My Mom, Lucille Vernon, died on June 8. As anyone who’s gone through this knows, there’s a mountain of things that need to be taken care of after a loss like this, while dealing with all the emotions, thoughts and memories that go with it.
My youngest sister, Annetta Jean, along with my brother-in-law Michael and I spent half of Monday at Worley-Luginbuel Funeral home before going to the Grove United Methodist Church to finalize the funeral arrangements with Senior Pastor Randall Hamill and associate pastor Thomas Corrigan.
Everything was going well, until we were informed by Mr. Hamill that we could NOT drape an American Flag over mom’s casket during the service, due to “local church policy”. (I won’t use a religious honorarium on a person who professes to be a person of Faith and God who behaved like he did from that point on).
He went on to say that we could cover the flag with a pall, then remove it before Mom left the church. I informed him of the protocol for an American flag draped coffin, including the statement that the Flag is NEVER covered with anything else. He then revised his statement to tell us that, again because of church policy, the pall would be on during the service, then would be replaced with the American flag prior to transport to the cemetery.
By this point my sister and I are extremely upset, and Annetta Jean stated to him, “Mom’s been a member of this church for 55 years, served on Active Duty with the Air Force during Korea, and to tell us that we can’t have a flag on her coffin is ridiculous, and is NOT what God would want.” Mr. Hamill’s response…? “It’s policy”.
My reply at that point was, “There was a time where ‘policy’ had signs that said ‘whites only’”. He then stated, “If you don’t agree with church policy, you’re more than welcome to have the service somewhere else.” I stood up and said, “We’re done here.”, and we walked out.
I got the numbers and names for the Church Council Chair Mike Johnston and Terry Ary, a council member. Additionally, I obtained the District Office number. I was informed Mr. Johnston was out of state, but called and finally late Monday night received reply phone calls from Mr. Ary, and Mr. Emory Mason, the District Superintendent.
Mr. Ary repeated the “church council” policy. Mr. Mason informed me that although he didn’t agree with the policy, he couldn’t do anything to change it.
My father’s service was in that church 15 years ago, WITH the Flag draped over his coffin for the entire service, and I know because I did the eulogy.
My military career spanned three decades, and my parents, grandfather, and too many aunts, uncles, cousins and blood relatives to count have served, Proudly and Honorably.
At this point, there’s a number of adjectives that come to mind to describe my emotions over this, but the strongest is hubris. To have a man who professes to be a person of faith and God treat people with this sort of disregard and cavalier attitude at their time of greatest need based on a “policy” is the height of arrogance, and insensitivity.
I will file a formal complaint over his behavior and actions during this encounter, and will ask for his immediate dismissal from any role with the church. I ask that those people in Grove who know our family and have been members of that church for as long as we have do the same. Talk to the church council about this blatant disregard for a basis tenet of what made this country one where freedom of religion was and is not only accepted, but encouraged.
I would, on behalf of my sisters and our families like to thank T.J. Holt and the entire staff at Worley-Luginbuel funeral for stepping up, and making our Mom’s funeral one that I know we will remember with a true appreciation for compassion and kindness in the years to come.
Louis 'Lou' Vernon