by Jeff Switzer
Part one of a two-part series
While Woodinville is seldom thought of as a diverse community, recent events have brought to light the religious diversity of its residents. As Woodinville High School is preparing to send its most recent batch of graduates on to the next phase of their lives, the students are learning some lifelong lessons.
Concern, confusion, and hurt feelings have surfaced regarding the two events scheduled this week to celebrate the accomplishments of the seniors in the Woodinville area: The WHS Senior Celebration, to be held at the school on June 11 at 7 p.m.; and the Woodinville Baccalaureate, a Christian service scheduled for June 13 at 7:30 p.m. at Woodinville Alliance Church.
The Senior Celebration at WHS will feature students thanking their teachers and parents and sharing with friends their memories and what they've learned.
The Woodinville Baccalaureate Service (now in its third year) has a similar program, but one whose purpose is to glorify God as well as giving thanks to teachers and parents.
The letters page of the Woodinville Weekly has been the sounding board in past weeks for varying perspectives on the baccalaureate service, which, by definition, is "a religious ceremony held at an educational institution before commencement day."
The common thread between the Baccalaureate Service and the Senior program at the high school is the celebration and appreciation of the accomplishments, the friendships, and the memories of the soon-to-be graduates.
It is a focus the students have since recovered following a time of confusion and misunderstandings, strengthening their friendships and demonstrating a new maturity.
The Woodinville Baccalaureate is described as an "inspirational, interdenominational Christian service for graduating seniors, their families, WHS faculty, and the community." The message is tailored, however, towards the statements of faith of the participating churches.
Like most religious services, the event is open to any who wish to attend, but the message given may not be received in the same way by all who hear it.
This year's service will be like that in years past, with participation by members of the Woodinville Alliance Church, the First Baptist Church in Bothell, the Woodinville Community Church, Kirkland's Antioch Bible Church, Overlake Christian, and Eastside Four Square.
Based on past baccalaureate services and the inclusion initially of "WHS" in the committee name, many students thought it was an open and all-encompassing event associated with the school, though it was the intent to hold an hour-long interfaith Christian service.
Letters to the editor criticized the Baccalaureate Committee for misrepresenting itself as the "WHS Baccalaureate Committee," a name they have since changed to "Woodinville Baccalaureate Committee" to avoid confusion about who they are and whom they represent.
"We're not trying to mislead anyone--we want to be clear about what we are," said Jeanne Erickson, member of the Baccalaureate Committee. "At the same time, the doors are open for those who are seeking to be inspired spiritually. It would not be as fulfilling to have a message that wasn't a sincere expression of the students' faith."
The parents on the committee said that when they began meeting, they didn't ask people at the door about their church affiliation, and people were welcome to participate if they generally agreed with the interfaith message of the service based on the several churches' statements of faith.
Rachel Tomco, ASB president at Woodinville High, wanted to speak and have a role in the service, similar to the short introductions given at past baccalaureates by Woodinville ASB presidents. She was told that the program was set and the speakers for the hour- long service had been chosen. Complicating the story is that Tomco is Mormon, whose faith and beliefs differ from those of the churches listed above, giving the impression to some that she was excluded for that reason.
According to the committee, Tomco was invited to sing in the choir, but declined, choosing instead to arrange a secular Senior Celebration at the high school, which also responded to a reported groundswell of requests and support for such a program from the general student body at Woodinville High.
The appearance of a Mormon and Christian conflict of definitions caused some unhappiness, though both sides adamantly state that nobody judged anybody.
"The hardest part has been just trying to keep our friendships," said Rachel Tomco. "There were some hurt feelings. That they (my friends on the Baccalaureate Committee) don't believe I'm Christian came as a real shock to me because we consider ourselves a denomination of Christianity."
Tomco is excited about the Senior Celebration, which she and 30 other seniors and as many parents have organized, and is looking forward to the "emotional tribute to the teachers, parents, and friendships" she's had throughout her 13 years of education, adding that the whole issue has been blown out of proportion.
"We really tried to have as few Mormons on the committee so it wouldn't become a Mormon Baccalaureate; that's not our intention," she said.
Students healing friendships
Senior Class President Matt Pabst says there were unhappy feelings at first and that it was a touchy issue, but the friendships have survived.
"The students have done a good job of separating their friendships from this thing going on on the side," said Pabst. "We just want to put this whole thing behind us and finish up the senior year with good memories."
Members from the Baccalaureate Committee feel the same.
"We want a positive get-together and the community to come and help celebrate our seniors," said Karen Mackey, a member of the Woodinville Baccalaureate Committee. "We hope the hurt feelings can be healed and we can start over and have a good time."
The debate between the two sides will continue, in spite of the personal and private nature of faith: the ultimate non-debatable issue, according to the organizers of both the Baccalaureate and the Senior Celebration.
Many students said they have had time now to talk things out and put things back into perspective.
"The mood at school has really improved, and we've had a chance to talk about it together between my Mormon friends and me," said Christy Mackey, who will participate in the Baccalaureate service.
"We've really communicated with each other and understand each other," Mackey said. "It's opened up a lot of doors; we're sympathetic with each other and have accepted that we're different."