Funerals & Burials
‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, thou art with me...
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.’
Å Your local Church of England (parish) church is your parish church, and the Rector is your parish priest. In your time of need, his time is yours.
Å In the Church of England we aim to provide a sensitive and comforting funeral service (in every sense of the word) for loved ones at their time of loss. This is offered for all parishioners, regardless of church membership, or any particular religious beliefs or none.
Å In the first instance, following the passing of a loved one, a Funeral Director should be sought (see footnote for contact details). They will contact the minister, on your behalf, to arrange a suitable date and time for the service. They will also offer helpful and practical advice with regard to many aspects of what needs to be done.
Å The minister will then contact you directly and arrange a meeting in the days prior to the service, to talk about the content of the service.
Church or Crematorium?
Å Burial in a churchyard is usually preceded by a funeral service in that church.
Å A cremation is preceded by a funeral service either in the local parish church or at the crematorium chapel. It should be noted that the church service is subsidised (see fees table below), by the Church of England, in order to encourage those arranging a funeral to use their parish church on such an occasion, before proceeding to the crematorium. As well as the spiritual atmosphere of the church, it has the added advantage of making it easier for local people to attend rather than travel a long distance to and from the crematorium.
Å When there is a funeral service in church followed by cremation, a short service of committal, lasting just a few minutes, is held on arrival at the crematorium chapel. The church minister will conduct this in addition to the service in church.
Å For practical and pastoral reasons it might be the preferred option to hold a short committal at the crematorium chapel first, which is then followed by a service back at the parish church, without the coffin being present; properly referred to as a Memorial Service rather than a funeral. This will mean that there is no long delay between the church service and everyone being together afterwards if a wake or reception is being held. It is also possible to hold a low key, ‘private’ funeral and committal, and then to publicise a more substantial Memorial Service in church at a later date.
Å It is expected that religious language will be used at a funeral service held in the parish church, including reference to heaven and the afterlife, in the tradition of the gospel of Jesus who was raised to back life, and ascended to heaven. This can be helpful and appropriate for the mourners, but does not imply assumptions about the personal convictions of the deceased.
Å A service that is conducted by a C of E minister just at the crematorium chapel will also be characterised by religious language. However in this context there is more freedom to tailor the structure of the service to personal requirements if requested, for instance if the emphasis is required to be not so much religious as spiritual. In other words if a ‘non-religious’ funeral service is desired, the Rector may still be able to help with this, and is happy to be approached.
Å A funeral service at church or a crematorium chapel often includes two or three hymns. An organist will be booked by the Rector in the case of a church service, whilst at the crematorium there is always a resident organist. The Rector can offer advice as to the choice of hymns.
Å It is increasingly popular for recorded music to be played at funerals. This may be agreed with the minister in advance, provided it is appropriate and in good taste. This may be played during the few minutes as the coffin is either brought into or taken out of the church, or for a short period during the service while the congregation remain seated.
Å A eulogy or tribute is usually read in honour of the life of the deceased. The minister is always happy to compose this on behalf of the friends and family, as a result of discussion and sometimes written notes. It is also possible for a member of the party of mourners to read this at the service, in which case it is advised that the text should be printed out in full, both in order to keep focused on what it is appropriate to say, and in to be able to pass the text to the minister to read with immediate notice, should the emotional intensity of the occasion prove overwhelming.
Å It is traditional to include a reading from the Bible at the Christian funeral service. The minister can suggest an appropriate choice (see footnote), and will usually read it. It is quite acceptable for a member of the mourning party to give the reading if desired. In addition to the Bible reading, an appropriate non-scriptural reading may be included.
Å All these aspects can be discussed directly with the Rector as part of the preparation.
Å Everyone has a civic right to a burial plot in their own parish (Church of England) churchyard, regardless of religious affiliation or none, as long as the churchyard remains open. The parish church is for all parishioners.
Å There is, however, no automatic right to have a burial at a churchyard in a parish where the deceased was not resident. Such a request is granted only at the discretion of the relevant Parochial Church Council, who can be consulted via the Rector.
Å In the Upper Wensum benefice all seven active churches currently have churchyard space for ongoing burials, although for Great Ryburgh the churchyard at Little Ryburgh (the cemetery adjacent to the remains of the ruined church there) is used for both villages.
Å Cremated remains (often referred to as ashes) are also interred in our Benefice churchyards. This may be arranged to take place within a few days following the cremation, or any length of time afterwards. The small casket containing the remains is buried in an existing family grave, or a designated area in the churchyard, sometimes called the Garden of Remembrance. Scattering of cremated remains is not practised, and should not be conducted privately in any churchyard, cemetery, or public amenity – if scattered, such remains will not disappear into the soil but remain visible for months or even years.
Å Memorial headstones at a grave, and flat tablets at the site of interred cremated remains, must comply with Church of England guidelines, in order to remain in keeping with the overall appearance of the churchyard in its medieval setting. After an interval of a few months allowing the ground to settle following the burial, the funeral director, or stone mason, will offer advice as to design and cost. A letter of application is then sent by the mason to the Rector for authorisation to proceed.
Å Fresh flowers may be left on a grave or plot, provided they are removed and disposed of in good time, and responsibly, before they wither. Church of England guidelines do not permit artificial flowers or trinkets to be placed at graves, as they are considered out of keeping with the natural and historic surroundings, and can interfere with routine maintenance of the grounds. Shrubs and potted plants should not be introduced.
Å It should be understood that the fee for a burial or interment does not imply private ownership of that piece of ground, but rather the right for the burial or interment to take place, and as a contribution towards the ongoing costs of maintaining the churchyard.
Å With care and thought for the immediate environment, a headstone can provide not only a lasting memorial to the deceased as a record of their mortal existence, but also enhance the aesthetic appeal of the church and churchyard as a whole, making it a calming and meaningful space for any visitor.
‘Softly and gently, dearly-ransom’d soul,
In my most loving arms I now enfold thee,
And, o’er the penal waters, as they roll,
I poise thee, and lower thee, and hold thee.
And carefully I dip thee in the lake,
And thou, without a sob or resistance,
Dost through the flood thy rapid passage take...
Angels, to whom the willing task is given,
Shall tend, and nurse, and lull thee, as thou liest;
And masses on the earth, and prayers in heaven,
Shall aid thee at the Throne of the Most Highest.’
(The Dream of Gerontius, Cardinal Newman
Copyright © 2007 by the National Institute for Newman Studies)
Selected Bible Readings
Fees: Church / Minister (2009)
The fees are all paid through the Funeral Director
Note: charges are completely waived should the deceased be less than adult age.
Local Funeral Directors
Revd. Robin Stapleford
Upper Wensum Rectory