Church (Cemetery) Split

Church cemeteries are valuable pieces of property. They tell the story of individuals, families and congregations. I was at a special day event at a church with a meaningful worship celebration followed by dinner on the ground. While seated at the table with some new found friends, the conversation at some point turned to church cemeteries. The gentleman said, “You know this church has two cemeteries.” I said, “No sir, I did not know that.” He said, “One is on one side of the road and the other is on the other side.” Wondering why that was the case I said, “Well did they run out of room?” He said, “No, it happened years ago.” Then he explained to me how many years ago many country cemeteries would have a cleaning day which was usually held in the spring and before a memorial occasion. Everybody was rounded up to come with a hoe and a rake to scrape off all of the grass and rake it up into piles. I let him go ahead and tell me how the old folks used to do it before I explained to him that I had been around long enough not only to observe this event but to have been a part of the Saturday cemetery workforce.

I still did not understand why two cemeteries, and then he explained that some people felt like the grass should be allowed to grow and they could mow the cemetery, while others felt that there was something more significant in honoring their departed loved ones by scraping the land as clean as the pavement. As a result of the difference of opinions there was not a church split, but there was a cemetery split. Some land on the other side of the road was acquired so that the grass growing wing of the congregation could have a plot where they would feel comfortable. I suppose it was well watered and fertilized. I said, “Do they still clean off the cemetery and leave it bare?” He said, “No, they are just alike now. I doubt that anybody knows which side was which, and probably the majority of the congregation does not even know that such a thing took place.”

Through the years I have known of churches that have had such a disagreement that they split over a multiplicity of issues including everything from the pros and cons to having a kitchen in the church, to the color of brick or carpet or whether or not to buy a church van or bus. But I had never heard of a cemetery split. Regardless of what comes along and divides the people of God, it might be worth stopping long enough to catch your breath and ask a few probing questions.

Question 1 – Does this difference make any difference? One church got into a huge controversy over the Lord’s Prayer. There were some in the congregation who had learned and always said the Lord’s Prayer using the word, “trespasses.” A small group in the congregation had learned the Lord’s Prayer with the word, “debtors,” rather than, “trespasses.” Both words have some biblical foundation, but the argument that ensued was a contradiction of the very thing that Jesus was trying to teach us. It truly was a difference that made no difference except that in their making a difference they denied the spirit of the prayer.

Sometimes when people get all soured up about music I want to ask, “Seriously, does the difference make any difference?” There are young people who may not like traditional songs and older folks who may not like contemporary songs. If the songs are honoring to God and focused on the redemptive work of Jesus, what difference does it make when they were written?

Question 2 – Is this fuss more valuable to me than a relationship with my friend? Through the decades I have watched as people have gotten crossed up with each other and disagreed over some issue that made absolutely no difference, but they elevated the issue to something far more important than the right relationship with a family member, friend or a good church brother or sister. They alienated, ostracized, fumed, pouted and cut people out of their lives over something that was of no significance.

Now I am not talking about a disagreement over biblical truth or moral standards. For the most part, I am talking about just simple, personal preferences that they raised to some new standard. At virtually any step or stage of life and almost any way that you want to slice it, people are more important than your preferences.

Question 3 – If Jesus were a participant in the discussion, would He be pleased with my position and even more important would He be honored by my attitude? A church was trying to reach out to the neighborhood and had some special activities for children on Wednesday night. As a result, a number of the community children came. Because they were not grownups and they had no church background it was sometimes a challenge getting them to understand how they were to behave. One of the men in the church grew more and more agitated by these children. Finally, he went to the pastor and told him that the activities needed to be stopped and those kids could stay at home. The pastor with a gentle spirit and a good measure of wisdom said, “Could I ask you something?” The man said, “Sure.” The pastor said, “Do you think that the Lord is more pleased with these kids being in His house and being taught His Word on Wednesday night or you being here with your bad attitude about them?”

With very few exceptions, I would have to say that for the most part folks who get all involved in controversy, criticism and church fussing and fighting would probably cause the Lord to look at their hearts, see their bad spirits and shake His head. In the case of the cemetery split, I doubt that any of the folks out there resting beneath the ground cared whether it got scraped or mowed.

Jim Futral
Executive Director-Treasurer