MIHS baccalaureate: A full-circle faith journey

Thirty years ago this week, Rev. Bud Palmberg, the 46-year-old pastor of Mercer Island Covenant Church, sat in the audience at the MIHS baccalaureate service with his graduating son. As the seniors stood and looked to God in prayer, Jeff Palmberg had no idea he would be reliving that experience with his own son 30 years later.

On Wednesday night Palmberg will be in the audience at the MIHS baccalaureate service at Mercer Island Presbyterian Church sitting with his graduating son Joey. The 48-year-old, who is minister to students at the church his father pastored for 26 years, is the parent advisor to this year’s baccalaureate committee.

“When I graduated with the class of 1981, I had visions of becoming an art teacher,” Palmberg acknowledges. “I didn’t imagine that I would become a youth pastor in my home church and have the privilege of helping students plan an interfaith worship experience. Having my own son among the seniors makes it all the more meaningful.”

Wednesday night's MIHS baccalaureate will focus on the theme “Rise Up.” Chosen by the student committee, the theme calls to mind a season of life when the seniors are willing to take a stand for what they believe in as they leave home to embrace their own political, religious and philosophical beliefs.

For the art major who became a youth minister, the annual ecumenical celebration is a work of art in which various expressions of faith come together to create a beautiful mosaic of interrelated voices. He is pleased by the diverse participation represented in this year’s program. In addition to students from Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist faiths taking part, Jeff Randolph, a much-loved humanities teacher, will give the main message. Emcees for the evening will be Ben Poor and Briauna Azer.

“The key to the success of this faith celebration is the fact that it is student-run,” Palmberg said. “When the local clergy association sponsored it, there was a declining interest and participation. The past several years have resulted in capacity attendance.”

Although the Mercer Island Clergy Association does not assume responsibility for the event, the students have invited the various ministers and rabbis in the community to participate. The shofar, the ancient Jewish ram’s horn, will be blown to commemorate this milepost in the lives of the graduates. And candles signifying the many faith traditions will be lit.

As in years past, the local clergy will process in their festive vestments at the beginning of the celebration. The Reverend Mark Travis of the Congregational Church of Mercer Island will offer the invocation. At the conclusion of the service, one of the pastors will lead in the singing of a song written for the occasion to be followed by Jeff Palmberg’s benediction. At that time the clergy will assemble at the front of the church where their respective students will join them.

In an additional history-repeating irony, Jeff Palmberg’s father (now a retired clergyman living at Covenant Shores) will be in attendance at Wednesday night’s service to witness his son and grandson’s participation.

The celebration is for all graduating high school seniors and their families who live on Mercer Island (even though students may be graduating from schools off Island). The public is welcomed.

Pastor Greg Asimakoupoulos can be reached at

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