They came, they prayed. They stood before the flagpole at their school and prayed.
A dozen high school students braved the nip in the air and came to school earlier than they had to, Wednesday morning, Sept. 25. As Wallenpaupack buses rolled in and their classmates walked past into the school, they continued to pray.
They prayed for their school, their teachers, administrators and fellow students. They prayed for safety in their school. They prayed for their country and the troops. Bound together by their common faith in a God greater than themselves, they prayed boldly that they would serve as a light to the world.
The occasion was "See You at the Pole," an annual event done simultaneously at schools across the nation, led by students who voluntarily gather before the start of the school day and pray around the flagpole.
Starting at 7:15 a.m., with their school book back packs waiting on the grass, students held hands in a tight circle, taking turns to pray. There were nine at first; three more came before they were done at 8 a.m. They closed with a song, "Amazing Grace."
Jess Barnes, a senior at Wallenpaupack, and Malachi Schafer, an 11th grader, were helping to lead the time of prayer. Jess, a resident of Greeley, remarked, "We are standing up for what we believe. We know prayer works. Prayer makes a difference."
Malachi, who lives in Newfoundland, commented, "We feel we are not afraid to express our religion and pray." Taking courage even though the other students would have to file past the flagpole and see what they were doing, he said they weren't afraid of it.
See You at the Pole has been going on for years, including at Wallenpaupack. This year they happen to have it in the wake of the announcement by the Wallenpaupack Superintendent that they would no longer be able to allow an invited minister to pray at the graduation commencement program. The School Board was informed that a complaint had been filed, and determined that there was not Constitutional backing for the practice, according to U.S. Supreme Court and other federal court rulings.
Malachi said his father, who is a pastor at the Moravian Church, happened to be the last minister to pray the Invocation and Benediction at graduation. The student said the decision to stop the practice was very disappointing. "We feel shame that one family took the opportunity away from all us us."
Jess added that they do not blame the Wallenpaupack School officials. "They had to do what they had to do but we will stand up for what we believe"
Nicole Pesce, a sophomore, and Devon McConnell, an junior, also helped organize the morning prayer rally.
Students were from several different churches; at least one was not attending a particular church.
Page 2 of 2 - Pastor Ken Platt of Wallenpaupack Free Methodist- who brought the donuts- and Pastor Anna Knox of Hawley United Methodist, were standing at a distance as the students led their own prayers. Pastor Platt stressed that the rally was run by the students; his church only helped facilitate, by taking them to a See You at the Pole rally held beforehand, at Baptist Bible College in Clarks Summit.
"It's important that the kids take charge," Platt said. "We as adults can't do it forever." He added that it "takes guts" for high school students to take such a stand, at a stage in their lives when defining their self image is so important. "They are choosing to define themselves in this way." He said if they stick with it, this will change the world.
Pastor Knox commented, "I can't imagine many of the adults in our community doing this- they [the students] teach us by their actions, how to be bold in their faith." She added, "They prayed that they will be the light of the world. That's a powerful prayer."
Several of the students at the flagpole are also part of the Youth for Christ group that meets after school at Wallenpaupack Area High School on Wednesdays. Jill McConnell, an adult, runs the meeting. She said that the group is promoted by word of mouth as well as Facebook. At the meetings, she said, the students find a "safe haven" to share their story, their concerns and issues. Biblical viewpoints are brought out relevant to topics facing teens. They also have refreshments.
The last couple meetings, they had 14 in attendance each week. Their end of the school year rally last spring swelled to about 50 kids. A kickoff party for the new school year was planned that afternoon.
See You at the Pole originated in Texas in 1990. More than 3 million students in more than 20 countries are estimated to participate each year.