Swanson said the C3 Board recently sent letters to family members of the deceased, notifying them that they may have to find new final resting places for their loved ones because the bank now owns the Garden of Grace columbarium on the south side of the building.
Michigan Commerce Bank Community President Doug Jones said he is not aware of any moving deadline, agreement details or future plans for the property.
“We’re very sensitive to the situation, its church and its members,” he said. “We have a special asset group that handles these, but we would want to be sensitive.”
Swanson said part of the agreement with the bank is that family members will have several months to find a new resting place. She said C3 leaders are willing to provide storage for ashes until family members decide on an alternate location.
“We needed to let them know what the timeline was,” Swanson said. “If they can’t make a decision quickly or are out of town or waiting to find out what the bank might do with this, we would find a way to store the ashes to help these people.”
Swanson said a location for such storage has not been determined.
Spring Lake Township Clerk Carolyn Boersma said Tuesday she has not received any calls about moving remains from the C3 columbarium to the cemetery off Fruitport Road.
There are 18 names of deceased inscribed on the stone walls of the Garden of Grace, but not all of the niches hold ashes. Some names were placed there as memorials only. Other remains have already been relocated.
Nunica resident Paula Susterich said she received a letter from C3, but had already moved the remains of her son, Paul Steven, last fall. He died in June 2001 at the age of 33.
Susterich, a longtime Christ Community Church member, said she and her family left the congregation shortly after Ian Lawton took over as executive minister in 2004. Christ Community Church became known as C3 Exchange in 2010 and the cross was removed from the building.
“It was no longer our church, and no longer a church,” said Susterich, adding that the building going up for sale was also a strong motivator to move her son’s ashes. “I was just not comfortable with him there. I finally decided to do something about it.”
Susterich said her son’s ashes are now inside a large boulder that sits in her garden.
In May 2011, C3 officials listed the building and 3.4-acre site for sale because the congregation could no longer afford the mortgage payment, rising utility bills and other expenses, the church officials said at the time.
C3 leaders were anticipating a sale when the Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids signed a purchase agreement late last year, but that fell through after diocesan representatives determined it would cost too much to remodel the building to meet their needs.
Swanson said the hope was that an agreement to take care of the columbarium into perpetuity could have been reached with a purchaser.
“As long as the building was there and we were trying to sell it, that was our direction,” Swanson said. “It came to the point where we didn’t have a choice. It has been a difficult time and we’ve done the best we could. It’s a difficult situation, but the bank has been quite helpful.”
The remains of Grand Haven resident Ann Brugger’s mother- and father-in-law, Lillian and Melvin Brugger, are laid to rest in the Garden of Grace. Brugger, a former member of Christ Community Church, said she did not receive a letter from C3, but said it’s possible correspondence went to another family member.
“I’ve had a lot of concern about that and what was going to happen,” she said. “We’re not angry — we’re concerned. We just want there to be a solution for it. We need to be able to take possession and put them in a different place. I’m glad to know they’re concerned about it.”