Whitewell church’s plea for relatives to reclaim ashes before closure

Rev Elaine O'Brien outside St Ninian's Parish Church on the Whitewell Road
Rev Elaine O'Brien outside St Ninian's Parish Church on the Whitewell Road

A Whitewell church which is facing closure is trying to track down people whose loved ones’ cremated remains are stored in its columbarium.

St Ninian’s Parish Church on the Whitewell Road, which has seen its congregation dwindle in recent years, is expected to shut this summer.

Rev Elaine O’Brien, rector of the United Parishes of St John’s, Whitehouse and St Ninian’s, Belfast revealed that while an exact closure date hasn’t yet been confirmed, the final service is likely to take place in June.

Rev O’Brien, who has been rector of St Ninian’s for four years, said that with just 20 people regularly attending services, it is no longer economically viable for it to remain open.

She puts the demise of the once-thriving church down to “an ageing population and changing demographics” in the local area.

Expressing her sadness at the pending closure of the church, Rev O’Brien said: “It’s resonating quite deeply with a lot of people – not just those who still attend the church, but people who grew up in the area and no longer live here. A lot of people are very sad to see it closing.”

The original church was built at the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, while the present building, with its distinctive green roof, was erected at the site 51 years ago.

It’s understood that the property could be sold off by the Church of Ireland and the historic buildings demolished to make way for new social housing.

With closure looming, efforts are now being made to track down people whose loved ones’ remains are stored in the columbarium at the church.

Rev O’Brien said that several cinerary urns have already been moved from the columbarium, but a number of others remain unclaimed.

“There were about 48 cremated remains in the columbarium and we have managed to track down some family members already, but we are still looking for others,” she explained.

“The individual families will be able to decide where they want to re-inter their loved ones’ remains, whether that be in a church graveyard or a garden of rest.”

It’s understood the Church of Ireland doesn’t permit the scattering of ashes, except at sea by special permission.

Anyone who has an interest in any of the cremated remains at St Ninian’s should contact Rev O’Brien on 028 9036 9955 or email elaineobrien1@btinternet.com as soon as possible.

Any urns left in the columbarium after April 30 will be removed and re-intered in the Garden of Rest at St John’s Church, Whitehouse.