Arlington Citizen-Journal

Columbarium catches on at First United Methodist Church of Arlington

Business is brisk at the First United Methodist Church of Arlington’s new columbarium.

The lavish walkway, with Italian marble flooring, stained-glass arches and granite wall plates to seal urns and their ashes in perpetuity, has attracted 46 reservations, including 42 finalized before it was consecrated on Sept. 14, church officials said.

Already two of the reserved spaces, called niches, have been “used.”

Senior Pastor David Mosser was among the first in line. He didn’t have to cancel any traditional burial plans.

“Like most Americans,” he deadpanned, “before this came along, I just thought I wasn’t going to die.”

Now he’s part of a growth in popularity of columbaria, a trend he attributes to many Christians’ gradual acceptance of cremation.

Church officials estimate that there are at least 30 columbaria in Dallas-Fort Worth. “And probably 60 percent of those are in Episcopalian churches,” Mosser added.

The First United Methodist Church of Fort Worth dedicated its $70,000 columbarium in 2010.

There are traditions in most major faiths that reject cremation, some opponents citing pagan roots and biblical references to proper disposal of human remains.

Getting on board with columbaria took some soul-searching and a little math.

Cremations can cost less than $1,000, said Ellen Bauman, columbarium coordinator for the Arlington church.

The price of a traditional funeral service was $7,045 in 2012, not including burial plot, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. That figure is nearly double the cost in 1991 and 10 times more than the cost in 1960.

Additionally, columbaria offer a tiny footprint for churches that have no more room to expand their on-site cemeteries or that need to control cemetery maintenance costs, Mosser said.

But for many faithful, gaining a better understanding of the cremation process has brought comfort, Bauman said.

“The flame never touches the body,” she said. “It’s a process of extreme heat that displaces the moisture, and that leaves the ashes. And that concept has given a lot of people peace with that and helped them to go ahead and make the decision to be cremated.”

Bauman’s own issue with cremation was the unknown.

“I was born and raised in Cleburne, and nobody in my family had ever been cremated,” she said. “But the thing that really helped me over that was that the first people I knew who were cremated were three Methodist ministers.”

The church’s columbarium — designed by retired architect and church member Bill Workman, who also was the first to reserve a niche — has room to grow. The first phase installed three wall units that each contain 40 niches. Each niche is 8 inches by 8 inches by 16 inches and is large enough to hold two urns.

The columbarium is designed for 14 vault units, with 560 niches. The future phases will be added based on demand, Bauman said.

So far, the funds from the upfront purchases of “the rights of inurnment” — the actual spaces are not for sale — have covered the construction cost, Bauman said.

The niches on the bottom two rows are $2,000 each, and the price is $2,500 for the higher ones. The fee includes inurnment, two inscribed urns, niche inscription and perpetual care of the of the colubarium.

Mosser said inurnment is particularly popular with recent transplants from other parts of the country, people who develop strong ties with their new churches but don’t know that many other people.

“The church is kind of like a community, a gigantic extended family,” he said. “So they feel better about leaving their loved ones and themselves with people like that.”

Keith W. Harris, a church member since 1973, said he doesn’t get all fuss over the columbarium but tries to keep an open mind. It’s quite beautiful, he admits.

“I just never thought that being cremated was something I’d want to do,” he said. But if there is an urn in his future, he added, “That would be the thing to do. It’s a great place.”