The Healthy Church Staff Podcast

All She Wanted Was to Be Buried at the Church

January 31, 2024 Todd Rhoades Season 1 Episode 18
The Healthy Church Staff Podcast
All She Wanted Was to Be Buried at the Church
Show Notes Transcript

What happens when adherence to church bylaws clashes with a dying woman's final wish? This is the heart-wrenching scenario that unfolded for Alice Mae Garrison, a devoted churchgoer whose request to be buried in her beloved church cemetery was initially denied. As the story of Alice Mae's plight and her family's fight for her final resting place in Roanoke, Virginia, comes to light, we confront the challenging questions of empathy, compassion, and the true meaning of community within our church walls.

In the midst of grief, a family's outcry and the rallying support of over 15,000 petition signers paint a vivid picture of the struggle between tradition and the human spirit. I, Todd Rhoades, take you through this emotional journey, exploring the lessons for church leadership and congregations alike. No guests join us this time, but the voices of those affected echo powerfully throughout the episode, offering a profound look at how we can better serve and honor our members in life's most delicate moments.

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Speaker 1:

I don't know how you found us, but I'm glad you did. You are listening to the Healthy Church Staff podcast. My name is Todd Rhodes. I'm one of the co-founders over at chemistrystaffingcom. We've got a really interesting episode for you today. It's entitled All she Wanted Was to Be Buried at the Church, and maybe you heard about the story that happened late last year. Maybe you haven't.

Speaker 1:

Alice Mae Garrison's dying wish was to be buried at her church. I won't name the church. You can find it if you need to. It's in Roanoke, virginia. Alice Mae this is the same church where her parents worshiped, her siblings worshiped and other extended family members have been buried over the years.

Speaker 1:

And here's what made the news the church denied a request to be married in the church cemetery due to a little kerfuffle over tithing and attendance. So here's what happened the pastor said that the church had removed Alice Mae from the membership list due to a lack of attendance and tithing. We should probably note that Alice Mae was an elderly woman who was unable to attend the church in person for about the last seven years due to some health reasons. She was a shut-in, but according to her family, she continued to regularly give to the church, even though her income was pretty meager and fixed. Now here's what the church said the church's bylaws disallow people who are not members of the church from being buried in the church's cemetery. Okay, so the church is towing the line here. Hey, mary Alice, honestly, we've not seen you for seven years and because of your inactivity, you're officially you're not a member here anymore. Sorry, but we're not going to. This is what they told the family evidently, and we're not going to be able to put you, allow you to be buried in our cemetery. Family did not take this well, so they started a petition, and this is just a good case in point. I find these stories interesting from time to time of things not to do, but this decision caused the church's family to start a petition.

Speaker 1:

Okay, and this is part of what the petition said. It said for 82 years Sally Alice Mae, who evidently they call Sally, faithfully attended the same church in Ronan, virginia. She was a devoted member of her church. She formed, she directed choirs. She was, some would say, the backbone of the musical department. She led the choir as a soloist for many years of her dedicated attendance and we firmly believe that is an injustice and injustice. This is what the family saying about the church. It's an injustice and a gross act of discrimination that a religious institution has denied its member the right of burial. Her entire family that preceded her in death is buried in the cemetery and only five months ago her beloved sister was buried there.

Speaker 1:

Okay, so you get the gist of kind of the church's stance, the kind of the church decision that they made, and we don't know all the all the things that went into that decision, but we know how the family reacted to it. They didn't take very kindly to it. They put out this petition online and guess what? The petition got? 15,000 signatures, 15,000 signatures. Can you imagine a small church all of a sudden has 15,000 people that have said you're wrong and I'm going to sign my name on this to let you know that I think you're wrong. The end of the story is eventually, alice May was allowed to be buried at the church.

Speaker 1:

The church kind of gave into the pressure. But really, what I want to look at here is maybe some lessons, right, I always like to take particularly current new stories and think okay, so what can we learn here? Here's some things I think that we can learn. We, as the church, need to be compassionate and empathetic toward others, especially those who are vulnerable, in need or in need, and particularly at a time of sorrow. Okay, so I understand there's going to be people on both sides of the fence here that say forget about the rules. Just, barry, alice, me in the cemetery in the church just didn't want to go along with it.

Speaker 1:

But this case highlights the importance of just being reasonable and honestly, showing a little bit of flexibility and compassion in situations. Working to find solutions is something that we should always do. We should never shut the door on people, people. Something I always told my kids and I believe even in this situation it's an important thing to remember is that people are important to Jesus and, dang it, they need to be important to us. So whenever you come up across situations you're not going to come across this particular situation, but you're going to come across situations, maybe even this week, maybe even today, where it's going to be easy for you to make a decision that's going to seem rather harsh to the people that you're making, that you're telling the decision to, and I would just say think about it. Are there ways that you can find solutions that seem fair, that seem equitable for all parties. Can you come to decisions that are not just based on rules but honor? Strive to honor God and honor individuals in everything that they're doing? It's your responsibility to create a welcoming and an inclusive environment for members of your church and your community, and one of the things that we should do is strive to be compassionate and empathetic toward those that are struggling, and we should work as hard as we can to ensure that everyone feels valued and everyone feels included, whether they're alive or no longer with us. Let's learn today from some of the mistakes that were made. At least from a public relations standpoint, you can say that this was a major issue for this church. Let's try and make decisions that honor God but also honor people as well. Thanks for joining us today.

Speaker 1:

Subscribe to the Healthy Church Staff podcast. Every day, we look at things like this that can relate to being on a church staff building you up, giving you some things to put in your arsenal, and tomorrow we're going to be talking about how to do a leadership reboot, how to break the monotony and reignite your passion. Maybe you're there it's the first part of the year, but maybe you're already there. You're like I'm bored, I need to read my passion. We're going to talk about that tomorrow, so I hope you'll join us.