Cemetery monuments (copy)

A columbarium lines a scenic path at the Mepkin Abbey. The columbarium was placed on the grounds of the Mepkin Abbey several years ago for those wishes to have their cremated remains placed there. 

As more Americans opt for cremation after death, churches are finding ways to accommodate people who opt for ashes.

The rate of cremation is expected to increase by 30 percent over the next 18 years, according to a report from The National Funeral Directors Association. The federation estimated that the national cremation rate will reach 80 percent by 2035.

In South Carolina, that rate should reach just above 77 percent. S.C. funeral directors are seeing the uptick.

“When I began work here (in Clinton) at Gray Funeral Home in 1984, we probably handled one to two cremations a year. Last year, we handled approximately 100 cremations," said Homer Elwood, the home's director who also serves as president of the S.C. Funeral Directors Association.

Funeral directors say costs are a big factor. People who don't want to spend thousands of dollars on a casket, funeral arrangements and a burial plot opt for a cremation often because the only cost can be limited to the cremation itself.

"People look at it as more of an economical choice," Elwood said.

Some see it as a way to save from the emotional stress of planning a funeral. With a cremation, a family does not have to worry about a casket, hearse or getting a police escort, said Father Jeff Kirby, the moral theologian for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston.

"It’s easier on the family when a loved one is passed away to have the person cremated," Kirby said.

Another contributing factor has been the Catholic Church's position on the issue. Historically, the church was against cremation because it was viewed the practice as dishonorable to the body. The church switched its position in the issue in 1963 as it realized that "someone could be cremated while honoring their bodies," Kirby said.

That includes placing the remains in an urn in a sacred space, like a church columbarium or cemetery.

Today, the denomination is accommodating people whose bodies return to ashes after death.

Kirby's church, Our Lady of Grace in Indian Land, built a columbarium two years ago that hosts 64 niches that are all filled with cremated remains. The church plans to build another one soon with more than 1,000 niches.

Mepkin Abbey, a Roman Catholic Trappist monastery in Moncks Corner, has had a columbarium since 2012. There, 500 of the 750 niches are filled.

The monastery recently added a new section for funeral urns to be stored to meet the rise in popularity.

Father Joseph Tedesco said people opt to be cremated and housed at the site because of its peaceful atmosphere. At Mepkin, the monks pray regularly for the deceased.

Other denominations are embracing people's wishes. The Rev. Arthur Jenkins is the rector of Saint James Church on James Island, an Anglican parish on Camp Road. Right now, the church buries urns in the cemetery. The congregation hopes to purchase a columbarium soon.

Part of the challenge moving forward is explaining how churches view death and the resurrection. Historically, some believed that one could not be resurrected if they were cremated.

But Jenkins makes the point that a body does not need to be composed in order for God to raise it.

“The God who made you doesn’t need to have a perfect form to resurrect you," Jenkins said.

Follow Rickey Dennis on Twitter @RCDJunior.