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
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
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