A FINANCIAL crisis could force Braunton Parish Church to close its cemetery.
The Reverend Anne Thorne, vicar of St Brannock's, said the church needed outside funding for the upkeep of the graveyard as it was not going to make ends meet next year.
She said: "We are going to be running at a loss of about £30,000, that is how bad our finances are.
"We need funding to keep the whole churchyard going and if we cannot get that funding we will close it and then it is up to North Devon Council to take it over and run it."
The church's budget for next year covers basic running costs.
Mrs Thorne said: "We are going to be struggling to pay to heat the building. We cannot afford to spend money on the churchyard, so if somebody doesn't come forward and help us financially, the churchyard will have to close."
Up to now the cost has always been borne by the congregation with the help of a grant from Braunton Parish Council which, for next year, has been increased to £1,300.
But the church has run out of money – it is using the last of its reserves this year – and there are things that need doing over and above the usual work.
Added to its woes is the fact the church is running out of burial space.
At the moment there are only another 20 spaces left in the main churchyard but Mrs Thorne wants to open up a piece of adjoining land that will provide space for another 40 burials.
On Tuesday North Devon Council's executive approved the release of £2,520 funding to pay for the extension to Braunton cemetery.
The money will come out of existing developers' contributions for public open space development.
Hannah Harrington, community development officer, said: "We are making a very reasonable gesture to the church."
The land that forms the extension is tucked away in a corner and backs onto Church Street.
It has been let out at a peppercorn rent to a local resident who owns property on Church Street.
The funds from the district council will be used to buy fencing and to level the ground but more work will need to be done before it can be used.
Mrs Thorne said: "We are hoping and praying we get that (money) because it is a start, but we need a lot more than that.
"We want some guarantee before we are prepared to open up the extended piece of land, that somebody is going to help us financially."
With the future of the main cemetery secure, the church can look into re-using old graves which will extend the life of the graveyard for another 20 to 30 years.
Executive member Councillor Derrick Spear said: "North Devon Council is trying to provide them (the church) with money to use that piece of land for the benefit of Braunton. At the very least it gives us a window of opportunity to maintain this priceless service."
He said the longer term funding of the main churchyard was "another issue for another day".