We are very fortunate in all three of our parishes to have open churchyards; in other words, we have not run out of room and are still accepting burials.
Usually, when someone dies, unless it’s someone we know well, the first contact is from the Funeral Director. Even when it’s a member of the church family and we’re aware that the person has died, the arrangements will normally be made through the undertaker. He or she will liaise with the Rector on dates and times. Whoever will be taking the funeral will then contact the family and arrange to visit. That is likely to be the Rector or one of our Readers.
During that visit, we will talk about the service: the hymns, Bible reading, any other readings, who might like to speak or read and who will prepare something to describe the person for whom we’re holding the service. We are ministers of the Church, and will always conduct an overtly Christian service, but we will always try to accommodate the family’s wishes, within the time constraints of the type of funeral chosen. If it’s to be at the crematorium, then we are much more bound by issues of time, whereas at one of our churches there is more time, as we would never book something else into the church immediately after a funeral.
Burials in our Churchyards
If the service is to be followed by a burial in our churchyard, the Funeral Director will make the arrangements to have the grave prepared. If the burial is to be into an existing grave, he will need to know the details of the person already buried, so that the correct grave can be identified. If it’s a new plot, and has not been reserved, then the Church Wardens will have the final say on exactly where that plot will be. In St Mary’s churchyard, it’s easy to see how we are working along the rows in the Almshouse Meadow. All of our churchyards enjoy beautiful views, and are lovely places to come and remember loved ones.
Interments of Ashes
If you choose a cremation for your loved one, you may decide to have the ashes interred in one of our churchyards. We can do this, into an existing grave, perhaps with a family member, or else into a new plot. You can arrange this through a funeral director, or directly with the Rector or Benefice Administrator. We will find a mutually convenient date and time and arrange for the plot to be prepared. An interment of ashes takes only 5 or 10 minutes, and involves a very simple act of committal at the site of the burial.
In St Mary’s, new ashes plots are in the Ashton plot, at the left hand side of the main part of the churchyard. These plots are unmarked and we do not allow stones or memorials in this part of the churchyard. There is, however, a board on the boundary of the Ashton plot, and you may, if you choose, order a plaque to be fixed to the board, showing the details of the person whose ashes are buried. In our other two churches, the Church Wardens will be able to advise where it is possible to inter ashes and what memorials are permitted.
Many people want to mark the spot where loved ones are buried, and most burials have a headstone. There are rules about what is allowed; the style, type and size of the stone; the colour and style of the inscription as well as the wording used. The stone masons have copies of those rules, and will advise you as you complete the forms to apply for a memorial stone to be erected. The forms will need to be approved and counter signed here in the parish before you can place the headstone.
There are also rules about what else may be added to a grave space. In recent years, these rules have not always been adhered to, and we are considering how we address the issue of unauthorised additions to some of the graves in our churchyards. However, we are trying to make sure that all new grave spaces do conform to what is allowed, so you will need to check before you add anything to the place where your loved one is buried. Please contact one of the Church Wardens or the Rector, who will advise you where to find the regulations about what is and is not allowed.
We want your loved ones to rest peacefully in our churchyards, and you to find a peaceful place to come and remember them. We have installed benches and trees to try to enhance the beauty and peacefulness of these spaces and all that we do, while it might seem to you like restrictive regulations, is designed to optimise that peace and beauty for everyone who comes to visit, to remember, to grieve. We hope you will find that we are successful in that aim.
More information can be found at www.churchofenglandfunerals.org