Ceremony offers resting place for 23 unclaimed remains

ADRIAN O'HANLON III | Staff photoBoxes at All Saints Episcopal Church in McAlester hold unclaimed cremated remains. The church is set to host a ceremony open to the public to bless the remains on Nov. 2.

Twenty-three boxes rest on a table with the cremated remains of unclaimed individuals over 20 years.

Some boxes include names, birth and death dates, and a picture of the person. One box has remains of three people in it. Another has the remains of unclaimed infant. Other boxes contain remains of unknown people.

Rev. Janie Koch, of All Saints Episcopal Church in McAlester, said she hopes to honor those individuals with a ceremony on Nov. 2 to place the boxes in the church’s columbarium.

“It’s a time for McAlester and our surrounding communities for everyone to come in and have a space to put their grief, to put their trauma,” Koch said. “We’re all carrying it whether we recognize it or name it — it’s there.”

The ceremony is open everyone and set for 6:30 p.m. Nov. 2 at All Saints Episcopal Church in McAlester.

Koch said she chose All Souls Day for the ceremony because of its significance.

“We have All Saints Day for people dedicated in their life to God and they died in their service of God,” Koch said. “All Souls Day is for all who have died, whether they’re in the grace of God or not.

“It’s a day that we remember them, that we honor their place in our history and our heritage,” she added.

She said the idea for the ceremony originated after she officiated a funeral for a friend’s grandfather at Bishop Funeral Home and Crematorium.

Conversations revolved around how families grieve, process and heal after a funeral, but soon migrated to the cremation process.

She considered homeless people who go to All Saints for its food distribution, its sack lunches each month, and warming station during last year’s historic winter weather in McAlester and surrounding communities.

“They’re so vulnerable and it got me to thinking ‘what happens when they pass away?’” Koch said.

Koch said she went to the funeral home owners to inquire if they had any remains of homeless people who went unclaimed.

An initial estimate was a little more than a dozen — but Koch said the owners soon confirmed the funeral home had 23 unclaimed cremated remains in boxes.

She soon received approval from the vestry to take the boxes and place them in the columbarium at All Saints Episcopal Church in McAlester. A columbarium is a structure for respectful, public storage of urns holding cremated remains.

Koch said she hopes the ceremony bring unity and peace for the community.

“The goal is honor the lives that those boxes represent and to say that they are and they were lives made in the image of a creator,” Koch said. “It’s also an opportunity for us to give them a final resting place but for us as a community to be able to grieve.”

Contact Adrian O’Hanlon III at aohanlon@mcalesternews.com

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