Proper Burial: Seminar On Cremation And Christianity Held In Randolph

RANDOLPH – Nearly 100 people met Tuesday to discuss cremation and Christianity.

The workshop, which was held in conjunction with Van Rensselaer and Son Funeral Home, was held at the Randolph Fire Hall. Led by Dr. Donald Shirk, Grace Baptist Church senior pastor, the seminar focused on whether it was right for contemporary Christians to be cremated after death. Shirk, who has been speaking on this topic since 2006, is also a trustee to Baptist Bible College, advisory board member to The Association of Baptists for World Evangelization, on the National Council of 18 for the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches and serves as police chaplain for Batavia.

“It’s been my experience that many people make a decision about cremation without looking at the bigger picture,” said Shirk.

The seminar began with a look at both Old Testament and New Testament patterns of burial, then moved on to biblical examples of cremation and how it relates to Christianity.

According to Shirk, many early Christians strongly opposed cremation. Similar to their ancestors, they saw it as a pagan custom that ran contrary to their ideology about the eventual resurrection of the body. Cremation was made a capital crime in 789 A.D. during the reign of Charlemagne, but was reintroduced to Western culture again during the 19th century, due to concerns over health conditions around cemeteries, as well as a desire to reform burial practices. In 1963, the Vatican lifted a ban on cremation that had existed for much of the history of the Catholic church.

In 1960, there were roughly 230 crematoriums in the United States, but by 2000, the number had ballooned to nearly 1,600. According to Shirk, more than 50 percent of the deceased are cremated in New York state.

“Among many Christians, (the recent increase in cremations practices) probably reflects ignorance about how strongly the early Christians felt in rejecting the custom,” said Shirk. “It also reflects a permissive church posture. Other major factors in the acceptance of cremation are geographic, economic, hygienic and family. It became an attractive option for families for example, when a loved one dies far away from home. The cost and practicality of transporting cremated remains is considerably less expensive and much simpler.”

Following a short intermission, Shirk began the second portion of the seminar, titled “A Time to Mourn and a Time to Dance.” The second segment focused on the shift in culture with respect to mourning and how grieving should be approached.

“When we properly understand the process of mourning, it can be very helpful to us,” said Shirk.

Lunch was served after the seminar and was available to everyone who was in attendance. Shirk was pleased with the turnout.

“I think this was a phenomenal opportunity for the community to come together and be informed about a subject that a lot of people don’t know about,” said Shirk. “It was history, origins and what the Bible has to say about the subject, and I think it was really well received. Howie (Van Rensselaer) is to be highly commended for his initiative in putting this together. I think it was a really special event.”

Van Rensselaer told The Post-Journal he was very satisfied with the way that the event turned out, as well, saying the primary intention was to give people information that they may not otherwise get.

“I’ve had a lot of positive feedback already, so I’m thrilled about that,” said Van Rensselaer, operator of the funeral home. “Dr. Shirk is very informed about what he talks about and this was 110 percent of what I’d hoped to get out of today. I just wanted to get the information to people. So many people come to me asking about these topics, and I can only teach them so much, but to have Dennis be able to explain the actual process – I can’t give it justice like he can, so I’m very happy with how things went.”