Conference will control historic cemetery after church closingMissions and Outreach
The closing of any church in the Florida Conference can be difficult, but members of Asbury United Methodist Church in New Port Richey have an extra concern.
Asbury will close its doors as an independent church on June 30. It was acquired as a satellite campus of Bay Hope UMC in Lutz. But for many years, Asbury has taken responsibility for maintaining the historic East Elfers Cemetery near the church.
Since the cemetery, which dates to 1884, is not part of the transaction with Bay Hope, some members wonder what will become of that five-acre final resting place. Florida Conference Treasurer Milton "Mickey" Wilson has an answer for them.
“We at the Conference understand our responsibility there,” he said. “We will ensure that it is cared for because we have that obligation to the people interred there and their heirs. We don’t take that responsibility lightly.
“Just because the church is closing doesn’t mean that the cemetery will be neglected.”
The Conference arranged for a survey of the cemetery grounds and plans to install new signage and make other improvements. Manual burial records will be scanned and downloaded to new computers the Conference will provide to allow visitors to quickly learn grave site locations.
Sara Eaton, an Asbury member, has served as overseer of cemetery since mid-February. She sells grave markers, keeps records, and helps organize burials.
“We have a lot of family plots from the families in Elfers and the New Port Richey area,” she said. “Some of those go back generations. A lot of people choose us because we’re less expensive. As an old country cemetery, we don’t have a lot of the restrictions that larger cemeteries do.”
There is room for about 3,200 burial plots in the cemetery. About half of them are already filled, and about 800 others are owned for eventual use.
Many of the headstones speak to a different era in Florida. At least one Civil War veteran rests there, and many other markers date to the mid-1800s.
The cemetery was founded in 1884 after settlers chose that site south of the Pithlachascotee River to build a church for under the Methodist banner. Tampa District of the Florida Methodist Episcopal Conference, South formally acquired the cemetery a year later and, through a few changes, maintains that ownership today.
Asbury UMC assumed control of the cemetery in 1973. Members and volunteers oversaw maintenance and upkeep of the area, a tradition that Eaton continues today. She will continue to do so as part of a committee with Conference leaders and other volunteers even after the transition from Asbury to Bay Hope.
“I’ve gotten a lot of calls from members asking what’s going to become of the cemetery,” she said. “I tell them there’s nothing to worry about. The Conference is taking over responsibility for it, and I will continue to be the point person for them to speak with.”
--Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for flumc.org
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