Kathy Hillman: Homecoming and coming home

The Howard Payne University Homecoming Court. (Kathy Hillman Photo)

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“Your father has killed the calf we were fattening and has prepared a great feast to celebrate his coming home again (homecoming) unharmed.” (Luke 15:27)

kathy hillman130Kathy HillmanFootball, homecomings and chrysanthemums overrun Texas every fall. Unlike Thomas Wolfe, who wrote You Can’t Go Home Again, most apparently believe, with the prodigal son, you can. Otherwise, why would thousands make annual treks to high schools and colleges for parades, pep rallies, tailgates, football games and a myriad of other traditions? Christian universities often add religious services. Howard Payne University includes the opportunity to renew wedding vows in Grace Chapel every few years. Baylor University hosts Singspiration.

Several colleges—including Baylor, Southwestern, Illinois and Missouri—claim to have hosted the first homecoming celebration. Of course, Texas Baptists favor the Baylor declaration. 

hillman columbusave 1950 425Homecoming gathering at Columbus Avenue Baptist Church in Waco, circa 1950. The woman on the far right is Kathy Hillman’s great aunt Lois Mitchell Newton. (Photo courtesy of the Texas Collection at Baylor University)However, one Texas-proud assertion seems indisputable—the invasion of the “bigger is better” homecoming mum and garter. Our daughter, Holly, experienced mom mum trauma as seventh-grader Gilbert informed her Wednesday night after church he invited a girl to sit with him at homecoming on Friday and needed a “cool mum.”

No one knows when “official” homecomings began, but they didn’t involve pep rallies or football. They included Sunday preaching, singing—often “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”—dinner on the grounds and Saturday spent cleaning the church cemetery. 

hillman anderson rogersmums350Kirby Rogers of Cinco Ranch High School in Katy and Abigail Anderson of Seven Lake High School in Katy, both members of Tallowood Church in Houston, display their mum and garter. By tradition, only seniors are allowed to wear gold ones. (Photo courtesy of Laura Bailey Rogers)Homecoming can be traced to communion gatherings in late 18th and early 19th century Scotland. Frontier Protestants returned to their birth congregations to observe milestones. Some involved camp meetings. Rural African-American churches celebrated homecomings, sometimes called Family and Friends Day, before the turn of the 20th century.

Commemorations continue. Independence Baptist Church recognized its 175th anniversary in 2011, and Union Baptist Association followed in 2015. 

Homecomings connect and reconnect. They affirm God’s faithfulness, reaffirm loyalty and belief, reinforce community and unity, and renew faith in the face of everyday life. Just as high school and college homecomings draw students and alumni closer, church homecomings draw believers closer to God, the church and each other.

Every year, Texas Baptists celebrate homecoming. Nov. 8-10, we’ll gather in Frisco for the 2015 Baptist General Convention of Texas annual meeting, just as we have since 1886. Joel Gregory, Taylor Sandlin and Ralph West will come home to bring inspiring sermons. hillman midway homecoming425The 2015 homecoming game at Midway High School in Waco. (Photo courtesy of Rebekah North)Current officers will offer a missions message. Combined church choirs and Hardin-Simmons University’s Concert Choir will add worship music. Dallas Baptist University’s Grand Chorus will present selections from “Experiencing God: The Musical,” which it will sing at DBU’s homecoming worship service Nov. 20. Tuesday evening, the Singing Men of Texas will give a 40th anniversary concert.

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The theme, “Deep Roots … Living Legacy,” echoes homecoming traditions of reconnecting with founding principles and connecting with the future. We’ll rejoice through worship, exhibits, workshops and fellowship. We’ll draw closer to God as we consider Colossians 2:6-7, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives for him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught and overflowing with thankfulness.”

We’ll examine Baptist beliefs as listed by the 1994 BGCT Baptist Distinctives Committee:

• Authority of the Biblehillman henry north homecoming350Tanner Henry and Emily North at the 2015 homecoming game at Midway High School in Waco. (Photo courtesy of Rebekah North)

• Autonomy of the local congregation of believers

• Believer’s baptism and church membership

• Congregational church government

• Deity and lordship of Jesus Christ

• Evangelism and missions: The Great Commission

• Religious freedom and separation of church and state

• Salvation only by grace through faith

• Security of the believer

• Soul competency and priesthood of the believer

• Symbolic understanding of baptism and the Lord’s Supper

• Voluntary cooperation among churches.

As outstanding alumni participate in school homecomings, outstanding Baptists will lead workshops covering the distinctives. Current and past BGCT executive directors Bill Pinson (1983-2000), Charles Wade (2000-08), Randal Everett (2008-12) and David Hardage (2012-present) will provide keys to Baptist identity. Winners of the high school essay and college/seminary sermon contests will share their entries.

hillman independence dinner425Independence Baptist Church dinner on the grounds. (Kathy Hillman Photo)Other presenters include Dennis Wiles, Paul Powell, Todd Still, Nora Lozano, Julio Guarneri, Carol Holcomb, Bruce Gourley, Jennifer Hawks, Stacy Conner, Ellen DiGiosia, Stephen Stookey, Jennifer Bashaw, Trent Blackley, Emily Prevost, John Litzler, Shelley Melia, Judy Morris, Wayne Graham, Meredith Stone and a panel of minister spouses.

Come home and join us for homecoming Texas Baptist style. There won’t be parades, pep rallies, queens, football or massive mums except in floral arrangements. But there will be opportunities to affirm God’s faithfulness, reinforce community and unity, reaffirm loyalty and belief and renew faith. texas baptist voices right120Allow this homecoming to draw us closer to God, the church and one another as we seek “to touch the people of this state with the Great Commandment and to impact Texas, and beyond, with the Great Commission.”

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Kathy Hillman is president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. She also is director of Baptist collections, library advancement and the Keston Center for Religion, Politics and Society at Baylor University.

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