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Following Lengthy Dispute Over Tithing, Virginia Grandmother Laid to Rest in Church Cemetery

Alice Mae Garrison
Photo by Strauss Western (via Unsplash)

Following a lengthy dispute over tithing and attendance, a Virginia woman has been laid to rest in the cemetery of the church where she was a member for most of her life. 

Alice Mae Garrison, referred to by family and friends as Sallie, died on Aug. 30 at the age of 82. Her dying wish was to be buried at First Baptist Church Hollins (FBCH) in Roanoke, Virginia, where her parents, siblings, and other extended family members are buried.  

However, Rev. Harvey Saunders, who pastors the church, denied the family this request after he revealed that the church had removed Garrison from its membership list due to a lack of attendance and tithing. 

The church’s bylaws disallow people who were not members of the church from being buried in the church’s cemetery. 

The family disputed Saunders’ claim that Garrison ought to have had her membership revoked, arguing that while Garrison was unable to attend the church in person for the last seven years of her life due to health reasons, she continued to regularly give to the church, even though her income was meager and fixed. 

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The family reported that Garrison wrote 22 checks to the church between 2016 and 2023, and those donations totaled to $1,765, according to The Christian Post. The last check Garrison sent was dated Jan. 3 and was in the amount of $400. 

Garrison’s obituary noted not only her longtime membership at FBCH but also her community engagement. 

“Sallie loved Hollins which was expressed through her community activism. In 1978, Sallie facilitated a summer program at FBCH for the youth of Hollins by collaborating with the Total Action Against Poverty (currently Total Action for Progress, or TAP),” the obituary read. “Two of her most triumphant acts of service were serving on the committee to establish a sewage system in the Hollins Community and working diligently with Roanoke County to have a community park developed, now known as Sadler Park.”

In September, Brenda Hale, the longtime leader of Roanoke’s chapter of the NAACP, told The Roanoke Times that she had attempted to intervene on Garrison’s behalf but to no avail.

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“She was baptized there. She was a vibrant member for years. She started a choir there. She was someone to be respected,” Hale said. “People of integrity attended that church.”