Chuch remembers the forgotten dead

August 04, 2002|by RICHARD BELISLE

Among the 45,000 graves at Rose Hill Cemetery are about 1,000, mostly unmarked, tucked away in a lonely far corner of the cemetery, one of Washington County's largest burial grounds.

They are the graves of the forgotten, the poor, the nameless, the homeless - who when they died had no one to care. The responsibility and cost of burying them was left to the county government, in what in Biblical times was known as the potter's field.

Saturday morning, a dozen parishioners from St. Andrew's United Methodist church on Maryland Avenue assembled under the shade of a spreading maple tree and heard their pastor ask them to "remember those who seem to have been forgotten by the world."


The congregation has taken it upon itself to remember those buried there, the Rev. Betty Dunlop, church pastor, said following a brief memorial ceremony.

The congregation sent letters to 75 area churches asking them to become involved and inviting them to Saturday's ceremony. None responded, she said.

William R. Divelbiss, executive vice president at Rose Hill, said fewer than 10 percent of the indigents' graves are marked.

While a cemetery is a history of people, the indigents and unknown dead buried in the far corner of the cemetery have been forgotten, Divelbiss said. He said the lives of those assembled for the ceremony have been enriched and made better "because we came and showed our concerns."

"We're here to remember those who seem to have been forgotten by the world," Dunlop said in her homily.

She quoted the apostle Matthew in his reference to the poor who are blessed in spirit.

"We spiritualize the poor to get ourselves off the hook. We have to reconsider our attitude toward the least among us," she said. "Even the economically poor are members of God's family. God loves the homeless as much as he loves the bishops."

People feel uneasy when they're among the poor, Dunlop said. "We feel that we may be asked to share some of our stuff, that poverty may be contagious. We shy away from those beneath our economic level.

"Our closets and garages are overflowing. We waste enough food to feed a great portion of the world," she said.

Divelbiss said the cemetery doesn't bury many indigents at county expense anymore.

The practice started around 1920 after the influenza epidemic that killed millions around the world.

"There were so many people dying then and a lot of them had no money. We buried them were we could. The county paid for the plots," he said.

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