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Only rock and roll, but he bans it

12 July 2013


Perennial: the Rolling Stones perform in Hyde Park, last weekend

Perennial: the Rolling Stones perform in Hyde Park, last weekend

THE words "It's only rock and roll," and "Finally fell off his perch" were not appropriate on a memorial in a churchyard, Chancellor Stephen Eyre ruled in the Consistory Court of the diocese of Lichfield.

The petitioners, Darren and Rick Clapham, sought a faculty in respect of a memorial that they proposed to erect over the grave of their father, Charles Clapham, who died in March 2011, and was buried in the churchyard of All Saints', Standon.

His sons wished to erect a memorial that reflected their father's individuality and character. They proposed that the memorial should start with the words "Now then", which was apparently a phrase that their father used. They put forward three possible versions of a memorial which, in various permutations, contained the words "Finally fell off his perch", and "It's only rock and roll."

The Chancellor said that churchyards were consecrated to God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - and what was set out on memorials there must be consistent with orthodox Christian belief. Not only was that because of the purpose of the churchyard, but also because inscriptions conveyed a message to visitors.

It was important, the Chancellor said, that that the message such visitors received was one that proclaimed, or at the very least was not inconsistent with, the message of hope and faith being given to them by Christ's Church.

In addition, it was to be remembered that the memorial would be read not just by those who knew the deceased in question, but by those who did not. Indeed, the message conveyed to those who did not know the deceased was, in many ways, more important than the message being given to those who did know him. Moreover, memorials placed in churchyards must be fitting and appropriate not just for today, but also for the future.

That did not mean that there had to be a characterless uniformity in the inscriptions in a churchyard, the Chancellor said. Human individuality, diversity, eccentricity, and non-conformity were gifts from God, and were to be celebrated. Inscriptions reflecting the different characters of those commemorated were to be encouraged. Very many churchyards were enhanced and their purpose reaffirmed by inscriptions that were varied and often quirky or eccentric.

There was a difference, the Chancellor said, between quirkiness and humour, which were to be welcomed on memorials, and flippancy and irreverence, which would be impermissible.

It was entirely right and desirable that the colourful aspects of Mr Clapham's life should be commemorated, but that had to be done in a manner that was consistent with orthodox Christian belief.

The words "Now then" were just about acceptable, the Chancellor ruled. They conveyed little to those who did not know Mr Clapham, but they did not give any false or unchristian message.

But the words "It's only rock and roll" were in a different category, the Chancellor ruled. Even when they were seen as some sort of catch- phrase, account had to be taken of what it meant. The obvious implication was that the "it" which was described as only "rock and roll" was a reference to life, or perhaps death. On either basis, that was an assertion of a position of regarding important things as unimportant. It amounted to a trivialising of God's precious gift of life. There was a very real risk that the use of the words would be seen as projecting an inappropriate message.

The Chancellor ruled that words "finally fell off his perch" were also unacceptable. They crossed theline going beyond quirkiness and humour to flippancy and irreverence. The ending of a human life was a serious matter, and the proposed phrase went too far in treating it as a light matter.

The petition was refused. The Chancellor said, however, that he was conscious that the petitioners' aim was to find some way of celebrating their father's life. The petitioners were authorised to amend the form of words, and come up with an inscription that conveyed something of Mr Clapham's character without being capable of being seen as inconsistent with the Christian gospel.

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