July 05, 2016 by: Ben Heimsath

A small yard off the side street next to Christ Lutheran Church offers an inviting respite from the bustle of upper 16th Street traffic. Entered through a low metal gate, this simple garden is understated and elegant in its care and planting. Look around for just a minute and soon you’ll notice what makes this place so special. The churchyard has been transformed into a memorial garden. It may take a moment, but soon you’ll notice the names right in front of you, they are literally carved on the church wall.

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The dedication of the Memorial Garden on All Saints Day in 1984 is noted on one of the largest stones. From what I could tell, the names have been carved into old stones that date from the church’s construction in 1931. There was no sign of patched mortar or moved stones, so I concluded the memorial names were carved in situ; they aren’t covering any vault or space for ashes.

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Though this memorial garden is beautiful, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this type of garden for most of our church clients. From what I could tell, this is an internment garden only. That means the ashes are distributed on the ground, to be dug into the soil. Other memorial gardens have a columbarium with vaults or niches for urns, but I didn’t see any here.

Also, once a place like this is established, it won’t or shouldn’t be changed. The placement beside the church, with the names literally carved on the church wall means that this section of the church grounds can’t be added to or altered in any future building program. I know of at least one congregation that regretted the decision to put a columbarium in the base of their church. When they looked at ways to expand later on, the most obvious plan was nixed because they couldn’t move the memorials!

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But for this congregation, in this location, the effect of the garden, the rustic stone wall and the carved names contribute to making a most serene environment. The garden is a fitting place for the final repose of past church members, and a quiet place to stop by for some reflection.

Christ Lutheran Church, 5101 16th St NW, Washington, DC

Memorial/ Sacred Symbols