Modern. Southern. Baptists.: This Isn’t Your Usual Church, and These Aren’t Your Usual Ministers

Park Road Baptist
Charlotte Magazine - August 2015

IN MARCH 2014, an urn sat outside Park Road Baptist Church, waiting for someone to find it. It was small, heartbreakingly small. Just a few inches tall. Beside it was a plastic toy dinosaur, unused. On the toy’s box, a handwritten message: “No money for propper [sic] service. Please take care of me.”

The co-pastors of the church, husband and wife Russ and Amy Jacks Dean, could only guess its origins. The most likely scenario, they figured, was that a woman who had a stillborn child needed their help. After worship service one Sunday, the Deans invited the congregation to a funeral in the columbarium, where they spread the ashes in the flower garden and mourned the unknown baby. The Deans then announced plans to order a plaque for the infant, and to place the plaque on the wall above the garden, joining the plaques of other deceased church members. This one would read: Infant Known Only To God.

Park Road Baptist has a precedent for this, amazingly. Several years ago, a homeless man died in Charlotte. He was identified and then cremated.

As his urn sat on the desk of a homeless shelter office, a man—the man bearing the very name on the urn—walked in the door. The identification had been incorrect. The deceased, homeless in life, became anonymous in death. A shelter employee, a member of Park Road Baptist, brought the man’s cremains to Russ and Amy, believing that everyone deserves a kind word said about them in death.

After Sunday service that week, Amy and Russ invited the congregation to a funeral for this man. His ashes found a home in this columbarium garden; his plaque is on this wall, too, bearing the inscription: Known Only to God.

Each November on All Saints’ Day, this congregation gathers to read the names of all church members who have died, to honor their memories. When they do, they include this infant and this man, two people who never sat in the pews at Park Road Baptist Church, but who will forever be tied to this place.

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