The Return of the Church Cemetery


It has become commonplace for congregations to ask themselves how they can best serve their communities. Their answers have resulted in an array of services including shelters for the homeless, food pantries, thrift stores, coffee shops, tutoring, vegetable gardens, and much, much more. But how about a cemetery?

If your congregation is looking to meet a need in the community and your campus includes ample green space, you may want to consider setting aside space for a garden where families can scatter or bury the cremated remains of their loved ones.

Did you know that the national rate of cremation has increased steadily from 26.2% in 2000 to 47% in 2014 and nearly 50% in 2015? And did you know that those with the remains of their loved ones would prefer not to scatter them in a body of water or somewhere else in the world? According to Barbara Kemmis, head of the Cremation Association of North America, many families desire a more permanent memorial to their loved ones.

Still, few if any cities have places where loved ones can bury the remains of their loved ones. Seeing a chance to increase both capacity and profits, cemeteries have opened sections where families can scatter ashes, bury them in small plots, or place them in wall niches. Some are even constructing ossuaries, underground chambers where families can deposit remains in velvet bags. Some churches, universities, and even a botanical garden in Arizona are among the institutions offering themselves as depositories for cremated remains.

In a Washington Post article “As Cremation Soars, Demand for Scatter Gardens Grows,” Steve Hendrix shares the story of Jennifer Beman who, with a group of like-minded neighbors asked their city to set up the country's first municipal “scatter garden” where residents could commingle in the soil the remains of their loved ones and where families could return to remember.

Maybe you have neighbors with a similar request.  If your congregation is looking to meet a need in the community and your campus includes ample green space, maybe you can spark a movement that results in a Scatter or Memorial Garden where families will visit to remember their loved ones.  You will not only benefit from a  beautiful garden on your campus but serve a real need in the community.

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Fantastic idea for those churches that have some suitable land.  People are turning more towards scattering and natural burial.  I'm not sure how many congregations are ready to have these discussions though.  I'm interested to see what others think.

Community Builder

Thanks for that response. I bounced the idea of a group in Wisconsin last night and they, too, confirmed the need and embraced the idea.

Thanks, Sam:

Intriguing idea, especially the memorial garden.  Some time ago I visited the colonial era Christ Church (Episcopal) in Philadelphia where my cousin is a member, and enjoyed the beauty, heritage, and remembrance of their memorial garden space.  Their classic parish-cemetary had been relocated from the church grounds to another location centuries ago, but to keep the history and heritage alive, created the memorial space in its place, for members past and contemporary.   I appreciate the issues you bring up about land use and cremation as an option.

Community Builder

Thanks, Jeff.