Lancashire Bible Belt

Having been reading about the American Bible Belt, I wondered if there was any equivalent outside the USA. Now our nation is more godless than most. Church-attendance is one of the lowest in Europe; the state church spouts woke nonsense and an atmosphere of spiritual hostility increasingly pervades the land. A online map suggested there were several 'belts' in Europe, including Northwest Jutland in Denmark, a couple of parts of Scandinavia, and a stretch of Holland. In addition, there was Bavaria and southern Poland, which I assume are known for their fervent Catholicism rather than the traditional protestantism most associatied with the term Bible Belt. The map considered the United Kingdom, predictably highlighting Antrim in Northern Ireland, whose north the late Dr Paisley represented in Parliament, as well as Scotland’s Western Isles. Only one place in England was highlighted: can you guess where?

Lancashire. That’s right, our very own, north-western county, betwixt the Pennines and the Irish Sea. Now I have lived in this shire for over thirty years, with just a few spent in Westmorland and Yorkshire. I therefore think I’m as qualified as any to make spiritual assessments of England’s red-rose county. I have found it to be a largely godless place, as plagued by spiritual indifference and ignorance as any other. There are some aspects of the Lancastrian landscape which bespeak gospel light. In Ribble Valley, the rural, local government district in which our chapel is based, there are four fellow congregational chapels which are evangelical (Holden, Knowle Green, Chipping, Inglewhite) within a half hour’s drive. Another online map, charting levels of church attendance, also shows a slight concentration in Lancashire, though similar pockets exist elsewhere. The Lune valley has a good scattering of evangelical chapels in its villages (Wray, Bentham, Capernwray, Nether Kellett, Brookhouse, Caton), its own Bible college and well-established annual barn rallies (eg Docker), as well as a large, established youth work at nearby Kirkby Lonsdale (the Lund). The Exclusive Brethren, such as they are, have recently erected huge new premises at Burton in Kendal (just up into Cumbria).

After the 1974 boundary changes, Lancashire shrank from being the nation’s most densely populated county outside London to a predominantly rural area. Rural Methodist and nonconformist chapels are generally more faithful to the Bible the more remote they are, and less contaminated by the central, urban denominational liberalism and compromise. So rural Lancashire may resemble something of a band of gospel light, but the county’s east, in which we find ourselves, is as barren as the north is fruitful. Interestingly, Barnoldswick, as east in Lancashire as east can be, has a good number of churches in which the gospel might be heard: an independent evangelical gospel mission, a New Frontiers charismatic church, a Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, as well as the Church on the Streets (COtS), Baptist, Methodist and Independent Methodist, in additional to the usual Anglican and Catholic. I estimate there are six full time clergymen and women serving the town, as well as unpaid elders. This might sound good, but it still doesn’t quite feel like revival central. The higher church attendance might reflect levels of Polish immigration, as well as an older immigrant population around Merseyside with similar loyalty to Catholicism. A few successful Church schools might raise attendance levels in their catchment areas, as middle-class parents use every trick to secure their child a place at a desirable school.

I suspect that Lancashire is only akin to America’s Bible Belt in as much as everywhere else in the kingdom is even worse off, that is, even more ungodly, secular and spiritually ignorant. The only religion which prospers in Lancashire is Islam, and even that receives few actual converts, relying as it does on continued immigration and large family sizes.

The Lord Jesus asks in Luke 18:18:

Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?

If He returned this week, the answer, it would seem, is yes, He shall find a bit. Whether it is saving faith in His finished work on the cross, I cannot be so certain. Merely attending church does not constitute real Christianity. And of those who attend sincerely, much taught and preached falls well short of scriptural truth. If Lancashire is the nation’s Christian belt, the trousers are well and truly fallen, and Great Britain stands exposed.

Image by mark2112 from Pixabay