published Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Birchwood church seeks to move seven graves

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    Staff Photo by Jeremy Belk/Chattanooga Times Free Press As Birchwood Baptist Church has expanded over the years, some graves at the church are now very close to the church building. Church elders now are looking at moving some of the graves to the church graveyard.

If you don't watch your step walking out of the fellowship hall at Birchwood Baptist Church, you could stumble over one of the many gravestones encircling the church.

With some graves as close as 10 feet to the building, church elders are looking at moving seven graves they feel are too close.

Pastor David Delmotte said 120 to 160 people attend services each week. With so many coming and going from the small church, it's commonplace to see people inadvertently walk over and between headstones, he said.

"I can't stand seeing people walk over the graves," Delmotte said last week as he looked out a window at three graves just outside the fellowship hall.

In November, Birchwood Baptist elders filed a petition in Hamilton County Chancery Court to move seven graves away from the walls but still in the cemetery. A legal ad published Dec. 24 in the Chattanooga Times Free Press gave relatives of the deceased 30 days' notice of the proposed move.

According to the document, the seven people -- Fred G. Samples, James W. Allison, Nannie S. Allison, Margret E. Conner, M.C. Conner, John C. Selvidge and an unmarked grave -- were buried between 1917 and 1946.

"As the parish has grown and expanded, the area surrounding the subject graves has been increasingly subject to foot traffic and general disturbance due to its proximity to the parish house, such that it has become impossible to maintain the site of the subject graves in a manner consistent with due and proper reverence to be accorded the graves," the court papers state.

And Delmotte said the gravesites make it impossible for the church building to expand any more. The church doesn't have any immediate plans to enlarge but might want to later, he said.

Delmotte said no immediate relatives of the deceased are members of Birchwood Baptist, but he has spoken with some distant relatives who are church members. They don't have an issue with moving the graves, he said.

Church attorney Benjamin McGowan said the petition is part of the statutory process Birchwood must follow to move the graves.

Kenneth Turner, associate professor of Bible at Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn., said the Bible doesn't address moving bodies that have been buried.

But some Christians believe the body is necessary for resurrection, he said.

"From a theological perspective, there is nothing wrong with it," Turner said. "You just have to protect the issues and feelings of the families."

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January 12, 2011 at 5:14 a.m.
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