Cemetery association consumes church items
Sad story of a church long gone
By Allen Palmeri
March 21, 2006
ROCKY MOUNT – In 2005, there were 406 Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) churches that reported no baptisms.
A word for that statistic might be “dead.” Year after year of no baptisms will kill a church, and John Holt, director of missions for the Carroll Saline Baptist Associations in Marshall, can tell you precisely what death looks like.
Holt recalled how the adjacent cemetery association pocketed the money from the sale of Antioch Baptist Church when the church died. The church property was sold in an auction a couple of years ago. So the cemetery managed to prosper as it buried the church building.
“What do you call that, a paradox?” Holt asked rhetorically.
During a break in the recent director of missions retreat at Cross Pointe Retreat Center, Holt told the story of how the church simply forfeited its corporate status in the mid 1980s and vacated the building. After speaking to some former church members and investigating some old church documents, Holt learned that when the church ceased to exist, the property would legally be transferred to the cemetery association that bordered it on three sides.
He first got involved when sheriff’s deputies became concerned about vandalism to the derelict church building. Holt walked into the church and noticed beehives on the walls of a church that looked relatively preserved.
“It was just like people had just walked out of it,” he said. “The last order of Sunday School literature was still there. The two flags were in place. There was an old Bible on a table up front. There were hymnals scattered around here and there, and these old, handmade pews.”
Holt remembered about 80 people coming to the auction.
“They started out by clearing out the center of the church by selling the pews,” he said. “First choice for the pews went for about $80. Then they started selling choices on the hymnals. Here are these old, old, old hymnals that were probably issued in the 1940s. Because they were stamped ‘ Antioch Baptist Church,’ this was a keepsake for former members or family of former members, and first choice went for $15 a hymnal. They then went ahead and sold things off the platform.”
Holt noticed some items that could have been put to use by a Holy Spirit-filled church but obviously were of no use to this particular congregation.
“Inside the pulpit were the witnessing New Testaments, and when I went to open them, they cracked,” he said. “They had never been opened. That was one of the reasons why this church ceased to exist.”
The absolute low point of the auction came next.
“They had this framed print of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane which was about 24 inches wide and about 30 inches high,” Holt said. “It sold for $59.50. When I thought about that, I thought, ‘Jesus sold for $59.50. That’s what happens when a church ceases to renew itself, when the life of the church slips to the point where there’s no new life coming into the church, Jesus ends up being sold for $59.50.’”
The cemetery had profited at the expense of the church. Lumber from the church building sold for $600; the church is dead and the cemetery is alive.
“The life of a church depends on people being born again in the church on a continual basis,” Holt said. “And the church certainly doesn’t exist to support the cemetery.”