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.