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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Ashes to ashes

4 steps to starting a memorial garden at your church

Not too many years ago, churches were located next to cemeteries. Now memorial gardens in churchyards are becoming common practice, helping Christians keep precious connections.

Here's how your church can start a memorial garden (below ground) or columbarium (above ground).

1. Education.
Attend seminars on the practicalities and theology of cremation. Sessions on pre-planning memorial services and putting affairs in order can start discussion and demonstrate the stewardship benefits of cremat ion and memorial gardens.

2. Research.

Form a committee with diverse skills--theological, legal, civil engineering, financial, gardening, art--to research and develop a proposal. Research state laws regarding the operation of cemeteries (churches are o ften exempt) and construction permits.

A landscape architect can help locate the optimum space for the garden or columbarium. An amazing number of spaces can be built in a relatively small area. At Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Wheat Ridge, Colo., 320 double crypts are contained in a 38-by-10-fo ot area.

cryptVisit other churches with memorial gardens to exchange information on expense, size, contractors, fund raising and desig n.

3. Approval and finance.
Before continuing with the project, get approval from the church council and congregation.

Churches finance their projects through donations, memorial funds, pre-need sales (if legal in your state) and loans.

4. Guidelines.

Establish a purchase contract. Develop guidelines, including:

* Who may be inurned.

* What type of containers can be used.

* Whether ashes can be stirred directly into the garden.

* Policies for inscriptions.

* Provisions regarding abandonment by the contract-holder and the moving of the urns should the congregation disband.

* Fees to be charged for the crypts, urns and inscriptions.

Most congregations find that the planning process extends at least three years.


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