Nazareth Unitarian Chapel, Padiham


By Padiham’s Memorial Park is an attractive Victorian Church called Nazareth Unitarian Chapel. It’s a rather stately building and I've often admired it from without. I was recently passing by and the caretaker, noticing my interest, bade me enter and photograph what I saw. It’s a typically high-Victorian nonconformist chapel; after years of intolerance and persecution, the nonconformist churches were at that time booming. Not only were their membership lists swollen, but they attracted well-to-do businessmen and aspiring members of the working class. Their coffers filled, and they could construct premises using the latest gothic styles, with all the expense of towers, steeples, high arched windows and impossible-to-heat roof spaces. They were sending a message to the Anglican Church, two hundred yards down the road: we are just as good as you.

It’s built just as an Anglican church might be, with its frontal altar and off-side pulpit. The feature that gives its nonconformity away is the absence of a central aisle.


A particular memorial stone caught my eye. It was dedicated to a Jane and Thomas Marsden. When one sees one’s own name, one pays rather more attention, albeit briefly. A little statement was made of her:

The good she tried to do, shall stand as if ‘twere done, God finishes the work by noble souls begun

She died at 48; even by the standards of 1901, she was taken too soon. And yet there’s something disturbing about that little text. I interpret it thus:

She tried her best to be good; God sees her efforts, and makes up the difference.

This of course is not true. Try as we might to be good, our efforts are indeed never sufficient. God, however, does not merely make up the difference, like on those embarrassing occasions when one takes out a friend for tea, only to find one’s self short of money, and having to go back to them for cash. In Christ, God pays the entire cost of our salvation. We contribute nothing, for we have nothing to give. This Unitarian chapel, though made up of civil, polite people, has never preached salvation by grace alone. It teaches, like all the other world religions which it so admires, that human effort is enough to impress God.

But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. Isaiah 64:6


For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Ephesian 2:8

I trust good Mrs Marsden had less faith in her own good works than the subscribers of her memorial stone.