UK Church in Grave Trouble After Using Tombs as Tables and Chairs in Graveyard Beer Fest

© Photo : Facebook / Norton and Billingham InfoSt. Mary's Church beer festival goers enjoy beverage in the church's graveyard.
St. Mary's Church beer festival goers enjoy beverage in the church's graveyard. - Sputnik International, 1920, 27.09.2021
The incident took place in the northeastern English village of Norton at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, a millennium-old structure completed in the year 1020.
Residents of a small English village and netizens online have expressed outrage over photos showing guests at a beer festival partying in a thousand-year-old church’s graveyard and using tombs as tables and makeshift seating accommodation.
Organized by the St. Mary’s Church and the Three Brothers Brewing Company, a local microbrewery, to raise money for the ancient religious structure’s upkeep, the St. Mary’s Norton Beer Festival featured over 40 types of beer, a dozen varieties of cider, street food, live music, a charity pub quiz, wines, spirits and an assortment of other alcoholic beverages.
County Durham Reverend Martin Anderson was forced to defend the decision to hold the festival, and to apologize to residents and Britons generally for the insensitivity shown to the dead in the photos –which appeared online and turned into a national news story.
In a Facebook post Monday, Anderson said he was “deeply sorry for” the “considerable negativity” created by the images.
“I am saddened that this event, which we’d hoped would bring joy and positivity in our community, has caused so much upset, and apologize to everyone who has expressed their concern,” the vicar said.
In separate remarks, Anderson insisted that “on the whole, the people attending the festival have been respectful of the space and there has been a real sense of community and positivity. However, like in all areas of life, there are sometimes a small group who don’t see or do things from the same perspective. We didn’t want people to use tombstones as tables and our security firm was working to make sure everything was kept calm in the churchyard and the building itself.”
David Dodd, the Brothers Brewing Company’s manager, promised that “future events” would include “signage and taping off [of] sections” of the graveyard to make it clear that staff don’t approve of sitting on gravestones or using them as tables.
‘How Bloody Disrespectful’
Negative comments overwhelmed a local community Facebook group sharing the photos. “How bloody disrespectful is that and they call kids disrespectful; it’s shocking on so many levels,” one user suggested. “If that was kids there’d be hell on! Police called, the lot!” another stressed. “Looks disrespectful and they are not kids either, hope they put pictures on [the] front page of [the] gazette if they are that happy to be doing it,” a third chimed in.
“Doesn’t matter how old the graves are, there’s still a body underneath; they are a name, someone’s family, have some respect,” another angry user argued.
Others encouraged the vicar to resign, or asked why the partygoers couldn’t just sit on the green instead of directly on graves or use them as tables for beverages. “Yes have a beer festival but let the dead rest in peace and not use them as a table!” one user adamantly said.
A few users defended the move, however. “Wonderful atmosphere, church should be at the center of the community, well done on engagement with the local community,” one user, possibly engaging in a bit of trolling, wrote, prompting expletive-laden responses. “Thanks, I will try to free up some time on my outrage schedule,” another joker quipped. “It should have been (oh-ho!) spirits!” a third chimed in.
“The festival was to bring peeps together to raise much-needed funds for the church. The grave in the photo dates from the 1740s. I can’t understand the vitriol here targeting the folk in the photo," another suggested.
Money Troubles
St. Mary’s Church in Norton is one of roughly 13,000 Church of England parishes dotting England. The Anglican Church has faced difficulties maintaining its largest, oldest and most architecturally sophisticated and historically significant buildings amid a continuing drop in numbers of regular parishioners. The Church has an endowment of nearly 9 billion pounds (about $12.3 billion or $10.5 billion euros) invested in various assets to bring in revenue, but profits, combined with the estimated 330 million pounds in annual revenue brought in by parishioners’ donations, are not enough to pay for salaries, plus upkeep – even taking account of tens of millions of pounds in annual government grants. Funding issues have forced the Anglican Church to sell off some of its properties and to turn others into conference centers. In other instances, vicars have brainstormed to come up with creative ways to keep their parishes afloat.
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