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Church cemetery provides ministry opportunitiescomment (0)

October 27, 2005

Using cemeteries as ministry tools may seem unusual to some but not to members of Oak Bowery Baptist Church, Ohatchee, in Calhoun Baptist Association. They use their grounds to meet the needs of grieving parents in the community.
Earlier this year, Oak Bowery Baptist reserved part of its cemetery for parents who cannot afford to bury their stillborn or miscarried babies. Pastor Van Lockridge said the ministry allows the church to take away some of the parents’ burden during their time of bereavement.
“This is not something that you would think of as an evangelism tool, but if the person or couple who has lost a child are not Christians, this gives us an opportunity to share the love of Christ in many ways during this period of time,” said Lockridge, who works full time at the church but is a registered nurse by profession.
“I had already been looking to sign up to work with parents who have lost babies at the Regional Medical Center in Anniston,” he said. “They have about 60 stillborn babies and miscarriages every year.     What we were looking to do was to find an avenue where we can work with those people in their bereavement, and at the same time, have something our church could do to become involved.”
With help from the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM) evangelism office, Lockridge received bereavement training in Chattanooga, Tenn., and is now a bereavement counselor at the hospital. 
Since he completed coordinator training, Lockridge can also teach others interested in becoming counselors, which further extends the ministry. 
“We want to go into the hospital and be with the family at the time of loss and help them work through their grief and bereavement,” he said. 
“We want to be there through the whole process and, at the same time, be able to offer them this service at no cost.”
Sid Nichols, director of missions for Calhoun Association, said Oak Bowery accepted the state convention’s challenge of Intentional Evangelism through this outreach program. “It’s a creative way to minister and reach out to people who are hurting,” he said.
“As their director of missions, I was thrilled to hear that they had found an avenue to minister to people in a very unique way,” Nichols said.
Sammy Gilbreath, SBOM director of the office of evangelism, commended Oak Bowery for its actions.
“Oak Bowery is using a servant ministry concept to help people during times of grief,” Gilbreath said. “We always encourage people to identify needs and their passions and use those passions or needs to build a relationship so that the relationship will provide opportunities to share their faith.”
Lockridge said church members are responding well to the new ministry.
“A lot of times, a cemetery becomes an issue of dispute in churches, and we’ve seen this as an avenue of positive cooperation with our cemetery committee and the Intentional Evangelism project,” he said. 
“It’s something that’s helped to unify our folks with another avenue we can use to help our community. It’s been a real positive thing.”
Although the church is still in the planning stages of the ministry, they helped a family for the first time in April.
“The couple had moved here from Ohio and didn’t know anybody,” Lockridge said. “It was an opportunity for our church family to reach out. We just want to be His hand in this community.”
Lockridge added that his church members are now interested in doing other types of intentional ministries.
“There are all kinds of Intentional Evangelism opportunities,” he said. “We’ve just got to take them. People are in need and when you’ve got people in need, there is a place for Intentional Evangelism.”

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