Do you care where you are buried?

Baslow church and cemetery The Ministry of Justice is responsible for burial law

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Nearly half of England's local authority cemeteries will run out of space in 20 years or less, according to the findings of new research.

Over the past 12 months, BBC Local Radio approached 699 local authorities who manage cemeteries in England.

Since the 1850s the national government has passed responsibility for burials on to local councils. The local authorities can provide space for other faith groups in these cemeteries and a number accommodate people from the Islamic and Jewish faiths.

There is one private Muslim cemetery in England and a number of private Orthodox Jewish ones.

But how much do people really care about where they are buried?

Right Reverend James Langstaff

Bishop of Rochester The Right Reverend James Langstaff is Bishop of Rochester

"In pastoral circumstances and as the vicar of a parish I've had circumstances where someone wanted to have someone buried in a churchyard that is full and closed and I've had to deal with that situation," the Rt Rev Langstaff said.

"There are some circumstances where you can reopen a family grave in a closed churchyard and if you can find a way to do that, that's a helpful way to deal with it.

"I think I would probably be cremated. It doesn't matter to me what happens to this flesh and blood. In a spiritual sense, I am connected to my body, but that body has changed second by second since I was conceived and the fact that it goes into the ground, or is burnt and decays that is not an issue in itself for me.

"There is a belief in resurrection in Christianity, but there is a new body as I understand it, a transformation. Though there is continuity between the self in this world and the resurrected self, there is a radical discontinuity as well.

"The shortage of space may be one of those things which is creeping up on us without people realising it. I think it's an important thing for government and local government to take seriously because of the significance for people. We need to mark the milestones in our life and where and how we do that is important."

Mohamed Omer

Mohamed Omer is the founder of the Gardens of Peace Muslim Cemetery in Ilford. It was created in 2009.

Originally, it was thought to have 100 years of space but it is already 70% full.

"I feel very strongly in my faith and want to be buried according to my religious requirement," Mr Omer said.

Start Quote

Mohamed Omer

I personally believe the existing government is not taking it as seriously as they should”

End Quote Mohamed Omer Founder of the Gardens of Peace Muslim Cemetery

"We always believe that our final destination is the grave. We are only here for a short period in this world. Our hereafter is the eternal life and therefore that's why I want to make sure that I get buried in accordance to my particular religious belief.

"Not necessarily in a Muslim cemetery - if the council provides me with that I have no problem whatsoever.

"I believe that I was created from earth and I should go back into earth, to be resurrected from earth. It's very much a spiritual thing for me and not cultural at all whatsoever.

"We do not believe in cremation at all. We do not believe in burning. We have always associated burning with hellfire. We always pray that our grave should be part of paradise. Our souls should rest there till the day of judgement.

"Muslim communities are now waking up to the fact that shortage of space is an issue.

"What used to happen is that Muslim communities were not very active and I think they are now realising that a new generation is not going to be repatriated to be buried.

"I personally believe the existing government is not taking it as seriously as they should. I think the state should really provide. I am sure communities would take it on board to look after their own, if they were funded."

Bishop Angaelos

Bishop Angaelos Bishop Angaelos is the General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church

Bishop Angaelos is the General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church, a Christian tradition that originated in Egypt and has about 20,000 members in the UK.

"I think traditionally people have buried their dead. In Egypt it doesn't tend to be a burial in the ground but there would be a family mausoleum where the dead would be buried and it would be opened up every time there was another family member to be buried," he said.

"Moving here to the UK where this isn't such a widespread practise we would have burials in cemetery plots...They're not worried about a shortage of space because people tend to buy multiple plots so if one family member passes away they will buy a double or triple plot.

"It's a matter of nostalgia or sheer economics. But where people are buried I don't think is a huge consideration.

"Within Christianity we also believe in the Second Coming of Christ and in a general resurrection. But we're not going to be resurrected in physical bodies.

Coptic Orthodox Church

  • While most Copts live in Egypt, the Church has around a million members outside Egypt, with about 20,000 members in the UK
  • Copts believe their Church dates back to around 50 AD
  • Coptic services take place in the very ancient Coptic language which is based on the language used in the time of the Pharaohs
  • The Coptic Church is led by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III (1923 - )
  • The Pope is based in Cairo

"So it's not the body that was buried that will be raised. Because obviously the reality is that we decompose.

"So I don't think that is the consideration as to why people are buried. There may be a cultural shift with time - which means that people will have to think of different ways, like cremation. People will always tend to adapt.

"The most important thing I think, is that we focus on the people who are left living and not too much thought goes into the departed.

"We pray for their spirits and we believe that spiritually they are still alive but we don't focus too much on the body."

Melvyn Hartog

Melvyn Hartog is the head of burial at the United Hebrew Synagogue.

Start Quote

Melvyn Hartog

Members of the United Synagogue know we've had the foresight to have bought enough land to be able to do our burials for the next 50 or 60 years”

End Quote Melvyn Hartog Head of burial at the United Hebrew Synagogue

"As an Orthodox Jew, one would like to be in consecrated ground, with fellow Jewish people. There are some people who aren't as Orthodox but they are Jewish and they want to buried with the same sort of people. That's why we go for Jewish ground as opposed to multi-cultural ground," he said.

"The thought of cremation doesn't appeal to me. As an Orthodox Jew it's written that we should go back to earth as quickly as possible and when the Messiah comes or returns everyone who's been buried will actually be brought back to life, in what form we don't really know.

"But that's what's going to happen. So obviously if we were cremated, that wouldn't be able to happen. We bury within 24 hours if at all possible and sometimes somebody could die at 5 o'clock in the morning and we'd bury them that afternoon!

"Firstly, we believe it's disrespectful to the deceased to be just lying around so therefore we do everything - the ritual washing and the burial - why would we hang around for a week, or two weeks?

"Members of the United Synagogue know we've had the foresight to have bought enough land to be able to do our burials for the next 50 or 60 years. And we still look out now for an enhancement on that, so I don't ever really think I won't be able to find a burial space.

"I think the government possibly thinks shortage of space is not such a major problem now because death rates have gone down and more people are being cremated than buried, so the panic is not there.

"People should accept death and organise themselves. The United Synagogue is the largest Orthodox organisation in the UK and we're the largest burial authority - we do 800 to 900 funerals a year.

"People belong to the synagogues under our umbrella and so they can join our burial scheme. They pay their membership fee, they pay their burial fee, they know they haven't got any worries whatsoever about burial rites."

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