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Lutheran Teens Clean Cemetery, Rebury Dead
Sat, 25 Jul 2009 13:43:29 -0500
Title: Lutheran Teens Clean Cemetery, Rebury Dead
ELCA NEWS SERVICE
>July 25, 2009
>Lutheran Teens Clean Cemetery, Rebury Dead
NEW ORLEANS (ELCA) -- While watching dozens of Lutheran teens clean
up a cemetery, Bobbiann Lewis talked about how Jesus multiplied a few
loaves and fishes to feed a crowd.
She said the teens were the "loaves and fishes" she needed to help
restore a historic African American burial site. Two years ago, she stood
alone in her effort to bring dignity to Holt Cemetery in the heart of the
"It's a pauper's cemetery," said Lewis, 52, a death educator at a
community college next to the site. "There's no perpetual care. When it
rains and time passes, the ground starts sinking in and bones are
The cemetery is a lumpy dirt field full of weeds and brush. Some
graves are marked with wooden headstones, but many of the names of the
dead are no longer legible. One headstone is made of Styrofoam. Others
are broken, askew or missing.
Diane Simpson, a 52-year-old youth leader from Chicago, said she'd
never seen a cemetery look so bad. She winced at the sight of the toppled
tombstones and overgrown brush covering graves.
"I'm so sad at seeing this that I just don't have the words," said
Simpson, a member of Holy Family Lutheran Church, Chicago, a congregation
of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
Nearly 37,000 youth and adults are in New Orleans for the 2009 Youth
Gathering, an ELCA event held every three years. It's the largest
convention in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina hit four years ago.
As part of the event, the ELCA is sending out 12,000 youths and
adults daily July 23-25 to help with recovery efforts. Many youth arrived
expecting to build homes.
"On the bus ride here this morning they told us we would be cleaning
a graveyard," said Olivia Wedegaertner, 14, of Raleigh, N.C. "I
thought, 'Oh gross.' Then we got here and saw how much we were needed."
Just before lunch, she stumbled across a human skull.
"We blessed it and buried it back in the ground," she said. "We've
tried to be very respectful."
Clad in blazing orange T-shirts, the youth recovered and reburied
many bones as they worked. They filled several wheelbarrows with brush
and weeds collected in 90 degree heat.
At one point, Nolan Leehy stood by the grave of a homeless person
covered with a blanket and chairs. Family members brought her personal
items "to appease her spirit," Lewis said.
"It makes me realize that a lot of people don't have things I take
for granted in life," said Leehy, 15, a member of First Lutheran Church
in Blair, Neb. "I never thought you could learn that from a cemetery."
Because Holt Cemetery is at water level, graves are dug by hand and
only go four feet deep. Only wooden caskets are allowed, which hastens
decay. That's important because bodies are buried atop of one another.
One grave listed nine names on its marker.
"I was shocked that they have to put people in graves together, and
at seeing the bones out there," said Gail Starr, 52, of Durham,
N.C. "These poor people deserve all the dignity, respect and hard work we
More information is at Pretty Good Lutherans
http://blogs.ELCA.org/prettygoodlutherans on the ELCA Web site.
Information about the 2009 Youth Gathering is at
http://www.ELCA.org/gathering on the ELCA Web site.
For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or email@example.com
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