"What He ordains for us each moment is what is most holy, best, and most divine for us." Jean-Pierre de Caussade

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Life in the Midst of a Graveyard

I made my fourth trip to New Bern, NC last week, and each time I go, I am intrigued by the same sight. At the corner of Pollock Street and Middle Street sits Christ’s Episcopal Church founded in 1715. From a 5th story hall window in my hotel building, I was easily able to pick out the structure from all the others by its Gothic Revival bell tower and spire which looms 150 feet above the city. And if one can’t see it, she can just listen for the carillon that rings out over downtown twice a day and find her way there.

The church yard itself, shaded by a variety of venerable trees with Spanish moss, became itself a burial ground in the 18th century in the aftermath of several yellow fever epidemics. The entire church yard, filled with graves, was finally closed by 1799 to any other burials because it held its capacity. Today, few gravestones remain, but those that do, litter the landscape with stark awareness and reminders that death had taken its toll on this small community.

Sitting directly in the corner of the property protected from the streets by a weathered wrought-iron fence is the outdoor chapel. George Whitefield, the famed evangelist of the Great Awakening, preached here on Easter Day in 1765, and both Presidents George Washington and James Monroe worshiped here during their presidencies. One can feel the sacredness of it just by passing through its gates.

But what makes this place so odd is its foundation – it's a burial floor. Squares are bought by parishioners with their names etched on the cover in order that their cremated remains be buried in that “square.” The entire floor of this open-air chapel is this one big cemetery plot. One couple aimed higher and bought a good 6-foot plot for each of themselves. It’s actually part of the center aisle.

But the thing that has captured my attention over and over during my visits there is the placement of the church’s playground equipment for the children. With grounds that are salt and peppered with headstones that have stood the test of time and weather, the only place to put a playground is in the midst of the graves. How strange.

Or is it?

You tell me.

John 5:24 – “It's urgent that you listen carefully to this: Anyone here who believes what I am saying right now and aligns himself with the Father, who has in fact put me in charge, has at this very moment the real, lasting life and is no longer condemned to be an outsider. This person has taken a giant step from the world of the dead to the world of the living.”

Just an ordinary moment...


Andrea said...

A very interesting post! I have seen many old graveyards, but never one quite like this one. What a historical place, and what an unusual site, with the playground equipment in the midst of graves. Thank you for sharing this, and thank you so much for your Christian testimony. God bless.

Anonymous said...

That was pretty cool. The old meets the new type of thing... but the what I thought about was how this brings in a new meaning to the word and deed of sin (playing with the dead). B/c isn't that what we do when we sin.

Charles Mc