Parishioners are finally able to rest now that pipes in cemetery are removed County gives back land it bought for $2 in 1960s

May 17, 1998|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

Now that Anne Arundel County public works laborers have removed pipes that used to run right through the cemetery of Asbury Town Neck United Methodist Church in Severna Park, parishioners no longer have to worry about where to bury the next congregant who dies.

That's a relief for the mostly black congregation of 400 that has worshiped at the church off Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard for 103 years.

"You know what it means when your mama can't be buried where you want her to be?" said Joyce Jennings, a lifelong parishioner who led the effort that ended successfully this spring with the county moving 250 feet of a 12-inch water main out of the cemetery to the road edge.

"The issue of graves jerked tears," said Jennings, former president of the church's board. "That was one reason I made it my priority. Nothing better than having the peace of mind that your grandma will rest in peace."

And now Jennings, too, can rest after what turned out to be a fairly painless haggle with the county.

In the 1960s, the church board sold the county an acre of its grassy back yard, plots of which were intended as the final resting places for their children, their families and themselves. 00 The price tag: $2. More than an acre was lost, however. Once extra property on either side of the pipe was also taken, to ensure room to make any repairs, the church lost as many as 75 gravesites.

County Executive John G. Gary heard about the problem from Jennings and turned to the county capital project account created several years ago to provide small grants and loans to communities.

"In no way is this meant in a condescending manner, but when the government approaches a group, it's sort of intimidating to begin with, and we believe the government approached this church and they did not know the extent of what that was going to mean to them in terms of future use of their cemetery," said Gary's spokeswoman, Lisa Ritter.

Jennings thinks that men on the church board at the time of the sale felt they could not refuse. "In the '60s, the black men took the white man at his word," Jennings said, and operated under the assumption "that if you don't give it to him, he'll take it."

Now the county has given it back. In March, the county spent $19,000 on eight laborers who relocated the water main, a major transmission main for part of Severna Park, said Michael P. Bonk, deputy director of the county's Bureau of Utility Operations.

"I think it's clear to say the line was running through the cemetery, and it was the right thing to do, to move it," said Bonk, who in 14 years working with the county had never heard of pipes being put through a cemetery.

"I didn't think it belonged to the county," said Jennings, who is also pleased with restoration of the land to the church. "I believed it belonged to God."

Pub Date: 5/17/98

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