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Coronavirus Kent: Sheppey priest had to change in Garden of England crematorium car park at Bobbing, Sittingbourne

A priest had to use a crematorium's car park to change into his robes because of strict new coronavirus rules.

The Rev Colin Johnson, 73, from Minster on the Isle of Sheppey, was seen leaning on his Citroen Picasso as he clambered into his cassock before conducting the funeral of his mother-in-law after changing rooms for clergy were closed.

The Rev Colin Johnson from Sheppey forced to change in the car park of the Garden of England Crematorium at Bobbing near Sittingbourne
The Rev Colin Johnson from Sheppey forced to change in the car park of the Garden of England Crematorium at Bobbing near Sittingbourne

The closure is one of a number of new measures introduced at the Garden of England Crematorium, Bobbing, near Sittingbourne following the Government's lockdown.

The length of funerals has been cut to 15 minutes and the number of mourners restricted to 10 after an initial cut to 25. At one stage, undertakers were told only two family members could attend. Coffins now have to be wheeled in, instead of being carried by pallbearers.

Mr Johnson said: "I realise certain measures must be implemented in the current coronavirus crisis but some of these seem a little Draconian. I wasn't expecting to have to clamber into my cassock in the car park."

He could be seen slipping on his surplice and purple stole while his biretta hat was perched precariously on the roof of his car as his wife Lynne waited in the passenger seat.

Mr Johnson said: "It was upsetting enough having to conduct my mother-in-law's funeral without the embarrassment of getting changed in the open."

The Garden of England Crematorium at Bobbing near Sittingbourne
The Garden of England Crematorium at Bobbing near Sittingbourne

His mother-in-law Stella Trowell, a former church officer and fundraiser for Holy Trinity Church, Sheerness, died on March 3 aged 92. She had been in a care home in Dartford.

Her granddaughter Clare Solberg and husband Courtney had been hoping to fly to Britain from the USA for the funeral but had to abandon their plans when airlines said they could not guarantee getting the couple back home afterwards.

Another celebrant, who did not want to be named, said: "The crematorium keeps changing the rules. It is very upsetting for families. There should be one set for all crematoriums and then they should stick to them."

Stephen Wright, managing director of the London Cremation Company which runs the Bobbing site had previously warned undertakers: "These are difficult and unusual times.

"We are working together to maintain respect and dignity for the deceased. The situation is ever evolving. Guidance will be updated in line with Government advice over the coming days and weeks."

Gardens closed to the public at the Garden of England Crematorium at Bobbing near Sittingbourne because of coronavirus
Gardens closed to the public at the Garden of England Crematorium at Bobbing near Sittingbourne because of coronavirus

The clampdown comes as clergy across Kent have been asked to estimate how many vacant plots there are in their cemeteries.

A "churchyard capacity survey" has been sent out following an "urgent request" from the government to "establish the capacity our county has for burials and the burial of cremated remains."

Replies must be returned by Thursday, April 2.

The letter from Archdeacons Darren Miller, Jo Kelly-Moore and Andrew Sewell adds: "As you will know, the right to burial in a churchyard is for those resident in the parish or on the electoral roll but it also extends to anyone dying in the parish. Given that many people may return to live within families during the coronavirus crisis, this may be a significant number of people."

It suggests: "It could be that this will prompt you to consider extending the existing capacity you have."

Fr Robert Lane, vicar of Borden, broadcasting from his living room
Fr Robert Lane, vicar of Borden, broadcasting from his living room

Meanwhile, as the Diocese of Canterbury has ordered all churches to be locked, even to priests, some clergy have been busy thinking up ways of getting round the ban on Sunday church services.

Father Robert Lane, vicar of Borden's church of St Peter and St Paul near Sittingbourne is preparing to broadcast a Facebook live service from his living room where he has set up an altar with a cross and candlesticks.

The Rev Cindy Kent, who broadcast from Minster Abbey on Sheppey last week, is making arrangements to broadcast from her home or garden overlooking the cliffs at Minster at 10.30am tomorrow (Sunday) on the Minster Abbey Facebook page.

A similar service by Ashleigh Shiel of Holy Trinity Church, Queenborough, is expected to follow at 11am on his church's Facebook page.

Rev Cindy Kent broadcasting from Minster Abbey, Sheppey
Rev Cindy Kent broadcasting from Minster Abbey, Sheppey

For the latest coronavirus news and advice, click here.

Read more: All the latest news from Sittingbourne

Read more: All the latest news from Sheppey


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