Lune Street Wesleyan Methodist Chapel

Churches and Chapels by Atticus (Contents)

Wesleyan Methodism first breathed and opened its eyes in or about the year 1729. It was nursed in its infancy at Oxford by two rare brothers and a few students; was christened at the same place by a keenly-observing, slightly-satirical collegian; developed itself gradually through the country; took charge of the neglected masses and gave them a new life; and today it is one of the great religious forces of the world. The first Wesleyan chapel in Preston was built in the year 1787, and its situation was in that consecrated and highly aromatic region of the town called Back-lane. There was nothing very prepossessing or polished, nothing particularly fashionable or attractive about the profession of Methodism in those days. It was rather an indication of honest fanaticism than of deliberate reasoning – rather a sign of being solemnly “on the rampage” than of giving way to careful conviction – and more symptomatic of a sharp virtuous rant, got up in a crack and to be played out in five minutes, than of a judicious move in the direction of permanent good. The orthodox looked down with a genteel contempt upon the preachers whose religion had converted Kingswood colliers, and turned Cornwall wreckers into honest men; and the formally pious spoke of the worshippers at this new shrine of faith with a serene sneer, and classed them as a parcel of fiercely ejaculating, hymn-singing nonentities. But there was vitality at the core of their creed, and its fuller triumphs were but a question of time.

In 1817, Methodism became dissatisfied with its Back-lane quarters, and migrated into a lighter, healthier, and cleaner portion of the town – Lune-street – where a building was erected for its special convenience and edification. It was not a very elegant structure: it was, in fact, a plain, phlegmatic aggregation of brick and mortar, calculated to charm no body externally, and evidently patronised for absolute internal rapture. In 1861 the chapel was rebuilt – enlarged, beautified, and made fine, so as to harmonise with the laws of modern fashion, and afford easy sitting room for the large and increasing congregation attending it. The frontispiece is of a costly character; but it has really been “born to blush unseen.” It is so tightly wedged in between other buildings, is so evenly crammed into companionship with the ordinary masonry of the street, that the general effect of the tall arch and spacious porch is lost. Nothing can be distinctly seen at even a moderate distance. You have to get to the place before you become clearly aware of its existence; and if you wish to know anything of its appearance, you have either to turn the head violently off its regular axis, or cross the street and ask somebody for a step ladder. The facade of the building is not very prepossessing; the large arch, which has given way at some of the joints considerably, and has been doing its best to fall for about six years, does not look well – it is too high and too big for the place; the stonework within is also hid; and the whitewashed ceiling above ought to be either cleaned or made properly black. At present it is neither light nor dark, and is rather awkwardly relieved at intervals with cobwebs. There is something humorous and incongruous in the physical associations of this chapel. It is flanked with a doctor’s shop and a money-lending establishment; with a savings bank and a solicitor’s office. The bank nestles very complacently under its lower wing, and in the ratio of its size is a much better looking building. The text regarding the deposit of treasure in that place where neither moth nor rust operate may be well worked in the chapel; but it is rather at a discount in the immediate neighbourhood. A great work in the business of spreading Wesleyan Methodism has been done by the people and parsons of Lune-street chapel. We know of no place in the town whose religious influence has been more actively radiated. Its power, a few years ago, spread into the northern part of the town, and the result was a new chapel with excellent schools there; it then moved eastward, and the consequence was a school chapel in St. Mary-street. In Croft-street, Canal-street, and on the Marsh, it has also outposts, whose officers are fighting the good fight with lung, and head, and heart, in a sprightly and vigorous fashion. Originally, what is termed the “circuit” of Lune-street embraced places 18 or 20 miles from Preston; but the area of the sacred circumbendibus was subsequently reduced; and its servants now find that they have as much on hand as they can fairly get through by looking after half of the town and a few of the contiguous villages. There are none of those solemn milkmen called deacons in connection with Wesleyanism; still, there are plenty of medicine men, up; up the ears in grace and business, belonging it.

At Lune-street Chapel, as at all similar places, there are class-leaders, circuit stewards, chapel stewards, and smaller divinities, who find a niche in the general pantheon of duty. The cynosure of the inner circle is personal piety, combined with a “penny a week and a shilling a quarter.” All members who can pay this have to do so. Beneath the chapel there is a Sunday school, which operates as a feeder. When the scholars – there are 500 or 600 of them altogether – show certain symptoms of inherent rectitude and facial exactness, when they answer particular questions correctly and pass through the crucial stages of probation consistently, they are drafted into “the church,” and presented with licences of perennial happiness if they choose to exercise them. The school is well supervised, and if some of the teachers are as useful and consoling at home as they are in their classes their general relatives will be blissful. The congregation of Lune-street Chapel is moderately numerous; but it has been materially thinned at intervals by the establishment of other Wesleyan chapels. In its circuit there are now between 800 and 900 persons known as members, who are going on their way rejoicing; at the chapel itself there are between 300 and 400 individuals similarly situated.

