Churches apply graveyard tradition to ashes

Just outside Fredericksburg (Va.) United Methodist Church, an arc-shaped wall hugs the church’s quiet meditation garden and outdoor fountain. A closer look at the wall reveals 360 niches and the names of deceased members of the congregation.

The columbarium, which holds urns containing ashes of the dead, was installed two years ago and is part of a growing trend of churches that are reverting back to the old church graveyard tradition in a modern way.

“Rather than buying plots in a cemetery in which they have no connection, to be buried at their church where they’ve worshipped and celebrated their life is meaningful to many people,” said the church’s senior pastor, Larry Lenow.

Part of the increase can be traced to the rising popularity of cremation. The use of cremation has risen to 30% from 20% since the mid-1990s, according to the Cremation Association of North America. The association projects that by 2025, the rate will be 50%.

The phenomenon of interring those ashes at churches is especially seen in mainline Protestant churches. Russell Vacanti, design director for Armento Liturgical Arts based in Buffalo, whose company completes about 11 columbarium jobs a month, said 85% of Armento’s work is with the Episcopal Church, followed by Presbyterian, Methodist and Lutheran churches.

Read it all; for some of my thoughts on cremation see here.


Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, Death / Burial / Funerals, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture

2 comments on “Churches apply graveyard tradition to ashes

  1. Connecticutian says:

    This may be the forum for me to finally get advice about this…

    What happens to a churchyard when the property changes hands? (Could be a sale, could be abandonment for more Anglican pastures, you know what I’m talkin’ about…

    Some in our parish are concerned about upkeep of the churchyard, and also about their plans for resting alongside loved ones that are already there. I know hallowed ground stays hallowed ground, in principle… but who might typically be left “in charge” of upkeep and future tenants???

    (PS – Kendall’s points deserve further consideration, but as I said, many folks have already made up their minds or taken up ‘residence’.)

  2. Summersnow says:

    I apreciate this topic and thoughts and agree that Kendall’s points on the subject need careful consideration. Everyone should take the time to think through and communicate their final wishes to family member or trusted friends. Better yet, write it down, sign it and give copies to those who you are sure will carry out your wishes.

    However, I respectfully disagree with Kendall’s last point in the original article. I do not feel it shows any less respect to consider cost as a factor when making this decision. At this time my husband and I have decided on cremation for the disposal of our remains. After careful consideration of all the other points, cost was considered as well–not as a way to put a price on one’s love and respect, but as good stewardship of our resources and the resources of our families.

    Twice, we as a family have planned pre-need funerals and burials. We thought this would take care of the stress involved at such a sad time and ease the burden for the family while honoring the wishes of the deceased. Both times additional costs were incurred as the original payments did not cover the rising costs of certain items. Both times this ended up distressing the families at a time when emotions were running deep and reasoned thought was difficult. Having had this experience not once, but twice, it is not something we wish to put our dear families through.

    As for our final resting place, our remains will be interred in a single burial plot, near our dear families in our local cemetery. There is too much risk involved to do otherwise.