Ghosts in the Graveyard

cemetery I'm a little bit bitter at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport right now. On my latest flight, I had 10 minutes to find my way on the opposite side of the enormous airport, and my luggage was delayed by a day because it didn't transfer in time.

The point of my minor sob story is that the second busiest airport in the world is expanding yet again, and it's demolishing a church's cemetery in the process. Did city officials get the memo that Chicago didn't get the Olympics?

The story could provide Chicago-land reporters a religion angle, but most of them merely provide the bare-bones report on the judge's decision. The Chicago Tribune's story offered a perspective from the church, which has fought the removal.

Judge Hollis Webster ruled that the city had the right to proceed with an eminent domain lawsuit to acquire the site and then proceed with the orderly transfer of the 900 known graves.

Attorneys for St. John's United Church of Christ, which owns the cemetery that dates to the 19th century, had said during a hearing Tuesday that they didn't want the cemetery to be disturbed. In legal filings, they contended that the religious beliefs of those buried at the site call for them to "remain undisturbed until the day of resurrection of Jesus Christ."

Attorneys for Chicago argued that numerous previous rulings on the issue by several other state and federal court actions allowed them to obtain the cemetery.

"We realize this is a very sensitive matter and we are committed to working closely with the families, as well as the officials from St. John's United Church of Christ," said Chicago Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino. "We will continue to proceed with respect and dignity in dealing with the relatives of those interred at St. Johannes Cemetery."

For background on the court case, the invaluable Howard Freidman offered a summary of a 2006 decision by the D.C. Circuit to reject a challenged based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Think about the angles you could develop here with death, burial, courts, and church-hosted cemeteries. GetReligion has explored these burial issues before (such as the green issue or the business angle). For this one particular church in Chicago, moving a cemetery would likely cause a great headache dealing with the families. But are there theological reasons why the church leaders think it should remain (if, as the lawyer suggests, they think that they should "remain undisturbed until the day of resurrection of Jesus Christ.")? It would take a little bit of digging (no pun intended), but the reporters could follow up with the church's leaders and church members who have family members buried there.

The example from Chicago could provide fodder for other story ideas as well. Perhaps it's a long-time trend, but it seems like fewer churches are hosting their own cemeteries. There may be simple explanations like it takes up space and costs money. But, for example, I'm guessing it's impossible for megachurches like Willow Creek and Saddleback to host their own cemeteries. Do churches feel like they have a role to play after the funeral?

Also, there's a little debate among evangelicals over whether you should be buried or if cremation is acceptable. I'd be curious to see whether society is moving towards one or the other and how religious leaders are responding. What do they teach when it comes to issues of the body? Cemeteries hold special meaning for many people, and there are religion stories to be explored.

Photo of Live Oak Cemetery in Selma, Ala., courtesy Flickr Creative Commons. Also, not only is "Ghosts in the Graveyard" a reference to religion ghosts, but it's a terrific game to play with kids.

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