Last Saturday’s Nfld News article, When development meets the past, tells the story of a conflict between the descendants William C. Cleland and Rejoice! Lutheran Church which now owns the former Holy Cross Episcopal church in Dundas. Pastor Dan Clites and the Building Team wanted to move the Cleland family graves as part of the Rejoice! expansion plans. Cleland family descendants opposed the move. The conflict has evidently been resolved:
Clites says former Holy Cross members gave him the names of Cleland relatives, who he said OK’d the plan to move the graves. Those relatives later withdrew their support, he says, under pressure from family members. That pressure, along with a desire to be good neighbors has led Rejoice! to rework its initial plan. It’s now working on a redesign that will leave the graves, which are encircled by decorative metal fencing, intact…
But had the church decided to move forward with the relocation, [State Archaeologist Scott Anfinson] isn’t sure he would have allowed it. Since the Cleland graves were never recorded with the county, approval for moving the remains rests with the archaeologist. And since the site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the descendants opposed the proposed move, Anfinson said he’d likely have denied such a request.
When I first heard about the issue, I thought it was reasonable for Rejoice! to want to move the graves and I thought it was reasonable for the descendants to object. But last week, prior to the article’s publishing and the resolution of the conflict, Pastor Clites published his weekly update in which he wrote about the issue:
… we have recently come against principalities of opposition (Ephesians 6:12). Why should we expect anything less? When a church serves in the Light of the Holy Spirit, darkness will not like it.
Here’s the verse in Ephesians 6:12 (King James Version):
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
For Clites to associate Helen Albers and Cleland family descendants with ‘principalities’ and ‘darkness’ and ‘spiritual wickedness’ is more than a little ridiculous. Un-Christian even, if I may, as an atheist, say so. And I would assume that MN State Archaeologist Scott Anfinson would have been included among the principalities had he ruled against Rejoice!.
That the conflict was resolved in part because of Rejoice!’s "desire to be good neighbors" (Nfld News reporter Suzy Rook’s words) seems disingenuous, given Clites’ words a few days prior. That he would use the words of Jesus ("Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead") to argue that his opponents’ beliefs about the sacredness of grave sites are misplaced is outrageous.
Clites owes these people an apology.
Here’s the full text and screen capture of the Rejoice! Update Dec. 6 – Dec. 12, 2010 by Pastor Dan Clites:
Here is a brief Building Campaign update: We continue to move steadily along in raising our projected budget goal of $750,000. Keep in mind that we have already invested over $230,000 for our current ministry site. Praise God, for we are doing well! Thank you for your continued sacrificial giving towards adding a worship center and parking lot onto our current ministry site so we can start worshipping on campus— hopefully by the fall.
As mentioned in our December 5th worship service, we have recently come against principalities of opposition (Ephesians 6:12). Why should we expect anything less? When a church serves in the Light of the Holy Spirit, darkness will not like it. Most of the opposition has come from a local family that doesn’t want us moving the Cleland grave site 50-feet and into the northend cemetery. They believe it is disrespectful to the dead. Our Building Team believes the most respectful and historic thing to do is gracefully move the remains and the headstones so they are not in the way of our important expansion.
From all this, we are now expecting an article about the "grave situation" in the Northfield News this coming week. Please know that your Building Team has done everything legally and morally. In fact, our plans have already been approved by the city of Dundas. While we are sensitive to the past, our calling is to take the gospel to the living so they may not die in their sins (Romans 6:1-14). Please do not write a letter to the editor in response to the article. IF that is needed, it will come from the Vision and Building Teams. Thanks for your great trust and your prayers of support for the mission we share.
One day an interested party asked Jesus to come along with him. Jesus said, "Yes!" The man’s reply, however, showed that his priority was misplaced: "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus told him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead." (Matthew 8: 21-22).
Our mission at Rejoice! is to follow Jesus for the sake of life in proclamation of the true gospel. There is no higher purpose!
This coming Sunday, December 12th, I’ll continue our Advent Message series on "Signs of a Coming Savior". We’ll take a look at Luke 2 and see three Signs of a higher Christmas purpose: Celebration, Salvation and Reconciliation.
Until then, have a GOD-week!
– Pastor Dan Clites