he might not recover and would never hear, if he did survive the surgery. Sometime during his second year, he suddenly could hear.

"What I do for a living, I couldn't do if I was deaf. God has taken me and used me through the audible voice to share through communication His word," Finklea told the crowd. "My life has been totally altered."

As pastor of The Crossing Church in Quincy, Illinois and founder of Star Outreach, Finklea dedicates his energy mostly to junior and senior age groups saying, "My heart is for the students."

His 28 day journey of missionary work around the world proclaiming his spiritual message to the misfits, the homeless, and the prostitutes, brought hunger, rejection and exhaustion.

He related his experiences to the students sitting before him, the sometimes humorous, oftentimes hopelessness of mankind. He warned them that people outside their town will want to see what they are made of.

"People will look at you, expecting you will fail, expect you to fail," Finklea said.

He went on to tell the seniors that they have a choice: live a life that is self-centered, or live a life that blesses people.

"You can live danger-ously the wrong way, or live dangerously for God," he said. "It's an awesome experience to live a life of faith and serve other people," Finklea said. "Living your life for Christ is the only way to live without failing dangerously."

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