Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors has been based in Sussex since 1855 and from our branches in Billingshurst, Crawley, Horsham and Hurstpierpoint are always working to help our local communities not only with arranging funerals but also in communicating issues around death and loss. Because of our nature as a long-established local business, we feel we have a duty to keep up to date with developments throughout the funeral industry so that we can ensure our customers are fully aware of the implications of the choices they are making at a time when they are already facing the challenge of bereavement.
There has recently been significant publicity surrounding two different rulings by the Church of England surrounding what is and isn’t permitted in their Churchyards, and here Freeman Brothers’ Manager, Abi Pattenden, discusses the implications this may have for choices being made around funerals.
Many people feel their local Churchyard is an appropriate place for a burial, either of a person or of their cremated remains. This is especially true in more traditional or rural communities, or for those people who belong to their local church congregation. Churches and their churchyards tend to remain in place and so, when someone is buried in a churchyard, there is every expectation that this will be an undisturbed place of rest for many years to follow.
What some people may not realise, however, is that when this happens you do not own the land which is being used for the burial or ashes interment. Unlike Cemeteries or Burial Grounds, where a plot is purchased and then belongs to the purchaser, the Church of England retains ownership of the land. It is true that this means the costs of a comparative burial are often less than in a Cemetery. However, the other implication of this is that the Church’s rules about what is permitted to happen on its land are often more stringent.
One example of how rules are strictly enforced can be seen in this article. It certainly seems strange to the casual reader that a headstone’s inscription could be ‘overly personal’ – the assumption is that such a monument is meant for exactly this purpose – but the proposed inscription was refused for this reason and for containing some text from Byron which was seen to be too secular. The ‘nature’ of the stone requested – which means the proposed shape, size or material – was also at issue when the case was referred to the Consistory Court.
The Chancellor of the Diocese of Lichfield (in which the relevant Churchyard is situated), Judge Stephen Eyre QC, then had the responsibility of deciding whether what was requested was appropriate. He allowed the headstone’s design but not the proposed wording, noting that inscriptions on headstone are not just for the people who knew the person who had died, but for others. He said he felt that these two different groups of people were equally important and so the inscription had to be more than about the loss of the person. On first reflection, this seems unfeeling, but it must be remembered that the Church feels a duty to the future to keep memorials (to quote Eyre) ‘consistent with the purpose of the Churchyard’.
This is something we have experience of at Freeman Brothers through our sister company, J. Gumbrill. Anyone who orders a headstone for a Churchyard must apply to the Minister in charge of the Church for permission to erect the proposed design, and at J. Gumbrill a Memorial is only ordered once this permission has been obtained. We also work proactively to ensure that clients understand the rules and so hopefully we are not requesting permission for work which will not be permitted. However, we have recently had an experience where a Minister refused permission for a bird in flight to be engraved onto a memorial.
Cremated Remains are another area where problems can occur. This is a very sad case where a family wished to disturb the cremated remains of their husband and father temporarily from their Churchyard burial place so they could obtain a small quantity of them to be made into jewellery – a process which was not available when the gentleman had died. This was again refused at Consistorial Court. This is perhaps less surprising, although of course equally upsetting for the family concerned. The disposal of cremated remains should always be considered to be permanent and it was probably always going to be quite unlikely that they would be allowed to be disturbed.
If there is a wish to try to seek permission for something which may not be allowed in a Churchyard, the first recourse is to the Incumbent Minister, as they are the person who has responsibility for the Churchyard itself. It might be that they are more accommodating than might be expected and so a conversation with them might have the desired effect. However, this will not always be the case. Some Ministers will interpret the rules more strictly than others – and, indeed, this will always be the problem in any system where individual discretion plays a part. For example, some might rule ‘Dad’ inappropriate for a headstone (as was the case with the Minister in this case) while others would think it fine.
If the Minister will not give consent, then the next step is to try to obtain a Faculty. The Faculty system covers all aspects of the care of Churches (including Churchyards). In simple terms, a person applies for a faculty in order for the Church to waive its rules as a one-off, without setting a precedent that means that the same act can be carried out again in future.
We have known faculties to be applied for in the following cases, among others:
- To reserve a burial space in a Churchyard. A family wanted to reserve the plot next to their daughter, who was buried there after her unexpected death, to ensure they could be together once they died. It is not usually possible to reserve space in the Churchyard and they were worried that, by the time that one of them died, it would be full.
- To have a memorial outside of what is permitted. We experience many of these, especially when rules change. Sometimes, people wish to exactly replicate a memorial on another family grave but find that rule changes mean this isn’t possible.
- To have cremated remains interred in a casket. This isn’t allowed in our Diocese. The lady concerned felt very strongly that her husband’s remains should be in a casket, and was not able to choose an alternative burial place because the ashes were to be placed in an existing grave in the Churchyard.
At Freeman Brothers, we would give the following advice: before you consider anywhere as a final resting place, think carefully. Assume your choice is permanent. Ensure you understand the prevailing rules and know that they could alter in time. A local funeral director, monumental mason, or the Incumbent Minister (or Churchwarden if the Parish is interregnum) will be able to advise what is and isn’t possible.
Many Churches now produce a leaflet explaining the rules within their Churchyard, which is very helpful. Don’t assume these rules can be broken later. Although the Faculty system exists, the cases above demonstrate that you will have the chance of being met with a refusal even very far down the line. If you have very strong feelings about something which is against the rules, it may be better to change the burial place to be sure of achieving your aims.
To discuss any aspect of our services, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Tel: 01403 254590
If you have an urgent query, please call 01403 254590. This number is answered by one our staff 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is the quickest way to reach us.
Tel: 01403 785133
25 & 27 Brighton Road
Tel: 01293 540000
126 High Street
Tel: 01273 831497