I'm a proud nonconformist. Ecclesiastically, this means I belong to a Free Church. In other words I'm free from, and do not conform to, the rules and regulations of the Church of England. Their bishops cannot interfere in my church life, I need not dress in flowing robes and I am not bound to pray according to their prayer books. So far, so good.
Yet there are some real advantages to being a part of the state church. Congregational chapels tend to do well (or should I say survive) in areas of large population or in well-heeled areas like Rimington. This is because they're self-financing; any congregation unable to fund a minister does without. Any unable to fund its building closes down. Anglican churches, although themselves under financial pressure, are centrally funded and organised. A parish church in a deprived area will therefore continue to function even though its offertory plates remain empty. A gospel witness is therefore maintained in many towns, not by free churches, but by the C of E.
Anglican vicars are a mixed bunch. Some are basically wannabe Roman Catholics who wish to have a (legal) sex life. Others are so liberal, they barely register on the Christian scale at all. Others, however, are sound men, preaching the age-old good news of sins forgiven by Christ crucified. One such is Rev Mark Jones, of St Leonard's, Padiham, a town in which I used to live. We were both governors of a local church primary school, and it was clear he was an evangelical. Although I did not conform to Anglicanism, I wished him and his parish well, as indeed I still do.
In fact, I salute all Christians in the Church of England who labour for the Master in conditions under which other churches simply couldn't survive.
The picture is of St Leonard's, Padiham, inside and out.