Judge rules in favour for removing personal items from village graves

A selection of personal items removed from graves in St Edmund's Church, Kessingland. Residents have

A selection of personal items removed from graves in St Edmund's Church, Kessingland. Residents have claimed that some graves are now left unmarked after the removal of identifying stones and crosses. Photo: Mandy Cleveland - Credit: Archant

A bitter row between a church and grieving families over sentimental items being left at gravesides has ended with a judge deciding a rector was right to have them removed.

St Edmund's Church in Kessingland, Suffolk, has been at the centre of the row between local parishioners and rector, the Rev Mandy Bishop since May 2020.

Items such as statues of angels, vases, hearts with words such as ‘Grandad I Miss You', and toy cars, are said to breach church regulations relating to what can and cannot be left in church yards or on graves and were removed by the church council on May 17, 2020 and placed by the side of a shed.

Objectors have branded the Rev Bishop as 'inconsistent and arbitrary in her approach,' saying these rules are only enforced in St Edmund's church yard and not others she owns and that previous rectors turned a blind eye to the issue.

But despite a petition protesting the move which has been signed by over 400 parishioners,  the Rector and church wardens, Patricia Briggs and Helena Lord, sought permission to dispose of the items at the Church's Consistory Court in Norwich.

A collection of personal items have been removed from graves at St Edmund's Church, Kessingland. Pic

A collection of personal items have been removed from graves at St Edmund's Church, Kessingland. Picture: MANDY CLEVELAND - Credit: MANDY CLEVELAND

Chancellor of the Diocese of Norwich, David Etherington QC, judge of the Consistory Court said: 

“I have found that what the Rector and Churchwardens did was lawful and indeed required of them by the Churchyard Regulations."

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He added: “I think that, unintentionally, the petitioners may have overlooked a need for greater consultation.”

Although Mr Etherington backed the Rector and Church Wardens in their action, in a concession to the objectors, because of the coronavirus crisis, Mr Etherington did order that the 12 months for disposal of the items should begin, not from a date set last year, but from 1 January this year.

Seeking to restore peace between the church and the parishioners he said he appreciated “feelings have been running high.”


The notice telling people mementoes do not comply with church yard regulations. - Credit: Mandy Cleveland

“I can see how this all boiled up and indeed boiled over and I have some sympathy for both sides,” he said.

Mr Etherington added, “The Rector and Churchwardens have clearly felt a sense of threat about what has been happening and both sides have, understandably, to an extent retreated to their own barricades.”

Mr Etherington added, "Both sides have a choice in this sort of situation. The first path is the feud. Feuds have their satisfying moments for both sides, prolonging feelings of justification and grievance.

"Each side has its mini-triumphs and small defeats, often over the pettiest details. No-one wins ultimately. Everyone loses.


Items taken from the grave stones and left beside a shed. - Credit: Mandy Cleveland

“The outcome is unproductive, unhappy and sterile. It leeches into every aspect of people’s lives and those who try to be peacemakers are turned on with equal scorn by both sides.

"Eventually, if it goes on long enough, a permanent rift develops and half the people involved, who sometimes are not even the original protagonists, have forgotten what it was all really about in the first place.
“The second path is resolution. It involves both sides facing things they could have done better, both sides being able to talk things through without losing their tempers or scoring cheap points, everyone being prepared to make some compromise and all understanding that far more is lost in a feud of this kind than is ever gained.”

The Rev Mandy Bishop said that despite the controversy, she hoped her decision will somehow bring some reconciliation to the many grieving families.

She said: “Our priority is and shall always remain, the pastoral care and support of those we serve.

"We pray now, that with the ruling from the Chancellor being made public, this will allow those who have been affected to come to a place of healing and reconciliation as we continue to offer support for all."

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