This story was edited on July 25, 2011, to accurately depict that the columbarium is within the church, not beneath it.
Some who worship weekly at St. Stephen Presbyterian Church may not know that within the church rest the ashes of some former parishioners.
Mark Scott, a minister of music and organist for the church for nearly 36 years, confirmed that a columbarium does exist within the church grounds. However, the area is used only to house ashes, and not bodies, which is what a mausoleum would house. The columbarium is located in the main sanctuary, in the east and west transcepts, or wings.
The columbarium is not mentioned in church services because it is not something that is necessary in the context of corporate worship service, Scott said.
“The intent was for the bottom level of the sanctuary to be a crypt, but it’s illegal. So what we’ve settled for is a columbarium in the back of church, which is where we can bury ashes,” Scott said.
Ashes are buried behind a marble stone that is engraved with the person’s name, birth date and death date, Scott said. The ashes come in all kinds of containers that fit in the small space, but most are in the hard plastic box the crematorium places them in.
Some current members have purchased a reservation for their ashes to be buried following their death. The bottom level was built in the mid-1960s.
“The purpose was for burial in the basement of the church, which is the way it is done in the North and the East, but the cemetery association has blocked bodies from being buried in Texas churches,” Scott said.
Terrance Robinson, a church attendee, lives in Arlington and commutes to St. Stephen every Sunday. Robinson said that the church is by far the friendliest church he has been involved with.
“I wasn’t aware there were any ashes under the sanctuary building, but I think it’s pretty interesting and I definitely need to check it out,” he said. “I think some people may not know it exists because it is on the first level beneath the sanctuary.”
St. Stephen, located at 2700 McPherson Ave. just north of Paschal High School, has 550 members. The church offers two Sunday worship services, a Thursday morning prayer, and preschool for the children of members and nonmembers.
The church is built on the Fort Worth fault, which accounts for the hilly landscape of the church grounds. One of the city’s oldest congregations, the church nearly covers a block, and features several stained glass windows and more than 12,000 pounds in bells cast in Holland top the church tower. A replica labyrinth and prayer garden is also located within the church grounds.