This is the story of a congregation. Not the congregation which attends services in the white frame church. Of them, I know nothing. Perfectly lovely people, I would imagine, who have wrought significant changes on the church I attended as a child and where we were married, changing it from a simple white frame church with a basement suitable for potlucks to a building complex of sanctuary, offices and classrooms, and a much improved kitchen. As to the latter, the most significant improvement was the addition of an indoor stairway to the basement. A generation of women who made the trek through the cold to the lower level, casseroles in hand, would have been grateful for that stairway. No this story is about the congregation across the street. The silent worshippers.

But a bit of history is in order. The church was originally built by the summer people. Primarily people from Ft. Wayne who owned cottages on the lake. They purchased a large piece of land on a hill overlooking the lake and erected the white frame structure. It was meant to meet their religious needs between Memorial Day and Labor Day and, initially, sat empty the remaining 9 months of the year. Yet a small group of Lutherans, mostly German in descent, were year-round residents at the lake and they received permission from the summer people to continue the building in service, paying them for the privilege, of course. By the late 40s, this arrangement changed as the winter congregation got large enough to assume control of the building year round. The change also saw the beginning of the congregation across the street.

My brother, who succumbed to a lung ailment shortly after birth, was the first resident. He was followed within a year by the pastor who was one of the founders of the church and who had been its only pastor. Before his taking up residence across the street, he also baptized me as well as committing my brother to eternity. The cemetery, in keeping with the desire to keep the grounds keeper’s work to a minimum, was to have only headstones which were flat to the ground. An exception was made for the founding pastor, and his resting place is marked by a large stone cross as well as a raised headstone. True to the original intent, however, the stones of everyone else are flat to the ground. No one has been heard to complain.

Such was the state of things for a couple of years, two graves in a large open space. But time marches on and, as with any desirable piece of real estate, other individuals began to seek residence and, visiting it now, one finds that a small town has sprung up. Visiting the cemetery is how we, my wife and I, keep up with the history, not only of the growing congregation, but that of the church across the street. Here are the Schiebers. She was my Sunday School teacher; her husband moved across the street several years before she joined him. She never got over his death and used to weep silently of a Sunday morning; something that used to annoy my father considerably.

Here is little Danny. I have written of him before. At 8, he is the second child to seek rest across the street. An ill-fated trip onto the ice in late February proved his undoing; an object lesson to those of us remaining that the lake did not tolerate mistakes and never allowed a second chance.

Over here is Harry, my godfather. Harry was the first adult friend I ever had. Always patient and uncomplaining, I did not realize the seriousness of the cancer which had plagued him for as long I could remember. No matter your mood, Harry was certain to brighten your day and, even on his death bed, had a ready smile and word of encouragement for any who visited him. Recently, we noted that Mary, his wife and my godmother, had joined him. She was a good woman and gave me the gentle nudge which set me on the course in life I ultimately chose.

Different names bring different memories, different stories. Lois died in her early 50s of uterine cancer. As the disease and the subsequent chemotherapy ravaged her body, she was heard to remark that if, she died after all she had been through, she was going to be really mad. Not one to hold a grudge, I doubt that her anger lasted long.

We walk around, reading the other names and dates, and the memory of some is especially vivid. Here is the pastor who married us. A dynamic speaker, he used to draw as many as a thousand people to service of a summer Sunday morning. The small building could not hold them all and chairs were set up on the lawn for the worshippers to at least hear his address over the loud speaker system. A lover of good stories, it was sometimes difficult to know if the story he was telling you was true or an embellishment. A slight smile and a twinkle in his eye were usually the only clues.

On a recent visit, one grave did surprise us. It was Jim, who had graduated several years ahead of us. He married his high school sweetheart and took a job in Toledo. Not so far away, but far enough to give him no thought until this encounter. His mother, the aforementioned Lois, and his father are buried in another part of the cemetery, across town, so to speak.

My brother has many neighbors now including, quite near, twins, whose experience with life was no longer than his. And there, in graves next to his, are my parents.