Together forever … if a little apart

Rick Barnes
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Seventh Day Adventist couple share cemetery for two mere metres from their Anglican family members

Musgravetown is a hamlet of about 550 people scattered along the western edge of Goose Bay, an arm of Bonavista Bay first settled by fishermen and loggers.

It is, perhaps, one of the most tranquil communities on the planet.  Several different churches dot the edge of the bay — United, Anglican, Salvation Army, Seventh Day Adventist, as well as a tiny Gospel Hall.

Most have their own graveyards, too, some close by their respective churches, others on hillsides overlooking the bay or tucked away among the trees.

On an early October afternoon in the old Anglican graveyard at the end of a tree-lined lane, there isn’t a breath of wind stirring the surrounding trees, a chattering squirrel or even a buzzing insect to disrupt the peace of those laid to rest.

Many of the headstones bear the name Greening — the Greenings were among the first to settle this section of Goose Bay’s sheltered shores. Brothers Baxter and John Greening are resting here, but another brother, Josiah, who died in 1965, is not.  Josiah and his wife, Viola, are side by side among the trees in a tiny fenced plot outside the graveyard.

The couple was buried outside the final resting place of their Anglican relatives and lifelong friends because they embraced a different brand of Protestantism — the Seventh Day Adventist Church.   

The Seventh Day Adventist Church dates back to 1844.

It was founded out of the chaos that followed an Oct. 22, 1844 event known as The Great Disappointment when the Millerite sect’s prediction Christ would appear that day on Earth didn’t materialize.

The Canadian movement began in the Eastern Townships of Quebec and today, across Canada, there are more than 60,000 members and 356 Seventh Day Adventist churches, including one in Lethbridge — across the bay from Josiah and Viola’s gravesite.

The Lethbridge church, whose motto is “Sharing the Christ that Cares” started in 1962.

Larry Greening, Josiah and Viola’s grandson, lives on Greening family land near the Anglican cemetery — in fact, half of the cemetery land was given to the Anglican Church by the Greenings.

Despite the Greenings’ gift to church and community, when Josiah passed on, the rules for burial were clear.

“When grandfather died, he wanted to be buried by his family and all the immediate family is buried into the Anglican cemetery in there,” Larry says. “They weren’t allowed inside the Anglican (cemetery) because they were Seventh Day Adventists.”

The Greening family owned the land adjacent to the graveyard, so a portion was consecrated and Josiah was buried there, followed by Viola in 1973.

Larry, a Salvation Army churchgoer, feels it was a reasonable compromise at that time.

“If you were Anglican, you were buried in an Anglican cemetery. If you were United you were buried in the United cemetery and never the twain shall meet,” Larry says. “It don’t bother me. It was an understood fact.”     

Larry remembers his grandmother Viola as a religious woman, and it seems likely it was she who converted the Anglican Josiah to Seventh Day Adventist beliefs.

One of the distinguishing features of the Seventh Day Adventist church is the Saturday Sabbath.

The early Christian church abandoned the Jewish Saturday Sabbath and declared Sunday the day of rest — sometimes called the “Pope’s Sabbath.”

Seventh Day Adventists maintain the Bible clearly states that the seventh day is Saturday, so they hold their Sabbath from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday. Early Adventists were arrested for breaking Canadian labour law by working on Sundays.

Joseph and Viola were buried in their tiny forest graveyard long before Pastor John Brushett, the current Seventh Day Adventist pastor, came to the area.

Brushett says, for Seventh Day Adventists, the Sabbath is still a key issue.

“Of all the commandments … it’s the only one that begins with the word ‘remember’ and it’s kind of interesting that the one that begins with the word ‘remember’ is the one most of the world forgot.”  

Larry inherited Viola’s well-thumbed Bible, a collection of books by Ellen White — a co-founder of the Seventh Day Adventist Church — and some correspondence from Nellie Belcher, Viola’s former employer in West Medford, Mass.

Viola worked as a domestic for the Belcher family before she married and settled in Musgravetown and we can gauge from Nellie’s letters the Belchers’ high regard for Viola, whom they affectionately called “Ollie.”    

In August 1942, Nellie Belcher wrote to Viola: “We are all glad to know that you enjoyed your life when you were with us. You surely made our lives very comfortable and easy with your very willing and efficient help. We often speak of ‘Ollie’ and I wish you were back again.”

Back in Musgravetown, Viola found a way to remember the good times she spent in Massachusetts with the Belchers — she named her only child, Larry’s father, Belcher Greening. It’s an odd name in today’s vernacular, but it is much more elegant when you examine its French roots ­— bel cher, meaning “beautiful darling.”   

So, we get a glimpse of Viola Greening as a dependable, hardworking, caring and pious woman. Viola was drawn to the teachings of the Seventh Day Adventist Church and the study of the Bible, and that ultimately brought her and her husband, Josiah, to rest together among the still trees outside the Anglican graveyard.  

When asked how he feels about the Musgravetown Adventist couple isolated in their forest gravesite, Pastor Brushett recalls what the Bible teaches about the dead: “The Bible says they are asleep in their graves until the resurrection.”

But before that day comes, the fences that separate Josiah from his Anglican brothers may come down. The current Anglican minister for the Musgravetown area, Rev. Issac Hutchings, says he would consider moving the fence to include Josiah and Viola inside the boundary of the old Anglican graveyard.

“I would have to run that by the bishop, right, before I do that,” he said. “But I’m pretty sure he would entertain the idea and probably be glad to do so.”

 

telegram@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Seventh Day Adventist Church, Salvation Army, Lethbridge church Anglican Church Anglican Josiah Christian church The Bible

Geographic location: Goose Bay, Quebec, Canada Lethbridge Musgravetown West Medford Massachusetts

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Recent comments

  • Paul
    October 30, 2013 - 11:15

    I see religion is still keeping us humans apart.

  • Lori O'B.
    October 26, 2013 - 13:18

    Both my parents and my sister are buried in the Anglican Cemetary in Musgravetown. On my frequent visits there I have often wondered about the graves outside the main Cemetary. Thank you for telling the story and I agree with Rev. Hutchings. Time for the fence to be moved.