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