It’s a typical country church with white siding and a tall steeple topped with a cross that shines in the night. The church sits atop a hill, surrounded by dairy farms and corn fields and an apple orchard. Gravestones dot the cemetery on one side of the old church. On the other side is a newer, more modern church building.
That little white country church has seen a lot of living. Potluck dinners in the basement and Easter Sunday pancake breakfasts. Christmas programs with angels dressed in choir robes and wise men in bathrobes. The window wells held salamanders that young boys caught and used to chase away the girls during Vacation Bible School and after Sunday School on Sunday mornings in the summer. The sanctuary had a room in the back where mothers could take crying children so as not to disturb the rest of the congregation. A large window let them see the service and a speaker allowed them to hear the sermon and the hymns and the announcements. In the corner of that room, a heavy rope hung from a hole in the ceiling–the rope that rang the bell in the steeple. That bell rang multiple times to call us to church, and three times at the end of the service.
I’ve heard people from other places, usually the cities, comment on how strange it seems to have the cemetery right next to the church. To me, it seems strange not to have a cemetery next to the church, where a lot of living happens. Baptisms. Confirmations. Weddings. Funerals.
Last month, my mother’s funeral was held in the new church. We walked with the casket out to the gravesite, past the old church where Dad’s funeral was held many years ago. And the old bell in the steeple began to ring. Like a scene from a movie, family and friends gathered around the grave, surrounded by snow-covered fields glistening in the bright sunshine, and the bell tolled. Calling people to worship, to life, and finally signaling the end.
A lot of living happened in that church.