I am glad that Mr S (he says to call him ‘Geoffrey’, but I can’t) is publishing on Pilgrim’s Progress. Because I am the young daughter of a much older father, it was one of those books on our shelves at home; my nieces one of whom is my own age, do not know it at all, and I don’t recall doing anything on it at school or College. I am re-reading it, thanks to him, and I hope others here will do so.
My co-author, Chalcedon, who hails from a different part of the North of England, told me over breakfast that he was reminded of the voices of his own youth, and though I am so much younger, it reminds me of some of those of my own, as I was brought up in South Wales, where the Baptist tradition ran strong.
It reminded me that for all my own Anglo-Catholicism, there is another strong Christian voice in this country, and one perhaps not heard by me as often as it should be. My one continuing contact with it is through Pastor Gervase, whose sermons seem to me a powerful voice of Christian orthodoxy – regardless of denominational label. I was intrigued to learn he appears on something I did not know existed until Mr Sales told me – ‘Pirate Christian Radio’. We have, as far as I know, nothing like that in the UK – and perhaps it is this lack which is a sign and a symptom of our problems?
As I travel through the towns and villages around me, I am struck by the number of chapels I see. Where I live there are two churches and two chapels, but I had not really noticed until it was pointed out to me that there are two other old chapels now converted to private houses. Once alerted to that, I see it all around me, and I am ashamed that whilst I know quite a lot about early church history, I know next to nothing about the men and women who raised these chapels.
I visited Stoke, where Pastor Gervase preaches, and was struck by something which, if I knew more, I could say more about. His own chapel is in a run-down inner city area, a shortish walk from a Welsh Miners’ chapel, which has been converted into a restaurant, and a redundant Anglican church which is now being converted into something or other; there were several other chapels nearby, I am told.
What struck me here was a lost world. These chapels were the result of popular piety. They were in places not served by the Established Church, and founded at a time when Catholicism was either proscribed, or looked on with suspicion. These were the worshipping places of people moved by the word of God which found them where they were. It was working-class and lower-middle-class people who pooled their money to make chapels where they could hear God’s word. I wonder what the descendants of those people, who have far more money than their ancestors, do with it now?
I need to read more about this. This voice, once so strong in this country, and strong I think still in America, is all but silenced here.