Roadside Memorials – Filling in for the Church?

Posted by on August 6, 2009

I don’t know if this is happening everywhere in the United States, but here in California, I’ve seen a huge increase of collaborative roadside memorials in the past few years.  Do you know the phenomenon I’m describing?  People go to the place where someone has lost their life – usually in a car accident – and arrange balloons, pictures, candles, flowers, personal items, teddy bears, etc. Here’s a picture of one in West Sacramento, CA:

A Memorial in West Sacramento, CA

People make these as a way to express their grief and feel like they’re doing something about their loss. The church used to provide a place for that.  We used to be the place where people gathered to express their loss and comfort each other.   A memorial service followed by a reception used to be the place where people would find meaning and hope in a senseless loss – where people could share their pain, share their stories,comfort one another, and offer support.  If we wanted a lasting memorial to a person, we would donate to the church’s memorial fund and our loved one’s name would be recorded where future generations could read it.

But where do you go if you don’t have a community like that?  How do you find hope if you don’t have the hope of the gospel? Where do you go to share stories?

I think that these roadside memorials are a sign of spiritual hunger – of people’s search for meaning and longing for more in life.  We’re desperately trying to create it for ourselves.

I wonder how the church might respond.  I wonder if there’s a way for us to meet that need again the way we once did.  I wonder if we could make ourselves available for memorial services or even places to memorialize someone in a more permanent way.  How could we let people know that we’re there for them in their time of crisis?

What are your ideas?

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