When I was visiting my mother's grave last week, someone
from the church said that they were planning to lay all the
gravestones flat and drop kerbstones so that mowing would be easy.
We are incredibly upset, and wondering if the church can really do
that to us.
THE answer, in short, is no. The faculty (legal permission) to
make significant changes to a churchyard that is still being used
for burials is extremely difficult to obtain, and making mowing
easy is not a sufficient reason.
Let me outline some of the principles involved generally - and
add that just last week a great little book, Caring for your
Church Building, by James Halsall (Kevin Mayhew), landed on my
desk, and I have dipped into it to top up my knowledge. The author
has been a diocesan-advisory-committee (DAC) secretary for 20
years, so knows a lot more about the subject than I do.
Headstones and memorials are put up in graveyards with
permission by faculty. Within set guidelines, that is not an
individual faculty. It follows that they may only be changed by
faculty also. The care and maintenance are the responsibility of
those who installed the stone, and the church or churchwardens
would need to ask the family concerned to undertake any required
work, usually only for reasons of safety - as when a stone was
leaning dangerously. As Halsall says: "Most repairs or the
permanent relocation of a memorial will require a faculty."
It may be good news that the church wants to change or improve
the churchyard, but there are general rules that must be complied
with. The DAC secretary will advise the church on what permissions
are needed in detail, but expect to need a faculty, and also expect
responses to the public notice that has to be in situ for
28 days as part of the process.
Graves may not be disturbed, unless - for example, in a closed
churchyard where burials are no longer held - they are really old,
and due process is followed. For example, present generations of
the families of those originally buried may need to be contacted
and permission sought from them. This applies to full burials, not
to buried ashes.
Many churchyards are potential havens for wildlife, and can be
set out to encourage both human and animal visitors. Dead and
dangerous trees may need attention; permission from the archdeacon
will be all that is necessary, and it is possible to encourage
plants and insects by leaving the grass unmown, apart from paths
that give access to graves. Many graveyards have a kind of peace
about them that many people enjoy, and a well-placed bench or two
can be a welcome facility.
A note on closed churchyards - that is, ones that are no longer
used for burials, except, perhaps, for ashes. With a formal notice,
the care of a closed churchyard may be passed to the local
authority, but bear in mind that the standard of care is not
controlled; the parochial church council is still responsible for
the churchyard, and should notify the local authority about any
maintenance concerns, and also have appropriate public-liability
insurance. Even when the churchyard is closed, this is still
consecrated land under faculty jurisdiction, and the local
authority may need reminding of this as it makes plans.
The issues over churchyards, faculties, restrictions,
responsibilities, and the challenges of change seem both more
obtuse and more intense than those that concern the building
itself. Do ask your archdeacon or DAC secretary before you do
Send issues and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.