Heptonstall Methodist Church

I called at Heptonstall Methodist Church this month, determined to see what claims to be the world’s oldest Methodist chapel in continuous use. Its website declares:

It is usually open to visitors every day and for worship every Sunday morning at 10.30am. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic the church is, like all Methodist premises, currently closed to the public in line with Government guidelines. We hope to be able to announce re-opening plans in the not-too-distant future, so please revisit this site soon to check on latest developments.

Sadly, the chapel was closed when I arrived (February '23); I wondered which government's guidelines the chapel’s leaders were currently heeding. North Korea’s, perhaps.

The building is remarkable for its octagonal design, which may have proved helpful in not appearing to be a rival ecclesiastical building to the Anglican parish churches which jealously guarded their status. John Wesley, who preached in its shell and under its roof after completion, remarked: “All our houses should be of this shape if the ground allow.” Norwich, Whitby and Rotherham are notable among those which obeyed.

The views afforded by the site are said to have inspired his verse which is written on the current chapel’s noticeboard:

Ye mountains and vales, in praises abound,

Ye hills and ye dales, continue the sound,

Break forth into singing, ye trees of the wood,

For Jesus is bringing lost sinners to God

Let us hope that the people called Methodist who still assemble at Heptonstall are as faithful to John Wesley’s evangelical doctrine as they are to his architectural fancies.