Woodland burial site for Moonies

Swindon Adviser, UK/May 20, 2010

A religious sect has applied for planning permission to create a burial ground in a village near Swindon.

The Family Federation For World Peace And Unification, more commonly known as the Moonies, has applied to Swindon Council to turn a field in Stanton Fitzwarren into a memorial woodland burial site.

The group has sent out leaflets to villagers explaining that the burial ground would primarily be for members of the Unification Church but could also be for villagers too.

The Unification Church has a long history in the village, dating back to the 1970s when a local man, Henry Masters, donated his £800,000 South Farm estate to them and it became their centre for training. It hosted many seminars and workshops for the religion's followers in the UK.

It now owns another 21 properties in the village, which are rented out, along with much of the farmland.

Its financial report for 2009 show its yearly income was £215,676, of which roughly 50 per cent was given to its headquarters in London.

Villagers are not all in support of the plans and some have raised serious concerns over the application.

The Rev Vicky Fleming, the vicar of St Leonard's Church in the village, said: "Most people are worried. They are worried about what it will mean - who will be brought in and how often?"

One of the Unification Church's beliefs is that of communicating with the spirits of dead people.

Parish councillor Liz Bannister, who has lived in the village since 1975, said the group had been in the village ever since she moved there.

"There aren't as many as there used to be - back then we did feel invaded," she said.

"But they still own quite a few of the houses and the two big farms and most of the farmland around here. We're not happy with [the burial ground].

"It's because of the parking more than anything.

"The other thing that worries me is that even once people are buried people still like to visit the grave, so it could mean we will have most of the parking problems at weekends."

She said the site in question was also known for having natural springs and the remains of a Roman villa nearby.

The Unification Church says the one-acre site would be for a maximum of 300 burials, with small flat stones lying flush with the ground to mark the graves.

They say they expect there to be no more than three to four burials a year and funeral services would take place elsewhere.

Nancy Jubb, the press officer for the church said it had had a difficult relationship with the media, particularly during the 1980s.

"Various self-professed cult experts started making allegations saying we were brainwashing people and breaking up families," she said.

"In the end we took the Daily Mail to court but lost the case.

"There was a subsequent four-year investigation into us by the British government but there was no evidence of any of that going on and we have maintained our charitable status to this day."

She said the church was working with the council to create the woodland memorial site.

She said: "We seek to create a resting place for our congregation and local villagers nestled in the peaceful surroundings of Swindon's woodlands."

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