AN ENGLISH priest, ministering in Australia, recently had to
wait nearly six hours to bury one of his parishioners.
The Priest-in-Charge of St John the Evangelist's, Raymond
Terrace, in the diocese of Newcastle, in New South Wales, the Revd
Christopher Yates, who is originally from Manchester, was about to
begin a funeral when the undertaker informed him that the grave had
not yet been dug.
"I honestly did not know what to say or do," Mr Yates said. "I
was racking my brain for anything I'd learned during formation, or
for any stories I'd heard from other priests, but there was no
reference point at all."
Mr Yates explained to the family that the grave had not yet been
dug, but that the undertakers were working hard to fix the
situation. He invited the eulogists to take as much time as they
Halfway through the funeral, which began at 11 a.m., Mr Yates
received a message saying that the grave would be dug in time for a
2 p.m. burial at the council cemetery, half a mile away from the
church. At the end of the service, the congregation agreed to meet
back in the church at 1.30 p.m., and until then the family would
keep vigil around the coffin.
In the government area of Port Stephens, in which Mr Yates's
parish is located, there is only one licensed gravedigger, and on
the day of the funeral he was a 45-minute drive away. By 2.30 p.m.
he had still not arrived, and unfortunately for him, "the Mayor of
Port Stephens was at the funeral, and furiously embarrassed," Mr
"However, Australians are a resourceful lot. The news that there
might not be a burial at all that day was greeted with: 'That's it,
I'm gettin' me shovel,' and the dead man's sons headed to the
By 3 p.m., Mr Yates had been told that the grave would be ready
in an hour. He spent the afternoon with the family, looking up
their names in the registers. "The atmosphere in the church around
the coffin was jovial," he said. "It was a little absurd to be
laughing and talking in the presence of their departed loved one,
but, strangely, it was a good way to grieve."
The ceremonies at the grave-side finally concluded at 4.30 p.m.,
and the family asked Mr Yates to join them for a drink. "I don't
usually go to wakes", he said, "but on this occasion I made an