Rendezvous, Newbiggin on Lune

I preached up in Westmorland last week, at Newbiggin on Lune. It was dark by the time I came to the village. Always terrified of being late, I had set off in plenty of time and arrived an hour before it started, which meant I arrived about 1 hour and fifteen minutes before most of the congregation. I therefore had time to play with, and walked up and down the main street at dusk. Warm light escaped from gaps between curtains and the smell of coal fires wafted down from the chimneys. In February, this is a tedious stink, but in early autumn, it is rather evocative and homely. At the end of the road was the Methodist church, a surprisingly modern one from the late thirties. It had nothing interesting on its noticeboard other than the usual list of desultory coffee mornings, though a plastic banner cheerfully mentioned the hope of Jesus. On its side was a large, illuminated neon cross. This would be clearly seen by the drivers on the A685, yet it struck me as a bit of a sham. Methodism has all but sold-out to worldly values, stating that unmarried, cohabiting couples and same-sex marriages are not only to be tolerated but actively blessed and endorsed by God. Doubtless, the local circuit clergy, if they still have any, preach fine homilies on climate change, respecting other people and how much God loves us all the time. The Methodist chapel at nearby Ravenstonedale did bother to have something spiritual on its notoceboard, though hardly worthwhile: “God thinks you’re amazing”. Great. Round of applause. Thousands will understand the gospel reading that.

Methodism kept gospel light shining in these Cumbrian settlements for two centuries, but now it gives out little more than a spark’s worth. Rural chapels were better than their urban cousins but even these have been slowly strangled by the liberalistic centre. A few valiant old men fight on, but the cancer is spread. Modern believers there will soon resemble George Fox and the early Quakers for whom this district was ‘1652 country’. In fields and on hills they met, so inadequate did they consider the mainline churches to be. That Saturday meeting was in a village hall rather than the open air, but the Lord was with us. Thirty men and women in their twenties gathered to hear the word of God preached. The denominations may be feeble and poor, but the Lord has reserved for Himself a people in those parts.