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St Mary’s Churchyard – June 2024

To those who tend graves at St Mary’s Church, Boston Spa

a note from our vicar, June 17th 2024

I have been on medical leave since mid-April and have returned to discover a lot of upset regarding recent work in the churchyard at St Mary’s, Boston Spa. As the vicar of St Mary’s, I am very sorry for the shock and upset caused after a significant tidying up of sections of the churchyard by volunteers. The churchyard site got a little out of hand during lockdown in a number of respects and we are playing catchup in terms of getting on top of some of the wilder areas, but also in terms of addressing some long term site management issues, such as making sure we are mindful of the churchyard regulations.

Several weeks before my operation in April, I wrote a letter to be passed on to those who tend graves. A summarized form of this was put up on notices around the churchyard. This was to avoid entirely this kind of shock and upset, and to give people the opportunity to contact the churchyard maintenance team or myself in advance. As I said in the letter (the text of which is reproduced below), we have no wish to upset anyone and wish to work together to ensure we are managing the churchyard to the benefit of the whole community. Indeed, several people did discuss the letter with me and other members of the church community, and as a result some things were clarified, and some new volunteers joined our maintenance team.

The text of the letter which was distributed by the churchyard maintenance team is below for reference, and I hope within its words you can see the spirit in which we intended to go about things. I apologize that despite our intentions, hurt has been caused.

The churchyard is there to cherish the dear departed of our lovely village, and is a communal space which we manage on behalf of the Diocese of York. But more importantly it is where we go to remember loved ones. I regularly pray in the churchyard, read the names on the memorials, and remember these parishioners in my prayers. They are not forgotten. There is a ‘democracy’ in death: we are all equal, but each person remains loved, special and precious – unique. Those who maintain the churchyard therefore do their best to apply the regulations equally to all, because everyone is equally special, precious, and loved, and no one memorial should dominate over others.

The churchyard is a place where wildlife and plants thrive, but where we try to balance maintenance between tidiness, managed wildlife areas, and keeping graves accessible. I can assure you that nobody involved in the maintenance of the churchyard is careless in how graves are treated. The churchyard is a large and complex site to manage, and I am extremely grateful to the local volunteers (many of whom are elderly) who do their best to keep on top of its maintenance. We are taking steps as a church community to improve the way we manage the churchyard as some areas do need a lot more intervention than we have been able to achieve in the past, having become overgrown, preventing access to tended graves. We don’t always get this balance right (between tidying up and leaving wild) – and in this case, I am very sorry that our tidying of one area in particular has happened in a way which has caused upset.

Please be assured of our continuing care of the churchyard. If you would like to be involved in maintaining the site beyond the grave you yourself tend, we can put you in touch with the maintenance team. And please also be assured of my continuing prayers for your loved ones. They are not forgotten. They are precious in God’s sight and mine, and the church maintenance team at St Mary’s. I hope you accept my apology for any impression that this might be otherwise.

Yours in Christ,

The Reverend Nick Morgan


Text of the letter sent out in February – April 2024 is below:

On behalf of the Village Church Council of St Mary’s, thank you for your continuing visits to honour and remember someone special, and for helping tend an area which has an important place in many people’s hearts. We manage the churchyard on behalf of the Diocese of York and rely wholly upon our team of volunteers, and those who tend their loved ones’ graves, to maintain it.

You may not be aware of all the regulations we are obliged to implement, so these are displayed on the notice board on the side of the Parish Office. It is important to note that graves here are neither bought nor rented (as may be the case in civic graveyards). The burial fee pays only for the right to be buried here and a memorial within the regulations erected. This means there are limits on what plants or items may be left on and around graves.

We have no wish to upset anyone and would far rather work together with you to keep within the regulations which we are bound by. Thank you, in advance, for your co-operation in honouring your loved one’s memory and keeping this special place as it should be. We are obliged to remove items left on or around graves which go beyond what is permitted, but are mindful of the love which they express, especially in the months immediately following a funeral. We wait more than a month before removing items from new graves for this reason, and seasonal wreaths for Christmas and Easter are also left until Feb 2 and Pentecost respectively.

Both for burial plots and places where ashes have been buried:
– turf must not be removed and gravel, slate or other materials placed around or on top of a grave
– cut flowers may be left at graves, or placed in holders which are either incorporated into the memorial stone, or pressed into the
turf to a depth slightly below the turf to avoid mower damage
– no flowers, trees or shrubs (except spring bulbs) may be planted in or around graves
– potted plants may not be left on or beside graves
– other items (e.g. ornaments, statues or toys) may not be left
– plaques, stones and memorials additional to those for which official permission has been granted may not be added to graves

We need your help to ensure that the churchyard keeps within the regulations. If you have inadvertently broken the churchyard regulations, we would be grateful if you could put this right as soon as possible. In Spring 2024 we will have a tidy up during which unauthorized items will be removed, and I am writing several weeks in advance so this does not come as a shock or cause upset, and so you can take action yourself to avoid this. We are happy to help, so please get in touch with us if you would like us to do this in advance of the big tidy up.

Another issue relating to the regulations is that, where additional items are left, flowers or shrubs are planted, ornaments added, etc this often makes maintenance more difficult. We do not accept liability for items damaged during routine maintenance of the churchyard.

Grief takes many forms and changes over the years. If you wish to be put in touch with our bereavement team who will happily offer a listening ear, please contact the Parish Office.

Bless you, and those whom you come here to remember,