Have you ever heard of a “living” graveyard? I have. It’s my home graveyard, just up the street from Home Moravian Church in historic Old Salem.
“God’s Acre,” from the German “Gottesacker,” is a quite pleasant and beautiful setting in any season. There is almost always activity in God’s Acre. Family members of all ages bring flowers and visit with deceased loved ones. Salem College students pass by and through the graveyard on their way to class. Tourists linger and read gravestones dating from 1771. All the uniform stones lie flat on the ground to signify equality in death and are arranged in squares by “choirs,” which are determined by gender and marital status.
I just read that God’s Acre received 4 1/2 stars, a Certificate of Excellence, and 196 reviews on TripAdvisor. It is rated #3 of 76 things to do in Winston-Salem. Reviewers called it a “Must-See” and reported, “We found the hardest part was leaving.” I’ll bet many of those folks underground echo that sentiment!
Visiting historic cemeteries is certainly a normal and interesting activity for tourists. I have spent numerous hours at Arlington National Cemetery. But in our cemetery are buried peaceful warriors, devoted to God, community and service to humankind. Here lie early settlers, artisans, builders, doctors, bankers, farmers, musicians, writers, industrialists, pastors, and later Moravians who strive to follow in their footsteps. A legacy of hard work, honesty and dedication to God, family and the greater community.
There are sometimes exciting happenings in God’s Acre. In 1989, a tornado, excuse me … “downdraft,” swept through Salem, uprooting trees and exposing vaults and caskets. A storm so powerful it could raise the dead! Several years ago, in a flagrant case of gender discrimination, the difficult decision was made to cut down the female ginkgo trees, beloved for their exquisite yellow fan leaves in the fall. It seems that
their stinky fruit dropped on the ground and hardened into lethal brown projectiles which were zinged by lawnmower blades into unsuspecting pedestrians. The graveyard powers-that-be probably didn’t want to have to bury people on the spot, people who might not even be Moravian!
I have a friend who plays in the Moravian Funeral Band, and she isn’t even Moravian. Mary drives all over the county playing her flute at Moravian funeral services. She says she meets the nicest people … hopefully on the North side of the sod! I was asking her the other day about someone I hadn’t seen in a while. Mary remarked that she had met him, a fellow band member, just last week in cremains, as if meeting someone in cremains was a perfectly normal rendezvous spot!
God’s Acre draws its biggest crowds at Easter. Every grave is decorated with colorful Easter flowers, and each gravestone is scrubbed white and clean. Bands play antiphonally. Birds chirp and chatter. Hundreds of worshippers from all over the world assemble in the early morning darkness to welcome the sunrise and proclaim once again in this 245th year of the Easter Sunrise Service that “The Lord is risen indeed!” This beautiful and inspiring service in our peaceful Moravian burying ground should truly be off the charts at TripAdvisor.