STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 03/20/2009

FEATURE | Signs of Life in a Cemetery

The Codman Burying Ground in Dorchester, part of Second Church, had seen better days. Kids had sneaked over the weed-covered fence, and trash filled the grounds. Neighbors witnessed illegal activity and loathed the destruction of gravestones. The church lacked money to pay for cemetery maintenance and members took on the job--a daunting task for a small parish.

The Rev. Dr. Victor Price arrived at Second Church in 2004 with an exciting new vision. He foresaw the cemetery as “a place of light and life,” believing its revitalization would be an inspiration to the area. But it was a massive project that would cost thousands of dollars the church did not have. They sat amongst the weeds and prayed for the wisdom and resources to care for the properties entrusted to them. Then they waited.

Two weeks later Paul Malkemes ’95, executive director of The Boston Project, called with an idea. He proposed working together to rebeautify the cemetery. Paul knew The Boston Project’s focus on community development matched the need to revitalize neglected open space and that this large-scale project would impact the entire community.

The Boston Project Ministries was founded in 1995 when Paul and Glenna (Aron) ’94 launched a Summer Missions Program that took 16 teenagers to the city for service, outreach and discipleship. By the time Paul made that phone call to Second Church, The Boston Project had grown into a Christian community development ministry involving a staff of over 25 students and alumni and hosting dozens of fellow Gordon alumni as volunteers.

Gordon’s involvement in the cemetery renewal project deepened this past May when David Goss (assistant professor of history) and Cliff Hersey (director of global education) had their class study regional history through local cemeteries, including Codman Burying Ground. Students explored gravestone symbolism, learned how to do rubbings and assessed the conservation needs of this particular burying ground. These projects helped to restore the history and legacy of this site and provided parameters for its future care.

Neighbors are talking about the visible changes in the cemetery--disappearing barbed wire, newly cleared pathways and flowering trees--and about the teamwork that has bridged divides across age, race and class to tackle a God-sized project.

David Goss, M.A., assistant professor of history, and codirector of the Gordon Institute for Public History, teaches museum studies, public history, and early American maritime and intellectual history. His book Salem Witchcraft Trials was published this year by Greenwood Press (New York). A new book, Daily Life during the Salem Witch Trials, is forthcoming.


The Codman Burial Ground