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Synod warned of a possible run on grave spaces

AN ORDER setting out increases in parochial fees was approved by the Synolast Saturday afternoon, but more than one speaker wanted to see much largeincreases in future.Introducing the debate, the Bishop of Ripon & Leeds, the Rt Revd JohPacker, said that the Church of England had conducted more than 60,00marriages and about 250,000 funerals last year. These were a vital part of thChurchs mission and ministry, and a great channel of pastoral care. The feehad contributed more than 16 million towards stipends.A survey showed that no one felt that the fees were too high, and some felthat they were too low. The Bishop described as "modest" a proposefive-per-cent increase for funerals: funerals were almost always unexpectedand always unhappy. He proposed a ten-per-cent increase for weddings long-planned-for eventon which people expected to spend a great deal of money (an average of 17,000The parochial fee of 290 for weddings was modest. There was a danger iperceived values: the church ceremony might be diminished by putting too low value on it. The increase was unlikely to deter people. At register officeswhere the fee had fallen, wedding numbers had fallen also; at approvepremises, where they charged more, the number had risen.Janet Bower (Bradford) warned the Synod not to be too sanguine about ten-per-cent increase: ten per cent "might not be easy for everybody", as thexperience in one Bradford parish had shown.The Revd Dr Richard Burridge (Universities) asked what was done with the 1million raised through fees. The 6 million from marriages represented eighper cent of the clergy salary bill. He felt some of this should go towardclergy training the "life-long learning" recommended by the Hind reportPerhaps there might be one level of fee for those resident in the parish anmarrying there, and another for those outside. This would reinforce thvaluable historic structures in the Established Church.Paul Hancock (Liverpool) was in favour of the increase, but spoke of thincreasingly complex situations that now arose: exhumation and re-intermentmarriages involving participants from abroad. It was not as easy as it used tbe.Canon David Bailey (York) suggested Synod might reconsider the principlthat the fee was the same in every parish church. There could be bandingsomething that would not be regarded as unusual.Canon Chris Lilley (Lincoln) noted that, of the total fees for funerals, thChurchs proportion was getting smaller, being now about three per cent of thtotal bill. In rural areas, help with maintaining churchyards sometimes camfrom the parish council.Tim Hind (Bath & Wells) suggested that all Synod members knew somethinabout the issue, but only a little. There had been a failed attempt last yeato get a review of parochial fees. The time was now right. A theology waneeded to start a review were these fees or costs of services?Dr Julian Litten (Chelmsford) said that the Church needed to be prepared foa sudden increase in demand for burials in churchyards that were currentlclosed but might soon be reopened under government proposals. In his area, in a local-authority cemetery, a brick grave now cost 25,00and a single-deck grave space 2000. In Birmingham, a single grave purchasefor 75 years now cost 2800. The 168 the Church was proposing would hardly pafor the gravedigger, let alone allow the creation of a fund to maintain animprove the churchyard. If these low figures prevailed, then, when there was a rush to use threopened graveyards, the churches would receive little money to reinvest in thmaintenance of these spaces. He proposed that grave spaces should be charged a1000, and that the clergy should charge 90 as their fee for burial. A smalincrement would provide, for most, no great difficulty, he said. Charges shoulreflect those of municipal cemeteries.Gavin Oldham (Oxford) said that, since 16 million of revenue was beinraised in fees for weddings and funerals, he would have expected a detailebreakdown of how the figures were arrived at. Income from special licencewould be reduced by about 50,000 per annum under the Draft Church of EnglanMarriage Measure, and this should be seen in the context of the 22 increase iwedding fees.The Archdeacon of Salop, the Ven. John Hall (Lichfield), said that thdiocese was concerned about the increase it would have to find because of thpensions review, and saw increased fees as a way of meeting some of thincreased costs. The increases should be put on the "incumbent" element of thfees, so as to help the diocese. Meeting further financial demands meant eithean increase in the parish share, which some would not be able to pay, or evefewer stipendiary clergy.He hoped that, next year, serious consideration would be given to increasinthe fees as a third way of raising the necessary income. He said that neithearchdeacons and parish clergy, nor diocesan secretaries and treasurers, habeen consulted about the setting of these fees.The Revd Simon Butler (Southwark) said that burials in Croydon cemetery cos2050, and that other cemeteries had similar costs. His parish now charged feeof 2000, and cremation plots cost 500, a move welcomed by local funeradirectors. The money was used to maintain the churchyard. "We need to keep thgraveyard up so that it is a place of comfort, and not a place by which peoplare distressed," he said.The Parochial Fees Order was put to the vote and approved.

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