Response to Cemetery Vandalism

Pastor Ben Williams


Guest Column by Pastor Ben Williams

The work of a pastor serving a local church means that I often stand in a cemetery or memorial garden alongside grieving family members and friends and proclaim these words:

“Almighty God, into your hands we commend this one in sure and certain hope of resurrection to eternal life. This body (these ashes) we commit to the ground earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

It is a sacred and holy act that is intended to offer closure, comfort and peace to those who mourn. Often, in the days, weeks, months and even years that follow, I watch as family and friends return to the cemetery or memorial garden to remember and find the strength to move on.

Cemeteries and memorial gardens offer an outward and visible reminder to the larger community of our shared history – that we are inextricably, like it or not, bound up with one another. This means that final-resting places are sacred places to be preserved and protected from all harm.

The recent vandalism and desecration of Purefoy Family Cemetery   in Southern Village violates not only the sanctity of the cemetery but also the spirit of our larger shared life together. If a cemetery is no longer sacred, what is?

To be sure, not everyone buried in Arlen Park or any cemetery was perfect or blameless. Few are. That’s why in the liturgy we name the deceased as a sinner of God’s own redeeming.

Nevertheless, the earthly remains of the Arlen Family and others were committed to this space in our community. That invites and beckons us to preserve and protect them. I would invite all who live in and or nearby to join in efforts to restore this cemetery.

But our shared work must not stop with resetting headstones. In in addition to vandalizing the cemetery, whoever did this, also planted a cross with a noose hanging off of it in the cemetery.

This only adds to the deplorable nature of this action. To be clear, a cross with a noose on it is an act of hate. Its sole purpose is to intimidate a community – and in particular our brothers and sisters of color.

Such an act is reprehensible and only adds fuel to the unease and unrest we are already experiencing across our land.

Now more than perhaps ever before, people of good will and good faith must speak up and out, not only with our words but more importantly with our lives.

It is incumbent upon us to signal in every way possible that this kind of behavior is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.

I invite all of us who live, work and enjoy living in this community to renew our efforts to model love of neighbor and to re-commit ourselves to ensuring that the dignity and value of ALL people – both the living and the dead – is protected and preserved.

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