The Memorial Committee at Williamsville United Methodsit Church is reponsible for determining the appropriate use of gifts and donations to the Memorial Fund. Together with a pastor, we meet regularly to discuss church needs and share input received from the congregation about selecting mew memorial purchases. This team carefully considers the donors’ wishes and the best interest of the church and congregation when planning and overseeing purchases made with the Memorial Fund. New memorial items are publicly dedicated once a year during a special ceremony held on All Saints' Sunday.
Memorial gifts to WUMC enable us to console each other at the loss of our loved ones and affirm our belief in the goodness of God and the church during a time of sorrow. These gifts also enable us to create something positive out of our loss.
At the time of funeral and memorial services, cards for contributions to the WUMC Memorial Fund are made available. Gifts we receive are acknowledged promptly with a grateful note to the donor. Other times, we are contacted by a relative of a deceased loved one asking for suggestions about what WUMC feels would be a fitting tribute to honor their loved one.
Listed below are examples of purchases approved by the Memorial Committee over the last few years using the thoughtful memorial gifts received by WUMC:
- Four-sided mobile bookcase for educational materials and books appropriate for early grades
- The church library was refurbished to create an attractive room for resources and a comfortable meeting area
- Portable tables and chairs
- Armless chairs used by instrumentalists
- Additional bells for the Memorial Handbell Choir
- Colorful, seasonal banners
- Improved capacity for the sanctuary sound system
- Church sign facing Main Street
- New coffee urns, computers, and projector
An Interesting Little Room
A friend, who was standing in the church balcony with me, pointed to the little room at the front of the sanctuary, asked, “What is that pretty little room?” When I responded, her second question was “What is a Columbarium?”
A columbarium is a wall with vaults or niches in which to place cremated remains. The word comes from the Latin name for the dwelling place of a dove – columba – which Christians used as a symbol for the Holy Spirit. In a columba, there are small niches for each dove. In the same way, a columbarium niche is a recessed chamber for the permanent placement of a container (urn) holding a loved one’s remains.
The use of columbariums is diverse - from the ancient Romans to the Buddhist religion. The early Christians used their church walls to bury their dead. As time went by, people began to create “church yards” or cemeteries near their church buildings, whether large or small, where loved ones could rest. In more recent times, as land became scarcer and as cremation become more accepted, the interest in “inurnment” within a church building grew. In a sense, the church yard moved closer to the congregation allowing people a final resting place within the church that was a meaningful part of their lives.
According to Rev. Bob Jones, the idea of a columbarium at WUMC started several decades ago. Two widows, Maggie Schenk and Doreen Lucas Clay, who still had their husbands’ ashes at home, approached him with a proposal to establish a columbarium. The proposal went to the Trustees who approved a make-over of a small storage area near the chancel and the placement of a niche unit in the “new” room. The unit was designed by the Buffalo firm of Amento Artists. The original cost of $10,000 was paid by Maggie who was reimbursed as niches were sold. The woodwork was crafted by Tom Walton, a church member. Fittingly, the first inurnments were for George Schenk and Marshal Lucas. In the mid-2000s, two additional niche units were added giving us the “pretty little room” my friend viewed from the balcony.
Lois Arnold, the widow of Dale Arnold, proposed installing stained glass in the door. Lois made this a personal project, contacting the artist, selecting the design, and donating the top two panels. Rev. Gail Lewis suggested that the Columbarium Committee pay for the two lower panels, so the door would be complete. However, as this was being decided, Maggie Schenk passed away and left a bequest to the church, part of which was used to complete the door. Even though her original proposal and monetary support were done quietly, Maggie was honored by the congregation as the last two glass panels were designated in her memory.
Beyond religious expression, a columbarium niche, which is purchased either far ahead or at the time of death, eliminates the possible pressure of choosing a burial site, casket, vault, and monument. At the time of committal, there is a ceremony, comparable to a funeral service, when the cremains are placed in the niche which is then sealed. The niche has a space for an inscribed plaque. Under NYS law, a columbarium is restricted to members of the congregation or constituents and families.
While there are practical and legal aspects of purchasing a niche, the most important aspect of a columbarium is that it is a reminder of our faith to the congregation. We thank God for those who have finished their journey, knowing that their cremains are with us in their final resting place and their spirits are commended to God.