Rev’s Reflection May 2024

 Growing up and living in London there were very few churchyards, if any, still open. In fact, prior to moving to Maldon, I had only attended one burial and that was at a local authority cemetery. In the countryside however, it is a blessing and a privilege to be immersed in a culture where churchyards are open, valued and very much an important part of the community.

A churchyard is a place of peace, dignity, and respect for the departed as well as a haven for wildlife. They are places where loved ones are remembered, memories recalled, and tears often fall. Conversations begin and friendships form amongst families visiting to tend their loved ones’ graves and once their tending is complete, it is comforting to sometimes see a flask of coffee and a snack appear from their gardening bag and for them to settle down and just ‘be’. I’ve heard many life stories in churchyards and wandered alongside generations of a family whose surname is inscribed on nearby headstones, sometimes they are reminiscing and at other times they might be simply working on their family tree. From time-to-time school children and their teachers visit to learn about social history and Christian traditions – the churchyard is a wonderful historical document, telling the stories of those who have lived and died in a parish, and it can feel like a veritable ‘who’s who’ of a village.

Our churchyards are part of the Christian faith and are designed to reflect God’s creation, nature, and the changing seasons. Fresh cut flowers being placed, small flowers planted on graves, and parts of a churchyard left uncut are all things that encourage wildlife, provide shelter and nesting opportunities. Even in an urban setting, a churchyard can become a green oasis within an otherwise concrete landscape. Churchyards are very special spaces where you can come to be alone and yet find yourself surrounded by the busyness of nature, with bees, birds, butterflies, and other species getting on with their day and making their presence felt.

A churchyard is also a place where great care is taken to ensure its character is preserved for future generations and as a result, the practice in churchyards may feel a little different from local authority cemeteries. How churchyards, graves and headstones are managed is governed by the Chancellor of the Diocese who provides a 26-page handbook for a little light reading and guidance on what is/isn’t permitted. Priests (including this one) can spend sleepless nights pouring over the handbook due to one or other of the churchyard regulations, because some of them now prevent us from doing what would have been allowed in years gone by. My advice to everyone who tends a grave space is ‘have a conversation’ with myself or the Churchwardens before undertaking any works. 

Whether you are visiting a loved one’s final resting place, venturing through on your dog walk, or are simply needing a little space away from the demands of life, please do feel you can come and spend some time in your local churchyard. They are very much places where we remember those who have died, but they are also spaces teeming with life and where we hope and pray the living may find a little sanctuary of peace.

Julie.                                                                                                                                                                              … and I will give you rest.’ Matthew 11: 28b