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Thoughts at the Cemetery

My first year as a pastor, as a leader of a congregation, was a shaky one. I arrived, and…

  • By Labor Day was the assistant. 
  • By Christmas was the solo. 
  • By Easter was the senior. 
  • By Memorial Day…exhausted.

Today, I shudder to think that my “career” could have been over quickly. Too much, too soon! (I have deep gratitude for a couple of wise mentors!)

Our 125 year old church, once grand and proud in Dutch Town, was now 20 years in decline in the urban center. Complaining. Fearful of the future. Emptying out the last of financial reserves from Mrs. Schoeberlein’s estate. Holding on to everything they could while watching things they loved slip away.

So, Memorial Day—and yes, I know it’s not all about me.

About a week or two before Memorial Day, someone asked about “The Service.” 

“What service?”

“The one you lead at the cemetery on Memorial Day.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” I didn’t say it out loud.

“Dumbest idea ever to gather at the cemetery every year. Sing a couple of hymns. Pray. Share a message.” I further didn’t say!

I harbored plans to get rid of this relic, but more lack of will than wisdom kept it from coming to a close. 

One of the better “no decisions” I never made.

Every year but one of our 25 we gathered at the cemetery. (A driving rainstorm kept us away as I recall.)

After the first couple of years, I saw how important it was.

  • The Congressional Medal of Honor WWII pilot buried over there.
  • Our “best pastor ever” 20 years my predecessor was buried here.
  • Flu Pandemic of 1918 casualties must have been buried somewhere. 

They remembered. They walked around to family graves. They took a glimpse ahead at the doorway of death that they’d one day walk through to life with Jesus on the other side. Eternal life. Purchased. Paid for. At the cross. Confirmed and authenticated by a grave that was empty.

They’d laugh. Tell stories of people we didn’t know.

After a few more years, Gail and I joined in the story telling. People we’d known and loved.

People who had blessed us. Shared a piece of life with us. People one day we’d share life with again.

This weekend, Gail and I have a growing list of family and friends that we’ll remember. We’ll thank God for the ways they graced our lives. Believed in us at our baptisms. Blessed us through life. Helped us with our kids. 

So, several thoughts about gathering at the cemetery, whether you actually go there or not, this weekend…

  1. I know you’re tired. Thanks for leading in a season where you’ve worked harder to get less accomplished.
  2. I know you have fears. We all have some fears. Any of us that have stepped beyond the “it’ll all go back to normal soon” have some fears. 
  3. I know you’ll need to decide what to preserve and what to let go of at your church. “No Decision” worked well for me on Memorial Day years ago but it’s not a good plan now. 
  4. I know you have an opportunity. Maybe an unprecedented opportunity. We’ve called it The Great Opportunity . Relationships are more valuable than ever and people’s lives are less certain than ever. You can still start this afternoon.

And, finally on that first Easter evening with the disciples remembering, Jesus spoke: Peace be with you. 

P.S. Ask your leaders to download the Ebook A Picture of a Vibrant 2030 Church. Read it and discuss it together. (Download the epub or a PDF).

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3 Responses

  1. Yvette Moy says:


  2. Bill Ameiss says:

    I remember those early years Jock. Remember I was sent to convince you to decline the call! Best disobedience I ever contrived! Blessings!

    • Gail & Jock Ficken says:

      Bill! Thanks for being a mentor and friend. Your early encouragement along with Lyle. kept me afloat. I always appreciated that you understood our context and could be such a blessing. From this posture I value even more mentors and coaches like you in the many “I’ve never been here before” seasons.

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