5 Thoughts About Church Memorials

Church memorials
Church memorials certainly are honorable, but they can be problematic. (Wikimedia Commons)

Many churches have them. They can be found in varying degrees of emphasis from one church to another.

They are church memorials, areas of a church designated in memory of someone who was a member of the congregation.

I have seen rooms, particularly parlors, named in memory of a person or a family. In older churches there are sometimes stained glass windows used as memorials. Indeed, I have seen smaller memorials like a pulpit, a garden, or a communion table. But entire churches can be named in memory of a family, such as the Smith Memorial Church.

There are two major motives behind memorials, and they are not mutually exclusive. One motive is to remember a person or a family because of their service and ministry in a church. A second major motive is financial. A person or a family gets naming rights to something in a church because of their financial gifts to the congregation.

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So, what are the benefits or the problems associated with church memorials? Five thoughts come to mind:

1. They can be a healthy way to honor someone who really made a significant contribution to a church. That contribution could have been in service, dedication and/or money.

2. On some occasions, memorials can be a way a donor gets what he or she wants in a church. So the church builds a chapel in memory of a key person in the church. But the church really does not need the chapel; the leaders just didn't want to say no to the donors who wanted the chapel. In some ways, it can be a form of manipulation.

3. A memorial can be divisive later. I have knowledge of a church that named a parlor after a prominent woman who had recently died. Within a year of the parlor's construction, the woman's family was attempting to control who used or didn't use the room.

4. It can be problematic if negative facts about the late honoree are discovered later. For example, one church was faced with a conundrum when the deceased honoree was discovered later to be a multiple sex offender. The worship center had been named for this person, and there were still family members in the church.

5. All of the closed churches I have studied had memorials. I have to be careful here. Correlation does not equal causation. Still, every deceased church I have studied had some type of memorial. As I would ask probing questions of those who were members of the church, I would learn that the memorial was often symptomatic of a congregation that was focused inwardly.

Many churches have memorials. I am sure there are many different perspectives about them. Such is the reason I would love to hear from you. What has been your experience with church memorials?

Thom Rainer is the president of LifeWay Christian Resources. For the original article, visit thomrainer.com.

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