One of the things which gives me most unease and others most grief is simply the extreme shortage of burial space at our village church of St George’s, Bradley. I receive frequent requests to allow the burial of someone who, say, used to live in the village, has family buried in the churchyard, or worships there at Christmas or another time. Explaining carefully that the remaining burial space has to be kept for those with a legal right to it as residents or regular worshippers is rarely perceived to be sympathetic.
A dozen years ago the then acting Team Rector determined that no burial were to take place at all as no proper plan existed to show where space remaining. I now almost regret the substantial work I put in to identify where at least the next couple of dozen burials could take place because the worse part of me feels it would save angst and trouble simply to tell people that the churchyard is full and closed, and I would be able to avoid the really difficult conversations with newly bereaved people which I’ve had again recently.
The case is simple. The village only has sixty houses and the rate at which new grave and cremated remains spaces are requested from the regular congregation and residents is sometimes not even one a year; at this rate the churchyard can be kept open for at least another generation. The rate at which other requests come in is at least one or two a quarter, often with substantial links with Bradley, and each convinced that their particular single request cannot make any real difference; I said ‘yes’ to the first couple of requests of this sort I received before I realised how frequently they would come; to have said ‘yes’ to all the requests over nearly ten years would have brought us near the final closure of the churchyard, and the vast majority of the last fifty burials would have been these exceptional cases and not those with a legal right to the remaining space at all.
But the situation distresses those making the requests and each time a family puts me under particular pressure I feel bad about it for days. In every other aspect of the life of the church it is open to those far beyond the village and regular congregation: a much wider group is now legally entitled to be married in the church, Harvest and other special events attract people from far afield many of whom think of it as ‘their’ Parish Church, and we even look to this affection to support it when we have to make a substantial financial appeal. It is really hard that we can’t also offer this wider constituency burial space without very quickly depriving the village of the use of its own churchyard.