“I am the vine; you are the branches.”
- John 15:5

One vine, different branches, woven together to create a lasting memorial and a sacred space of prayer and meditation. One of the branches began as a simple dream. On a visit to a Colonial Williamsburg church, Paula Thomas and her husband Stan began talking about the significance of the small cemetery located next to the church sanctuary. It was a visual reminder of the deep historical connection of the church as a place to nurture those in the Christian faith and provide a final resting place for the saints who’ve gone before us.

To no one’s surprise Paula began researching the origins of Columbarium in the Christian faith and visited local churches to gather additional information. Paula began to share her vision with others and the enthusiasm for the project began to spread quickly.

A second branch was also beginning to emerge. Members of the Arborlawn Prayer Ministry team led by Kathy Wilcox, Charlene Johnston and Dana Cook had already begun exploring the possibility of constructing a prayer labyrinth on the Arborlawn campus as a vital and meaningful resource for prayer and meditation.

It soon became obvious that both efforts, the Columbarium and Prayer Labyrinth, should be brought together as part of a greater vision of a meditative garden and place of remembrance. Tom Stoker gave language to the greater vision by suggesting the name, “The Ascension Garden,” bearing witness to the presence and promise of God in Christ Jesus. One vine, different branches, woven together to create a lasting memorial and a sacred space of prayer and reflection.

The first gathering of the core leadership team took place on September 4, 2013. Those present included Paula Thomas, Tom Stoker, Kelly Keller, Lynn Newman, Kathy Wilcox, Charlene Johnston, Dana Cook, Patricia Johnson, and Ben Disney. Bill McCann provided invaluable legal guidance and expertise throughout the developmental phase.

The vision was cast, a detailed plan was implemented and work began on developing the Jud Cramer Ascension Garden project. So many individuals stepped forward to offer their time and resources toward the completion of the project. For everyone who played a role in its conception and completion, it has become a deeply personal journey. The Jud Cramer Ascension Garden is more than brick and mortar. It invites us into God’s great promise of life, death, and life beyond death. Prayers are lifted to heaven, the saints of the church are honored and remembered, and the power and promise of the resurrection is given to both the living and the dead.

Paula Thomas, who originally envisioned the creation of a columbarium had been previously diagnosed with cancer. It was her deep passion, unwavering faith in God, acknowledgment of her own mortality, and tireless efforts to serve others that made it possible. Sadly, Paula Thomas passed away before the completion of the Ascension Garden. Her husband Stan Thomas, in honor of Paula, took up the mantle and stepped in to ensure the completion of the Jud Cramer Ascension Garden.

Those who lived fully and served faithfully are honored and remembered. The Ascension Garden serves as the final resting place for Paula Thomas and Rev. Tom Stoker, two beloved visionary leaders of Arborlawn who were both essential in the development and completion of the Ascension Garden.

Nestled between the Sanctuary of Arborlawn and the Elizabeth Cramer Chapel, The Jud Cramer Ascension Garden is a beautiful and remarkable gift to the congregation and community. It is a living testimony bearing witness to the long history and commitment of the church to nurture those in the Christian faith and honor the saints who’ve gone before us. We are deeply grateful for the support and prayers of countless individuals, without whom it would not have been possible.

Written by Rev. Ben Disney
Founding Pastor, AUMC
2005 - 2017