The Rev. Amanda Larson, of Wykoff United Methodist Church, gives the baccalaureate message.  PHOTOS BY GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
The Rev. Amanda Larson, of Wykoff United Methodist Church, gives the baccalaureate message. PHOTOS BY GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
"I had my first faith crisis at the age of 17. I was sitting at my school play, and it hit me," said Wykoff United Methodist Church pastor, the Rev. Amanda Larsen, speaking to the students and congregation gathered at Kingsland's baccalaureate service held last Wednesday evening, May 15, in the Kingsland gymnasium, "I wasn't sure I believed in God."

Her message enlightened the students on the apostle Peter, "who screwed up over and over again," and offered an often-discouraged opportunity to question their own faith in order to determine how it might grow. "I realized I wasn't sure I believed in God. I grew up going to church since I was tiny, but my faith crisis didn't happen when I was 10 years old and my sister was diagnosed with a brain tumor and all the people around me whispered, 'How could God let this happen?' It didn't happen when I was 14 and my mom made me go to confirmation at the United Methodist Church, her church, instead of the church I'd been going to for the past three years. It happened when I was 17 and sitting in the bleachers at our school play because I was supposed to be working at a camp that summer and going through applications, putting them in one of two boxes based on the campers' faith, and I realized it was not my job to put people into one of two boxes. I couldn't believe God wanted me to put them into boxes, and I wasn't sure how big God's love was or who God loved."

She went on to explain that after graduating from high school, she attended college at Luther to become a pastor, but didn't join the groups that aspiring pastors ordinarily joined. "I wanted to be a pastor, but in the four years that I was there, I didn't have a lot to do with those groups, the church...my own spiritual life. But I found two people, Walter and Michelle, whom I could trust and rely on, mentors who showed me that it's OK to ask questions. And after I graduated from Luther, I went to seminary and met people who thought like I did, who had a bigger version of God, when all that time, I thought I had been alone. What I wish I had heard is that it's OK to have doubts, that if all the things you learn about God don't seem to fit, it's OK."

She elaborated, "I learned that there are two versions of the Creation story - I never knew that before - and that it's OK, when you're growing your faith, to decide what you don't believe in, but at the same time, you're going to find that you're someday going to need more than just yourself, and that's why you have to decide what you do believe in. Wherever you're headed, find people who believe the same as you do, and if you don't find them, that's OK. It's OK to keep hanging out with those people who don't believe the same as you do, but keep looking for the ones who do."

Larsen closed her message by sharing a passage from John, reminding students that they are loved by a big God. "That's the God I believe in."

Our Savior's Lutheran pastor, the Rev. Dennis Timmerman opened the service by welcoming the attendees, and fellow Our Savior's pastor, the Rev. Laura Fladten led the call to worship.

Mikaylah Hellickson read the first Scripture lesson, Jeremiah 29:11-13, "For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart."

Sarah O'Connell led the congregation in a prayer asking for guidance and prosperity and for the members of the class to be allowed to remember one another well, after which Tyler Messner read the second Scripture lesson, Proverbs 3:1-6, Laney Schwinefus led another prayer, and Sara Hill read the third Scripture lesson, Colossians 1:9-10, followed by Larsen's message.

Next, the parents' choir performed "Find Your Wings," singing, "It's only for a moment you are mine to hold, the plans that Heaven has for you will all too soon unfold, so many different prayers I'll pray for you for all that you might do, but most of all, I'll want to know you're walking in the truth...."

Songs included in the service were "Here I Am to Worship," "Blessed Be Your Name," Chris Tomlin's "Amazing Grace" and "How Great is Our God." The Lord's Prayer was said, and a benediction given - "God has done great things for us. Go out as prepared, renewed and grace-filled people. Go out to proclaim your identity as beloved people of God. Go in peace this day. Thanks be to God, Amen."

The class expressed its appreciation to senior class adviser Niki DeBuhr and the baccalaureate planning committee - Elizabeth Tart, Jessi Kaster, Katie Apenhorst and Kaylee Beevers, musicians Josh Hogberg, Corrin Lee and Lawson Campbell, parents choir accompanist Elliott Grandall, Larsen for sharing the message, the Spring Valley Ministerial Association for hosting the service and Our Savior's Lutheran Church for worship preparations, students, family members, friends and community members for participating in the service, Laney Schwinefus for designing the bulletin cover, and junior ushers Hannah Ramaker, Karli Bly, Courtney Marks and Corrin Lee. Each member of the class was offered a Gideon Bible following the service, and refreshments were served to the students and congregation.