A Family Funeral
by Philip Jones
The melancholy case of Rouch v Hawthorne (2015) reminds the author of this blog of the funeral of his late Uncle, many years ago now.
The Uncle died at his home in Aberystwyth. The family decided on a cremation. At that time Aberystwyth had no crematorium. The nearest crematorium was in Shrewsbury. (Coincidentally, the Uncle had been educated at Shrewsbury School.)
The Uncle and his family were nominally Anglican but, alas, never went to church. It is unlikely that they had even met their current local vicar (though they had probably met his predecessors). However, they were friendly with the Baptist minister who lived next door to them. In fact, the Baptist minister took the Aunt’s funeral when she died some years later (by which time Aberystwyth had acquired its own crematorium).
The Uncle, with his two brothers, had served in the Second World War. (One brother was killed in North Africa.) The family therefore found a vicar in the Shropshire area who was, or had formerly been, a military chaplain. He agreed to take the Uncle’s funeral at the Shrewsbury crematorium.
The funeral itself was short and simple, but very dignified. The chaplain used the awesome burial service in the 1662 Prayer Book. He also read out a deeply moving tribute to the Uncle’s war service.
But who was entitled to the funeral fee? Even if the chaplain who took the funeral was an incumbent, he was not the Uncle’s incumbent. The Uncle’s incumbent was the Vicar of Aberystwyth. Perhaps he was the rightful owner of the fee. Or maybe the diocesan board of finance in St. David’s had a claim. But Aberystwyth is in Wales, and the parochial fees legislation and the Miscellaneous Provisions Measure 1992 only extend to England (Ecclesiastical Fees Measure 1986, s.12(2), 1992 Measure, s.19(3)). The Church in Wales has, of course, been independent of the Church of England since Disestablishment in 1920. Since then, English ecclesiastical law has applied only in England, not Wales.
Even apart from the ecclesiastical separation of Wales and England, it is hard to see what claim the Vicar of Aberystwyth had on the funeral fee. He did not take the funeral, or make the arrangements. He had never even met the Uncle or the family, and had done nothing for them. The family wanted a Christian funeral for the Uncle, but not necessarily an Anglican one. The fact that they asked a Baptist minister to take the Aunt’s funeral makes this point. And they had chosen the chaplain to take the Uncle’s funeral not because he was Anglican, but because he was military.