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Church News

Vicar questions MPs' letter calling for Church of England to take funerals

by Cara Bentley

A vicar has urged MPs to rethink their call for churches to allow funerals in their buildings, suggesting that the politicians do not appreciate what is involved, pointing out that churches depend on volunteers and are not "a business". 

Thirty-seven MPs wrote to the archbishops and bishops in the Church of England on Tuesday asking them to allow the holding of funerals in their buildings. 

Current Church of England guidance says no one can enter the church building for private prayer, broadcasts or any other reason. Government guidance does not go so far, hence why in other denominations pastors are recording sermons in their normal buildings. 

The letter was organised by Conservative Chris Loder and signed by other MPs, including Theresa Villiers, Sir Desmond Swayne, Steve Baker and Danny Kruger. 

They ask for the established church to allow small-scale funerals because of the distress they say is caused by other options.

"The grief of bereavement is being translated to trauma in many cases, especially where it is resulting in the tragedy of a direct cremation."

The MPs ask that "you give permission, in line with the law and government guidance, for clergy to enter their church and to officiate at funerals within the church building while observing necessary safety measures."

In response, Rev Bryony Taylor, a priest in the Diocese of Derby, wrote a blog explaining why this was not as easy as it might appear. 

Rev Taylor told Premier: "I think quite a lot of people really don't understand how we take funerals in the Church of England and what goes on behind the scenes.

"I thought it would be important to just share what it feels like to be priest at the moment during a pandemic and what we're trying to do to support families who are bereaved because it's a huge part of our ministry."

 

She explained that many churches depend on volunteers - to clean, play the organ, open up the building - and that many of their volunteers are either self-isolating and would be put at risk by being asked to volunteer. 

The priest, who runs the parishes of Barlborough & Clowne, added that there are some factors which benefit bereaved families, such as it costing less more money to have the ceremony just at a crematorium rather than a church service as well. Live-streaming funerals has also been offered, which she thinks will last beyond Covid-19 as a way for people across the world to take part. 

Suggesting pastoral ideas to other vicars, she added that she and others have been offering a memorial service in a year's time.

She explained: "The letter that the MPs wrote was saying that people are becoming traumatised, but I think actually a stripped-back ceremony in an empty church with people sitting in separate pews could be more painful actually than waiting a year and having something where everyone's there and you can really have a celebration of that person's life.

"They're [the MPs] entitled to their opinion and I understand that people are desperate to get back into church - and I think priests, more than anybody else, are desperate to minister to people!

"They just needed to realise that it's a bit more complicated when it comes to churches, because we are not businesses like crematoria are, we are run by volunteers, funded by volunteers, and so there are lots of other things going on. We would love to be able to offer funerals in our churches but obviously I don't want to have to take any more funerals of people who have died from Covid-19 - and I've already done a few and I don't want to do anymore."

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