The Curse of the Historic Church Cemetery

I love an historic cemetery.  My parents are buried in one.  Here are some of my favorites.

Cemeteries are holy and beautiful places.  But some of us love them more than we love Jesus.  Or we love the people buried there more than we love Jesus. (Same thing?)

Not only are we unsure about where Jesus was buried (there are at least two options) but worshiping the cemetery can kill one of Jesus’ congregations.

How do we know if our church is at risk of Death by Historic Cemetery? Here are some questions to ask ourselves:

  1. Are there more members of The Cemetery Committee than the Board of Elders?
  2. Do we spend more money on irrigating the cemetery than we spend on Christian education?
  3. When someone asks, “What excites you about your church’s ministry?” do people say, “We have a beautiful cemetery“?
  4. Do church leaders spend more than 15 minutes per year discussing cemetery needs?
  5. Are ministry opportunities voted down based on the location of the cemetery?  (Examples: “The youth shouldn’t play soccer in that field beside the graves because it’s disrespectful.”  “We can’t build a warehouse for disaster relief beside the cemetery because it will look ugly when people come to pay their respects.”
  6. Has there ever been a church fight about the cemetery?

Just as people die and are buried in cemeteries, whole congregations can also die and find themselves buried in their cemetery.  Remember when angels asked the women at Jesus’ grave why they were looking for the living among the dead?

Thriving spiritual communities are living, breathing, laughing, thinking, comforting bodies of human beings who gather for community and ministry.  Whether your church building has a cemetery or not – at your next church meeting – note how much time is spent discussing dead things (buildings, cemeteries, parking lots) and how much time is spent discussing living things (children, youth, adults, neighbors.)

It will offer a clue about whether your church is more in love with the living God or with death.

Image of Thyatira Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Rowan County, NC where three pirates are buried.  The story goes that they had left their pirate lifestyle on the N.C. coast and became farmers in the middle of the state, only to be discovered and subsequently hanged.

2 responses to “The Curse of the Historic Church Cemetery

  1. Good article Jan. Curious to know if YOU know how many churches have their own cemeteries.

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  2. Hi Christine – I don’t know. Most of our rural congregations (or congregations that used to be rural) have cemeteries here in Charlotte Presbytery. Not so much in Chicago Presbytery or National Capital.

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