Churches come together to honor souls

Parishioners of St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Altamonte Springs joins memebers of Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in Eatonville to refurbish Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Eatonville. The joint effort is part of an initiative inspired by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops letter, Open Wide Our Heart. The desire is to foment community friendships within the neighboring churches. (MARJORIE DURANTE)

EATONVILLE | In an unprecedented event, St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Altamonte Springs and Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in Eatonville joined hands Nov. 7 to clean up and beautify a local cemetery in Eatonville. The corporal work of mercy brought together two communities to honor souls.

Parishioners of St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Altamonte Springs joins memebers of Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in Eatonville to refurbish Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Eatonville. The joint effort is part of an initiative inspired by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops letter, Open Wide Our Heart. The desire is to foment community friendships within the neighboring churches. (STEPHEN DOWELL)

Father Charlie Mitchell, pastor of St. Mary Magdalen Parish noted, “We take our inspiration from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ letter, Open Wide Our Hearts.” He said the parish has been a longtime neighbor of Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church and this is, as far as he knows, “the first attempt to reach out our hands in a spirit of fellowship.” After a long summer of racial unrest throughout the nation, the concerted effort seeks to unite the neighboring communities and hopefully, foment friendships by working together at Eatonville Memorial Gardens. He said, “We just feel it is the Lord that has brought us together on this day to begin a walk together in discipleship…We want to build bridges together between our communities and into the larger community as well.”

Pastor Willie Barnes, of Macedonia Baptist, was equally delighted at the opportunity. Eatonville is the oldest black-incorporated municipality in the United States. Incorporated in 1887, it is the first town successfully established by African American freedmen. “This coming together with Fr. Charlie and his church is a wonderful effort of restoration for a historic part of this community,” Pastor Barnes said. “This is a Christian effort that shows we have many things in common – an effort that fulfills our missions as churches to be able to reach out to people of all communities, not just our own congregations.” He added, “I believe this will spark a solidary that can bring community efforts together for many good things in the future.”

Parishioners of St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Altamonte Springs joins memebers of Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in Eatonville to refurbish Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Eatonville. The joint effort is part of an initiative inspired by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops letter, Open Wide Our Heart. The desire is to foment community friendships within the neighboring churches. (STEPHEN DOWELL)

After morning prayer and a reflection on Eatonville’s history, more than 100 volunteers (80 from St. Mary Magdalen) began the cemetery “renewal”. The largest project was shoveling and leveling gravel to refurbish the internal roadway and entrance pathway. The Mercy on the Road project was co-hosted by the parish’s Mercy Morning and Pastoral Care and Outreach Ministries. The parish gifted two stone markers for unknown grave sites and gravel for the roadway.

Father Mitchell assured, “We want to make sure this is not a one deal and it’s done. Our goal is to ultimately forge some bonds of friendship, collaboration and fellowship with our brothers and sisters at Macedonia so we can continue the walk of discipleship together and get to know each other as fellow Christians better.”

Diocesan Liaison for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue, Father Matthew Hawkins added, “For Catholics, the month of November is filled with reminders that our ultimate homeland is not of this world – that our citizenship is in heaven. There, united in Christ, every wall and every division are torn down—one Lord, one faith, one Baptism. Coming together to beautify a cemetery is a tangible means of beginning, even now, to prepare and pray for that day.”

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic, November 12, 2020