Anglicans Online banner More about the gryphon
Independent On the web since 1994 More than 250,000 readers More than 32,000 links Updated every Sunday
Will you help support
Anglicans Online?

The Paypal logotype

Noted This Week
Sites new to AO

News Centre
News archive

News flash: a summary of the top headlines
Find us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us by email
Be notified each week

Start here
Anglicans believe...
The Prayer Book
The Bible

Read letters to AO
Write to us

Resources A to Z

World Anglicanism
Anglican Communion
In full communion
Not in the Communion

Dioceses and Parishes
Hong Kong
New Zealand

South Africa
Sri Lanka

Vacancies Centre
List a vacancy
Check openings worldwide

Add a site or link to AO
Add a site to AO
Link to AO

About Anglicans Online
Back issues
About our logo
Our search engine


Hallo again to all.

In our recent reader survey, we didn't ask if you share—like many AO staff members present and past—a fondness for churchyards. (At least one of us is a life member of the Association for Gravestone Studies.) Our late colleagues Cynthia and Fred McFarland lived across the street from what is, by American standards, a venerable acre; in the words of the old missal, they now, 'sealed with the seal of faith sleep the sleep of peace' in that same ground. We had with each of them the experience of walking in life over the very spot where a noble stele tells their names and dates to every one who passes by. Aside from their correspondence, our memories, and our dreams, it marks one of the places where we can still meet them.

The greater number of cemetery visits we make are not to the resting-places of persons we have known in the flesh, with whom we have walked and talked, however, but rather to the graves of cousins and forebears scattered about one hundred miles deep and west from the northeastern American Atlantic coast. In the case of this writer, this has meant trips to the first English settlements on Long Island; to the traces of Dutch New Netherland in modern New York and New Jersey; to the proud monuments of Italian-American merchants and weavers; to an isolated private farm with its graves of Schwenkfeldian exiles; to a patchwork of churchyards in the old German counties of Pennsylvania; to a church that stands as the only marker for the life of its founding pastor.

In each place, it is the stones, however legible or not, that impel us to reverence and prayer. They tell us by the simple rules of mathematics that beneath them rest the dust of the arms that held the arms that held the arms that held us. They show us the durability of a basic, natural material over the human body. They tell us the names and floruits of souls lifted through baptism and welcomed through death into the life of the Holy Trinity.

With no romantic view of history or the circumstances in which biological life continues itself, the stones give us a place at which to stand in gratitude, in awareness of the hundreds of pregnancies that preceded the one in which we were each born; of the hundreds of homes that sheltered our ancestors in their childhood and old age; of the eyes that looked with love-light in them between and among generations, though there is no light in them today. The stones put us in mind each time we see them of a life in full—from nursing and toilet training through childhood play, adolescence and adulthood, strength and connection, community participation, and the creation of a new generation who go through the same stages. This cycle, whether told by geneticists, genealogists, Genesis, or some other kind of modeling, is never more present in our minds than when a living descendant stands at the grave of an ancestor, breath in her lungs that came from the breaths that preceded hers, and now are not.

It is the stones, too, that keep us in mind of families without such hard and marking invitations to gratitude, for whom the ravages of time have obliterated monuments, or for whom war, genocide, sudden death, or distance make such human-material interactions impossible.

Unlike Jews, Orthodox Christians, or Buddhists, Anglicans have no set practices when we visit a grave in mourning, in thanksgiving, for research, or in reflexion on the certainty of own end. We have no Mourner's Kaddish, no Panikhida, no received modern equivalent of Japanese O-Bon, and nothing really corollary in the Prayer Book.

What, then, is to be done by the thoughtful Anglican visiting a grave? We shy away from reciting Gray's Elegy, whatever its merits for student memorisation and the good reminder that

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Awaits alike the inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

We incline instead, on most occasions, to a simple mental recitation of the Lord's Prayer and a holding on our heart of the name of the soul at rest. If we're feeling bold (friends in living experience will not be surprised) we like to sing Healey Willan's Gloria in the open air, and to pick some stems of nearby flowers. We think the beloved dead can't mind our voices whatever the state of our tunefulness; that the virtue of filial piety is worthy of modern attempts at its observance; and, too, that there is a healthy admixture of long walks in the open air, Christian hope, and realism about the inevitability of death and the brevity of life.

Is there a better way for Anglicans to comport themselves on the occasional or frequent visit to a cemetery? We're open to every suggestion—even to the thought that it might be good to have a small handbook of graveside prayers in print—and in the meantime

All we go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

See you next week.

Richard Mammana

Richard Mammana


All of us at Anglicans Online

8 November 2015

A thin blue line
This web site is independent. It is not official in any way. Our editorial staff is private and unaffiliated. Please contact about information on this page. ©2015 Society of Archbishop Justus
. Please address all spam to