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This is an extract of a much longer news piece written by Madeleine Davis from the Church Times. Click here for the full article (behind a paywall but if you register you can view some articles free). 

PARISHES should be told not to sign up to the National Burial Grounds Survey because of the risks, including of the data being sold to the Mormon Church, the General Synod agreed on Sunday.

Voting in favour of a motion brought by the Archdeacon of Blackburn, the Ven. Mark Ireland, members asked that the Archbishops’ Council work with the College of Archdeacons to address multiple concerns about the survey.

Announced in 2021, the National Burial Ground Survey project aims to digitise all burial records and survey and map all churchyards in the Church of England.

The project is to be delivered by the Church of England in partnership with AG International Ltd (formerly Atlantic Geomatics). Consent from each PCC is required in relation to all elements of the project, including the scanning of parish registers.

The scheme was relaunched in February, after the Archbishops’ Council renegotiated terms. Introducing his motion on Sunday — a following motion after discussion of the Archbishops’ Council’s annual report — Archdeacon Mark (pictured) welcomed the recent changes.

Speaking in support of the motion, the Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Revd Philip North, said that Archdeacon Ireland’s motion reflected a “fair degree of frustration”. He had been unable to get answers to his questions for two years, and the motion was a good example of the Synod’s ability to hold the Archbishops’ Council to account.

Members voted in favour of the motion, to applause.

That this Synod

1. Regret that the Annual Report of the Archbishops’ Council does not refer to the relaunch of the National Burial Grounds Survey (NBGS) despite this being a significant piece of work in 2023;

2. Welcome changes made to the NBGS since its previous launch, in particular that

a. Atlantic Geomatics are no longer formally partnering with FamilySearch, an agency of the Mormons (Latter Day Saints)

b. The financial offer to parishes has improved, saving parishes an estimated £1.5m a year in subscription fees

c. The management of data under GDPR is much clearer, with the recognition is that the consent of each PCC is required;

3. Express its deep concern about other outstanding issues, in particular

a. Commercial use of the data — giving AG International Ltd copyright ownership of the images collected and the right to sell this database to third parties for profit, which could well include the Mormon Church

b. Data creep — the NBGS seeks to film all parish registers, not just burial records, including current Baptism registers

c. Safeguarding — baptism registers hold information about children, including material that is highly sensitive in the case of looked-after children, vulnerable children whose address may not be known to a parent who is abusive;

4. Request Archbishops’ Council to consult with the College of Archdeacons to address these issues, and request that parishes are not asked to sign up until this consultation has taken place.




Ronnie Semley, July 2024