Little Marsden Church, Nelson

At Little Marsden in Nelson, Lancashire, is a quaint little church, tucked away behind cottages and walls. Christians have worshipped on this site for 900 years, long before Nelson industrialised and became more than the villages of Great and Little Marsden (for whose names I have some sympathy). I called by on my way to the bus station having visited two of our regulars. It was after 3.30pm, and some Asian school girls were gathered in the grave yard, smoking and laughing. 

The current building is late Georgian (1811), like our own, and certain similarities can be seen, such as the large arched windows to admit maximum light, the general plainness, and the symmetry. The latter is somewhat spoiled by the addition of a bell tower (1874) as well as a chancel (the space for an altar, in 1871) and an enlarged vestry (a room for the minister or ‘priest’ to change into his various array of vestments, 1881). From the 1830s, the Church of England moved its worship away from the primacy of preaching God’s word, which was symbolised by a dominant pulpit and large, clear panes for light, with galleries to admit as many auditors as possible. It moved towards focussing on the visuals of altars and rituals, with a resurgence of bells and smells. The church’s website, which seems unusually helpful but for the typical absence of gospel explanation, indicates that the current mode of worship is indeed Anglo-Catholic, for which the building’s Victorian additions will have proved most welcome. Aesthetically and theologically, I would have preferred the Georgian re-build was left well alone. The plain preaching house is a far better style of worship than that of the intricate and decorated chancel. Our salvation is based upon the Jewish Temple with its rituals and altars, but our worship is modelled upon the Jewish synagogue, with its Biblicism, preaching and prayer.

I wish the Parish Church of Little Marsden well: it exists in an economically poor place with a large Muslim community on its doorstep which is unlikely to support its gatherings. I pray that despite its apparent love of candles and furnishings, it shines light where it is most needed.