A demand for removal of ‘unsuitable’ gravestones and items on graves at St Mary’s Church, Sullington has been branded as ‘insensitive’.
Some of the graves involved have been in the churchyard for a number of years- in one case since 1987.
The order follows a well-publicised dispute at Pulborough Parish Church, where an ecclesiastical court ordered a headstone to be removed.
The latest situation has raised fears that other churches could follow suit.
The first that relatives knew there was a problem at Sullington was when a notice was attached to the lych gate at the churchyard in January.
It said: “We are governed by law and cannot allow the following features within the churchyard: Kerbs, railings, fencing and chippings as these create difficulty and danger when mowing.
“Memorials in the shape of vases, hearts, open books
“Memorials incorporating photographs or portraits
“Mementoes, windmills, toys, potted plants, lights, little animals, artificial flowers.”
It went on to say that any non-complying articles still there on January 1 2013 will be removed by the Parochial Church Council.
Families say they cannot understand why these demands have suddenly been made.
Former district councillor for Storrington, Phil Read, is one of those affected.
His mother was buried in a family grave more than five years ago.
The grave has been well-maintained, contained by kerbs, and features small headstones of his mother, aunt and grandmother.
He said this week: “There has been no real discussion on this. I asked for a booklet outlining the Diocesan policy on what is and is not allowed in its churchyards.
“There are so many contradicitions in it. If you read one page, it is contradicted by another.
“It also says black gravestones are not allowed, yet there is one in the Sullington churchyard, and no mention of it on the list which was put up on the gate.”
He added: “It costs £70 to apply for permission for something and then £300-£400 to lodge an appeal if permission is not granted.
“My mother’s very small headstone has been up for more than five years and I am now told it is not in keeping with the churchyard.”
Mr Read described the attitude as ‘insensitive’.
He added: “Graves are a personal thing. I have tried speaking to someone about this, but they do not want to listen.”
He pointed out that some of the oldest graves in the churchyard have kerbs around them and contain stones. Katie Bailey, aged 24, of Storrington received a phone call telling her she must remove a stone cherub from the grave of her baby son whose grave has bee n in the churchyard for four years.
Katie Bailey (24) has been asked to replace the small sleeping cherub, with a conventional headstone at the grave in Sullington churchyard
“I was told someone visiting the graveyard had complained that some of the graves were ‘tacky’.
“I was one of several people told to remove items on graves in the churchyard. I received letters from Sullington Parochial Church Council, with the latest telling me I must remove everything by the beginning of September,” said Katie.
“The letters were patronising and upsetting. I was told to remove ‘those things’.
Her baby son, Peter, died just four hours after his birth. He had been diagnosed with spina bifida during her pregnancy, forcing an early birth at 25 weeks old. He has been buried in the churchyard since Novermber 2008.
“I had set aside £190 for a pram for when Peter was born, and I used money to buy a sleeping cherub stone. I thought this was a fitting memorial for him. “I didn’t want a headstone because I felt it was too morbid for baby. So I chose the cherub and had a small engraved metal plaque fitted to it,” she said.
“I have small blue stones on the grave with some stone toys, teddy bears, Shrek and King Fu, put on there by my other children, Harvey (six) and Oliver (three) for their brother.
“I offered to meet the diocese half way by removing these items and retaining the sleeping cherub stone, but to no avail. I have been told the cherub must be removed.”
She was visited by the vicar who said that someone had offered to pay for a headstone for the grave.
Katie said: “I felt that was patronising. The cost is not the point. I should have the right to make the gravestone as personal as I want, and the sleeping cherub is not offensive.
“To lose the baby was hard in the first place and I wanted something which was not over the top for him.
“The way I have been treated over this has been rude and cruel.”
The grave for Katie’s son is not conspicuous, and is sited in a quiet part of the graveyard, near to a hedge.
Other people have also spoken out about the unexpected insistance that graves within the churchyard should be modified to meet what appear to be new rules.