A few weeks ago, Paul Owens, who cares for the buildings and grounds at Charlotte’s Park Road Baptist Church, came upon something unexpected in the columbarium.
There, near the Memorial Wall, was a box containing a new toy for a small child. Hanging from the box: A crucifix. Leaning against it: A tiny metal urn, with ashes inside.
And scribbled on the box: “No money for propper service. Please take care of me.”
Owens brought the box and the urn to the church office, where co-pastors Amy and Russ Dean puzzled over it for a week.
Finally, they came up with a story that seemed to make sense: The plea was made by a mother on behalf of her infant, who had, perhaps, been born prematurely. The urn contained the baby’s cremains.
Then the pastors prayerfully decided to act.
“Even in the midst of all of the unknowns and questions, we feel pulled to respond,” Amy, a mother herself, wrote in last week’s Good Tidings, the church newsletter.
Then she invited the congregation to a funeral, to be held Sunday (April 6), right after the regular 11 a.m. service at the church, 3900 Park Road.
“We will gather in the columbarium,” she wrote, “and read Scripture and offer a prayer and scatter the ashes among the flowers.”
This isn’t the first time Park Road Baptist has agreed to “take care” of someone whose name was unknown to them. Several years ago, Russ said, they scattered the ashes of a homeless man who was cremated anonymously. A plaque on Memorial Wall identifies him as “known only to God.”
The Deans, who have lived with this latest mystery for a few weeks, are approaching Sunday with a mix of sadness and gratitude.
“We are sad for whoever left this,” Russ said. “We know, from some members in our congregation, how traumatic this kind of loss is. … And we are sad that this someone would not have a community of faith to help in her grieving.”
But they are also grateful, he said, “that we are able to do this. And we would hope that the mother would get word that we’re going to honor her wishes and give her child a final resting place.”
Amy also proposed, in her writing, that Sunday’s funeral could offer meaning for others as well:
“As we walk along our own paths, may we be ever mindful of what we might find – unexpectedly – and ponder our own sacred responses to all we come across.”
-- Tim Funk