Churchyard Burials and Memorials

Burial or the interment of cremated remains in a churchyard is a right open to all who have resided within the parish concerned.  Burial in a churchyard is subject to the rules set out in the Churchyard Regulations 2016; this can be found in the Litcham Church porch or on the internet.  This is a document with the authority of national law.
The regulations stress the principal of Christian burial with its emphasis on the expectation of the afterlife, rather than dwelling in detail upon the life of the deceased.  They also make it clear that this is an essential difference between church burials and those in municipal cemeteries.
Although many of us find great interest in exploring older graveyards with many colourful inscriptions on the stones, the current regulations have turned their back upon such things and only permit simple stones of a limited range of materials and design, with simple inscriptions recording the name and dates of the deceased and a short message from the bereaved family.  Phrases from scripture are permitted, but not other verses and most pictorial emblems are also not permitted.
Permission to erect a memorial is delegated to the rector or vicar (the incumbent) of the parish, provided that it complies with the regulations.  It is normal to wait at least six months before commissioning the memorial, but the loss of a loved one can still be keenly felt and the incumbent can be put in a stressful position if demands are made that they cannot accede to within the rules.  The family should therefore check that their requirements are within the regulations and ask their funeral director or mason to do the same.  If an agreement cannot be achieved the proposal has to be the subject of a Faculty Application to the Diocesan Chancellor.  This is a legal process incurring the inevitable delay and red tape.
Apart from disagreements about the design of memorials, there can be friction over the way in which they are subsequently decorated.  The regulations are clear about what can be put on a grave.  One vase against the headstone or sunk into the ground is permitted.  Bulbs may be planted.  There can be no other items placed upon the grave.  This is partly for practical reasons when mowing grass, which is why kerbs and chippings are no longer allowed.  It is also because people’s tastes in tributes varies widely and one person’s tribute can upset another tending a nearby grave.  Lanterns, lights, ornaments, balloons etc.  are all ruled out, as are plastic flowers and wreaths. Given that churchyards are invariably sanctuaries for wild life, distracting lights and plastic toxins are clearly harmful.  Although a grave can be a focal point for grieving, the Christian teaching is that the deceased is not there.
Churches and their churchyards are regularly inspected by the Archdeacon during his quaintly named ‘Visitation.’  The incumbent and churchwardens are held responsible for upholding the regulations. We have all seen coverage in the press of how heated matters can get when the rules are invoked and no one wants to cause upset over such a sensitive issue.  We always try to discuss any difficulties with the family concerned, rather than remove unsuitable items without warning, but there are times when this is not effective.  The clergy and wardens therefore ask that all those tending graves in any of our churchyards be mindful of the rules and avoid the risk of disagreement.
Litcham All Saints, Churchwardens

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