Cremation is having a profound impact on funeral homes, cemeteries and churches alike. While Christian denominations prefer to reinforce the role the body plays in funeral liturgy, cremation offers churches the opportunity to establish a bond with parishioners that cemeteries once provided. It is becoming fairly commonplace to read about churches, like the First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Longmont, Colorado, that are considering whether to establish their own columbarium.

However, there are a number of issues churches need to evaluate before making the decision about a columbarium. The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship has an excellent article on its website, Better than a Cemetery: A Presbyterian church offers an alternative, that describes the approach taken by the Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.

A columbarium requires more of a commitment then some church leaders may initially understand. However, this article accurately conveys the planning and preparation that should be invested in the process.  Once a church makes the decision to establish a columbarium, it will need to address many of the same legal issues that face a cemetery, including the following:

  • Rules that will govern the columbarium, and that will allow the church flexibility with regard to future issues;
  • Contracts that define the niche owner’s rights;
  • Endowed care trust requirements;
  • Applicability of state laws; and
  • Future sales.