Arlington church joins trend by building columbarium

Posted Monday, Jan. 28, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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ARLINGTON -- Heaven may not contain limestone from West Texas, granite from the Hill Country and porcelain floor tiling from Italy. But for members of First United Methodist Church of Arlington who are so inclined, a planned columbarium walkway made of those materials can be the earthly home of their bodily remains once their souls have departed for the afterlife.

The historic church north of downtown could soon join a growing list of worship centers in North Texas and beyond offering congregants the choice of having their cremated ashes inurned at their spiritual home.

For some of the faithful, it's a comfort to know that their earthly remains will sit in a place of peace and beauty, where they spent many of the most meaningful moments of their lives.

"We are baptized here as infants, we give a statement of faith and are confirmed here, we are married here, and our funerals are held here," said Ellen Bauman, the church's columbarium coordinator. "This is another ministry that we can offer."

Growing trend

At least 26 other Dallas-Fort Worth churches have established columbaria on their grounds.

First United Methodist Church in Fort Worth and Lovers Lane United Methodist Church in Dallas have completed similar structures in recent years.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth has developed a policy for establishing columbaria, opening the door for parishes like Good Shepherd in Colleyville, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Keller and Immaculate Conception in Denton to move forward.

All Saints' and St. Christopher's Episcopal churches and St. Stephen Presbyterian Church in Fort Worth built columbaria in the past.

The trend follows steady growth in the percentage of Americans who choose cremation, which rose to 40.6 percent in 2010 from 21.1 percent in 1995, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.

In DFW, the rise has been sharper, from about 5 percent to 40 percent in that time, said Cindy Thompson, president of Thompson's Harveson & Cole Funeral Home in Fort Worth. She predicts that it will reach 75 percent over the next decade.

In 2009, the Legislature changed the law to allow columbaria anywhere on a church campus. Previously, a columbarium had to be attached to the main building. A Houston church requested the change in 2005 and was granted an exception by the Legislature.

Ben Foley of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Homecoming said his 28-year-old firm has built columbaria in 1,200 churches of various denominations.

Three main factors seem to be driving the trend toward columbaria, he said: Churches are embracing the traditional concept of churchyard burial, cremation and niche cost significantly less than casket and gravesite, and the option is much more environmentally friendly.

For consumers, the practical consideration of cost often plays a role. In North Texas, a burial plot alone can run from $900 at a rural cemetery to $10,000 in an older, well-shaded and beautifully featured section of a major cemetery, funeral directors say. A casket, embalming and funeral add $5,500 or more. Cremation can cost less than $1,000. Cemeteries like Laurel Land in Fort Worth offer columbaria, along with family mausoleums, glass-enclosed niches, cremation gardens and other options. Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery recently completed a 53-acre expansion that included the addition of 4,000 columbarium niches.

Changing demographics and the easing of Christian objections have helped drive the increase in the acceptance of cremation in recent decades.

Church's plans

Assuming that enough members buy a niche, The Columbarium at FUMC Arlington is planned for a covered walkway that extends from the sanctuary to the chapel on the west side of the church. Plans call for grillwork, stained-glass windows, religious art and benches, in addition to the columbarium itself.

Sealing off the walkway has another benefit: making an adjacent courtyard playground more secure, said church member Bill Workman, a retired architect who led the design process.

Originally the columbarium was proposed for what is now a church parking lot across the street, but during a master-planning process it was decided that the walkway was a better choice.

"It has so many pluses that we finally headed in this direction," he said. "It makes more sense the more you think about it."

Niches that can hold two urns each cost $2,500. One longtime member, Jerry Cooper, died before the project could be completed but left a request with his wife that he be inurned there when it was. His widow has now arranged for that to happen.

Workman was first in line for a niche.

Senior Pastor David Mosser has also signed on for one, Bauman said. So have another couple who have long been in the same Sunday school class as Workman and his wife. In fact, they'll be in the next niche over.

"They've been friends for so long and have served on missions in the community together so much that they decided it would give them comfort to have their final resting place next to the Workmans," Bauman said.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Patrick M. Walker, 817-983-8080

Twitter: @patrickmwalker1

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