Written by 3:48 pm In the News

Church ‘sorry’ for beer festival

A beer festival held in an English churchyard has provoked a wave of controversy after pictures emerged of visitors revelling among the graves.

The church in County Durham has apologised for the “considerable negativity” caused by a series of photos taken at a beer festival hosted in their parish graveyard.

Images showed revellers at this weekend’s Norton Beer Festival sitting on headstones and turning graves into makeshift pub tables.

Fr Michael Anderson, the Parish Priest of St Mary the Virgin church in Norton Village, responded to the controversy with an apology on Facebook.

“Over the last few days our doors were open once again to members of our local community, young and old, who came to enjoy our Beer Festival, support local business and spend time with friends old and new,” Fr Michael said.

“Through this we were also able to generate funds to help to maintain our beautiful building, as well as to offer a space for friendship and community.”

Fr Michael added, “Unfortunately, photographs shared on social media have created considerable negativity, and I am deeply sorry for that.

“I am saddened that this event, which we’d hoped would bring joy and positivity in our community, has caused so much upset, and apologise to everyone who has expressed their concern.”

Locals in the northeastern town of Stockton-on-Tees flocked to the 1,000-year-old St. Mary’s Church for the St. Mary’s Norton Beer Festival, which took place over four days and ended Sunday.

In its first outing since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the festival was organised by the church in conjunction with the Three Brothers Brewing Company to raise funds for the building, which dates from around 1020. But what was in previous years a popular, if very local, festivity made headlines in national newspapers after photos emerged of visitors posing for pictures while sitting around a grave, their drinks balanced upon it.

Locals expressed their outrage on a community Facebook page. “I’d never sit on graves,” one wrote. “I was always brought up to be respectful in a graveyard.”

One wrote: “This is disgraceful behaviour, not only from the people involved but from the church for allowing this to happen. Cemeteries are places for people to pay respects and remember their loved ones, they’re not beer gardens, and those headstones certainly aren’t stools or tables. A public apology is needed here.”

Another said: “Why couldn’t they sit on the green, which is just outside, instead of on graves? I think it’s appalling… What a total lack of respect for the deceased and their families.”

And someone else wrote: “I would be livid if I had family buried there.”

David Dodd, the manager of the Three Brothers Brewery, who supplied the drinks, told The Times that event staff did not place any seating around the graves.

“At no point were chairs put around gravestones by staff and it was certainly not recommended for people to sit on them,” Dodd explained.

“For future events there will be signage and taping off sections to make this clearer. We will also have even more chairs available outside to give people an alternative.”

(Preacher’s Portal; Picture Courtesy: Terry Blackburn)

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