Rector’s Letter – November

Our rural churchyard

In August, I put out a plea for people to help those who have maintained our churchyard for many, many years. I am delighted to say that the response was very positive, and for that I thank those who have come forward and have helped on several of the working parties.

Some may recall a comment in the October 2016 magazine about the introduction of plants and shrubs, personal mementos and other artificial items on some graves, and these being against the Diocesan Churchyard Regulations 2014. (These are set nationally, but with slight variations across different Diocese. A copy is available in church.) The problem, over the years, with the Regulations not being implemented, is that their boundaries become blurred, and you get into a situation where someone says, “Why can’t I have … whatever the wish is … on my loved one’s grave, like they have?” – pointing to an example of something similar, somewhere else in the churchyard. Before we know it, there’s a proliferation of items that not only do not comply with the Churchyard Regulations, but which to other people look completely out of place in a rural churchyard.

Here, of course, lies a pastoral minefield that I am about to tiptoe through: how to stop the increase of such personal mementoes that do not comply?

Concern has been expressed about items in the churchyard, especially in the context of what is required under the Regulations – these are effectively nationally applicable bylaws framed in such a way as to provide a balance between the sometimes conflicting needs of: (i) ensuring an acceptable appearance of a churchyard – as opposed to a cemetery; (ii) maintenance; and (iii) the wishes of relatives of the deceased.

Among items not permitted under the Regulations are artificial flowers, miniature fences and chippings, the latter two, particularly, causing hazards and considerable difficulties for the maintenance of the churchyard. The Regulations also say that rose bushes, shrubs and trees must not be planted on individual graves, because they have a habit of growing. (For example, in St Nicholas Sandhurst a conifer has been planted in a grave, while 25ft above the grave is an overhead power-line; something will have to be done about this, for obvious reasons!)

To bring our churchyard within the Regulations, all non-permitted items will be removed after a period of three months from their first being observed. They will be recorded and kept for 12 months, and if they are not claimed within this period, they will be suitably disposed of. (Notices will be posted in the churchyard to coincide with this article.) Existing small plants will not be disturbed.

If you can help by removing anything on your family grave that does not comply, we would be grateful, and it may reduce the upset some may feel. I trust that we can maintain the beauty of our rural churchyard for years to come for the benefit of everyone who visits.

Revd David Commander, Rector