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The Community that Speaks to the Dead

This small, rural community in upstate New York looks like many others in the state. Victorian cottages cozy up to one another and large oaks dot sidewalks. But look closer and you’ll start to see the “Medium Open” signs or stumble upon the Healing Temple. Welcome to Lily Dale, America’s oldest Spiritualist community.

Lily Dale was founded in 1879 as an adult Spiritualism summer camp. People would come, set up tents, and then wait for the dead to arrive. Seances and message services followed. Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, even Thomas Edison (maybe), joined in. Spiritualism is committed to proving the continuity of life by communicating with spirits who have passed on,

What began as that tented summer commune now is a small hamlet, with about 250 residents, many of whom are registered mediums. Every summer, Lily Dale welcomes an estimated 30,000 visitors. Some are searching for healing or spiritual guidance. Others come out of curiosity or skepticism.

At 4pm a service is held at the Forest Temple, an outdoor structure that dates back to 1894. At these services, a medium gets up in front of an audience and starts listening for dead people. “I’m getting a Mary. Can anyone claim a Mary?” There’s a beat or two of silence, and then (most of the time) someone raises their hand in the audience. Then the medium is thoughtful, as if listening to a phone call on a bad line. “Mary wants you to know that she’s always watching over you and that she’s walking beside you in this life.” And then Mary leaves and the medium continues her work as moderator for the afterlife.

Medium Elaine Thomas doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that Spiritualism reached its zenith against the backdrop of the American Civil War and World War I. She says, “Spiritualism grew out of people’s pain and their subsequent need to find healing. Spiritualism and mediums demonstrate that life continues beyond the grave.”

Possible Preaching Angle:

Many people are also grieving in these turbulent times of pandemic, wars, and violence, and are searching for comfort. “When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?” (Isa. 8:19). Only in Christ can they find the truth and comfort they need (John 14:1-6; 1 Thess. 4:18).

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