Nicknames including “popsicle” banned on gravestones at Church of England church

Nicknames on gravestones are not to be allowed, a Church of England court has declared as it bans the use of “popsicle” on a church’s headstones. 

A dispute over the use of ‘dad’ and ‘granddad’ on a grandfather’s gravestone has led to a judge saying that the use of nicknames, such as ‘Popsicle’ on gravestones is disrespectful. 

Ruth Arlow, who was at the time of the dispute the Diocesan Chancellor of Norwich, said the pet name “lacked appropriate dignity and reverence”.

She made the comment at the Church of England’s consistory court where she acted as an independent judge. 

The court ruled that Caroline Walden from Fakenham would be allowed to have the words ‘dad and grandad’ included on the headstone of her father, John Walden, who died in January last year aged 65.

Ms Arlow over-ruled the Rev Clive Wylie, vicar of St Mary’s Church at Syderstone, who had told the Walden family that ‘Father and Grandfather’ was fine but he would not accept ‘dad and grandad’ on Mr Walden’s grave.

Ms Arlow said that while she didn’t agree with the use of popsicle “the same cannot be said of the words ‘dad’ and ‘grandad’, which are commonly used by most families in this country”. 

She added: “Indeed, the common nature of the usage of those terms is reflected in how commonly they are seen on memorials both in this churchyard and others up and down the country.”

Mr Walden’s widow Pauline and daughter Caroline fought a long-running battle to have the vicar’s original ban overturned.

Caroline Walden, 46, said: “Originally, we went to see the vicar when my dad died and we said to him quite a few times at the meeting that all we’d have on the stone would be dad, grandad and husband. 

“He didn’t tell us that he didn’t approve of those words until the stonemason put the stone through and then he turned around and said we can’t have dad or granddad.”  

The vicar told Ms Walden that they wanted to use traditional names due to the age of the church, which dates back to the Norman era with past patrons including Queen Mary, Elizabeth I and Charles I. 

“I said that there are not many people in my generation that call their dad ‘father’ or ‘grandfather’ anymore but he [the vicar] responded that he didn’t like the word Popsicle”. 

Ms Walden said she had not asked for Popsicle. 

“He was asked for it before and he had to say no because he didn’t think Popsicle was right,” she added. 

The Church of England guidelines on graveyards currently states that inscriptions and pictures on memorials should be “simple, dignified and reverent” and “should have a clear Christian or traditional funerary symbolism or reflect the life and work of the deceased”.

It is up to individual clergy to interpret the guidelines and if a family disagrees they can appeal to the Diocesan Chancellor. 

However, following the appointment of a new Diocesan Chancellor David Etherington QC the guidelines are to be reviewed early next year in a bid to make them clearer.

The Archdeacon of Lynn, The Venerable Ian Bentley, said: “We understand and are sorry for the upset caused to the Walden family.

“Local clergy have a difficult time maintaining the balance between the wishes of families and the fact that churchyards are an extension of historic buildings covered by faculty law. 

“The decision was made to permit the family’s wishes and, of course, the local church fully supports this.  

“We are looking at the guidelines sent to the clergy early in the New Year, with the new Diocesan Chancellor, to see where improvements can be made”.

Following the ruling by Ms Arlow the family have had a headstone reading ‘in loving memory of a dear husband, dad and grandad’ erected.

“It’s just a relief to go up there now and put a wreath there for Christmas and see his name on the gravestone, it’s somewhere I can go to have a chat to him.” 

Written by: Jessica Carpani

First published 10.12.19: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/12/10/nicknames-including-popsicle-banned-gravestones-church-england/

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