A Funeral is the opportunity for friends and family to express their grief, to give thanks for the life which has now completed its journey in this world and to commend the person into God's keeping.
The funeral service of the Church of England can be very short and quiet with only a few members of the family present or an occasion of great solemnity with music, hymns and a packed church.
Whatever the pattern of service, the words and actions all speak of a loving God and the preciousness to Him of every human being.
It is never easy making the arrangements for the funeral of someone you love. Yet the funeral and burial, which are as important to you as the person who has died, may help in the future as a way of remembering.
Arranging a Funeral
The clergy are used to helping people at times of distress and they will want to help in preparing for the funeral and burial of someone much loved. The priest will want to match your particular wishes with what is worthy and lasting in the churchyard and the priest must approve of what is finally chosen. Share your ideas with the priest before any arrangements are finalised if only to avoid any misunderstanding which may add to the distress of your bereavement.
The funeral director plays a very important part in all these arrangements and will want to know if the funeral is to be in the parish church or if the vicar is to take the service in the crematorium. Funeral directors know the local clergy, the local cemeteries and the crematoria. As part of a national network of funeral directors, they can, if necessary, give advice on funerals in other parts of the country, as well as on costs and fees.
Who may be buried in a churchyard?
If your parish church has an open churchyard, everyone who lives in the parish has a right to be buried there. The parish priest and the Parochial Church Council (PCC) may allow non-parishioners to be buried there especially if there are special links between the family and the church.
Sometimes the churchyard may have been officially closed but, although no more burial of coffins will be allowed, it may be possible for ashes to be buried there subject to certain legal requirements.
Where can the grave be sited?
The whole churchyard is legally ‘owned’ by the parish priest. No-one else can ‘own’ any part of it even by reserving a grave space or by erecting a memorial over a grave.
The parish priest decides where a grave is to be sited, usually following a plan agreed by the Parochial Church Council. For those who wish to reserve a space there will be certain legal procedures to follow and the parish priest will be able to give you full details of the procedure and the costs involved.
Can ashes be buried in a churchyard?
The scattering of ashes is not permitted but ashes can be buried in a churchyard, and sometimes even in a churchyard that has been closed. The parish priest can explain what is possible, and in the case of a closed churchyard, the procedure for obtaining permission to bury ashes there.
In some churchyards an area, or Garden of Remembrance, has been set aside for the burial of ashes. Often the names of people whose ashes are buried are recorded in a Book of Remembrance as an alternative to a gravestone over the ashes themselves.
Whatever is arranged must have the approval of the parish priest.
Once the funeral is over you may want to place a memorial to mark the resting place. To help you the Chancellor of the Diocese (who by law is responsible for what may go into a church building or churchyard) has prepared graveyard regulations. These are to ensure that both the memorial headstone and the inscriptions are appropriate to, and in harmony with, the rest of the churchyard and the church itself. For example the regulations do not allow memorials that are too large, or of certain colours or shapes, or types of stone.
The purpose of the regulations is not to prevent imaginative and sensitive ways of commemorating someone special. Memorials that are commissioned from artists are welcome as an enrichment to churchyards.
The priest will have details of the regulations. Provided that what you choose follows the guidelines, the parish priest can give permission to erect the memorial.
If you want something that is outside the guidelines you will have to apply for permission to the Chancellor of the Diocese - again your parish priest can tell you how to do this. Please note that some monuments from the past may not conform to today’s guidelines, but this cannot be used as an argument for not following the Chancellor’s current regulations.
After the Funeral
People who have lost someone close to them are often so busy with practical details and arrangements between the death and the funeral that they do not experience the full sense of their loss until later.
Grieving is a natural and important part of coming to terms with and healing this loss and it may continue for several months. If the clergy are asked, they will try to help. One often finds it is those who have suffered a close bereavement themselves, clergy or lay people, who can most easily offer comfort and support to those who mourn. Local churches do not usually offer long-term counselling, but they are good places to talk, to find support and prayer.
Comfort is also to be found in the promises of Jesus Christ, in the hope of the Resurrection and in the belief that the beloved person is safe in the hands of God.
If you would like to contact someone to talk to about counselling or even just someone to talk to, help and support is available through the College of Counsellors. Please contact Alison Moore, Adviser in Pastoral Care & Counselling Tel: 0191 374 6021 or e-mail Alison.Moore@durham.anglican.org
Cruse Bereavement Care is a non-religious organisation offering help and counselling for people experiencing bereavement.
The Samaritans offer confidential, emotional support online. Their national contact number is 08457 90 90 90.
For details of your parish, visit Find Your Church or A Church Near You.