Can I be buried in the church graveyard?

Strictly speaking, this isn’t an objection people have to Christian faith so it shouldn’t be part of our Big Question series, but it is a question I’ve been asked an awful lot lately, so please indulge me as we explore the rules the Church of England has about its graveyards!

Planning your funeral ahead of time is a very sensible thing to do. It allows you to say things like “I want a church or crematorium funeral” and it makes life a lot easier for your grieving relatives. But what a lot of people don’t appreciate is that although you can specify all sorts of details about the funeral in your will, it is much harder to ensure you are buried in a particular churchyard.

What criteria govern where you have a right to be buried?

In an attempt to be absolutely fair to everyone, the Church of England has a very simple rule when it comes to deciding whether you can be buried in a particular church’s graveyard:

  • CRITERIA 1: Were you normally resident in the parish at the time of your death?

If this is the case, and there is space in the churchyard at the time of your death, you can be buried there.

This means that when it comes to allocating a grave plot, it doesn’t matter who you are, what you believe about God, who your family is (or was), what you earn, or what your gender, colour or sexuality is. All that matters is where you normally lived.

The Church of England also gives the right to be buried in a churchyard to two other categories of people:

  • CRITERIA 2: Anyone who was worshipping regularly and on the electoral roll of that church at the time of their death.
  • CRITERIA 3: Anyone who dies in the parish.

What if I don’t fit the criteria, but want to be buried in one of your churchyards?

Sadly, because we have a limited supply of churchyard space, it would not be fair to our local residents if we offered you a grave that was really meant for them. To give an example, suppose a person lives in Ledbury (and therefore has a right to be buried in Ledbury) wants to be buried in Hanley Swan churchyard because 50 years ago they lived in the village. Why should they be buried in Hanley Swan if it prevents a person who lives in Hanley Swan from being buried in Hanley Swan?

Notwithstanding this, if you don’t live in the parish, you could gain a right to be buried there by worshipping regularly with us (for at least six months), joining the electoral roll, and then applying to reserve a plot in the graveyard through the Church of England’s official reservation system. Please note there is a cost associated with this which covers legal fees and churchyard maintenance.

Reserving a plot in the graveyard is also an option if you currently live in the parish but know you are likely to move out of it in the foreseeable future, but would still like to establish a right to be buried there.

But someone from the church promised I could be buried there!

Unless it has been formally recorded on our graveyard plans, these promises are not binding.  The only way to properly reserve a plot in a churchyard is through the Church of England’s official system.

Do you have any leeway in this?

Not if we are to be fair, though there are some cases we’d look at sympathetically. For example, if your spouse is buried in the churchyard, or if you had met criteria 1 or 2 for most of your life, but moved out of the parish towards the end of your life.

What if I just want my ashes interred in a churchyard?

Ashes don’t take up as much space in a churchyard so this sort of request is much easier to accommodate.

Finally, which of your churches have open graveyards?

  • St Peter and St Paul’s, Upton, doesn’t have a graveyard though there is a memorial garden, and a civic cemetery elsewhere in the town.
  • The churchyard at St James, Welland, is closed for new burials, though again there is a civic cemetery in the town.
  • Our churches in Hanley Castle, Hanley Swan and Ripple are all open for new burials though the amount of space varies.
  • Earls Croome, Hill Croome and Strensham churchyards are also open for burials, though space is limited and it is possible the graveyards will fill up in the next 10-20 years.

 For all enquiries about churchyard policies, please contact the church office (admin@hopechurchfamily.org) or 01684 591241.

First published in the Bridge Magazine May 2019

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