Viewed in the aggregate, the congregation is of a middle class character both in regard to the colour of the hair and the clothes worn. There are some exceedingly poor people at the place, but the mass appear to be individuals not particularly hampered in making provision for their general meals. Lune-street chapel is the fashionable Wesleyan tabernacle of Preston; the better end of those whose minds have been touched, through either tradition or actual conviction, with the beauties of Methodism, frequent it. There is more silk than winsey, more cloth than hodden grey, and a good deal more false hair and artificial teeth in the building on a Sunday than can be found by fair searching at any other Wesleyan chapel in the town. A sincere desire to “flee from the wrath to come and be saved from their sins” – the only condition which John Wesley insisted upon for admission into his societies – does not prevent some of the members from attending determinedly to the bedizenments, conceits, and spangles of this very wicked speck in the planetary system. In the congregation there are many most excellent, hardworking, thoroughly sincere men and women, who would be both useful and ornamental to any body of Christians under the sun; but there are in addition, as there are in every building set apart for the purposes of piety, several who have “more frill than shirt,” and much “more cry than wool” about them – rectified, beautifully self-righteous, children who would “sugar over” a very ugly personage ten hours out of the twelve every day, and then at night thank the Lord for all his mercies.

In Lune-street Chapel faction used to run high and wilfulness was a gem which many of the members wore very near their hearts; but much of the old feudal spirit of party fighting has died out, and there are signs of pious resignation and loving kindness in the flock, which would at one time have been rare jewels. A somewhat lofty isolation is still manifested here and there; a few regular attenders appear heavily oppressed with the idea that they are not only as good as anybody else but much better. Still this is only human nature and no process of convertibility to the most celestial of substances can in this world entirely subdue it. The bruising deacon who said that grace was a good thing, but that that knocking down an impertinent member was a better didn’t miss the bull’s eye of natural philosophy very far. The observation was not redolent of much Christian spirit; but it evinced that which many of the saints are troubled with – human nature.

Lune-street chapel contains standing, sitting, and sleeping room, for about 1,400 people. The bulk who attend it take fair advantage of the accommodation afforded for the first and second positions; a moderate number avail themselves of the privileges held out for the whole three postures. The chapel is not often crowded; it is moderately filled as a rule; and there is no particular numeric difference in the attendance at either morning or evening service on a Sunday. The singing is neither loftily classic nor contemptibly common-place. It is good, medium, well modulated melody, heartily got up; and thoroughly congregational. In some places of worship it is considered somewhat vulgar for members of the congregation to give specimens of their vocalisation; and you can only find in out-of-the-way side and back pews odd persons warbling a mild falsetto, or piping an eccentric tenor, or doing a heavy bass on their own responsibility; but at Lune-street Chapel the general members of the congregation go into the work with a distinct determination to either sing or make a righteous noise worthy of the occasion. They are neither afraid nor ashamed of the job; and we hope they draw consolation from it. The more genteel worshippers take up their quarters mainly on the ground floor – at the back of the central seats and at the sides. The poor have resting places found for them immediately in front of the pulpit and at the rear of the galleries. Very little of that unctuous spasmodic shouting, which used to characterise Wesleyanism, is heard in Lune-street Chapel. It has become unfashionable to bellow; it is not considered “the thing” to ride the high horse of vehement approval and burst into luminous showers of “Amens” and “Halleleujahs.”

Now and then a few worshippers of the ancient type drop in from some country place, and explode at intervals during the course of some impulsive prayer, or gleeful hymn, or highly enamelled sermon. You may occasionally at such a time, hear two or three in distant pews having a delightful time of it. At first they only stir gently, as if some on were mildly pinching or tickling them. Gradually they become more audible, and as the fire of their zeal warms up, and the eloquence of the minister enflames, they get keener, fiercer, more rapturous; the intervals of repose are shorter, the moments of ecstacy are more rapid and fervent; and this goes on with gathering desperation, until the speaker reaches his – climax, and stops to either breathe or use his handkerchief. But hardy a scintilla of this is perceived on ordinary occasions; indeed it has become so unpopular that an exhibition of it seems to quietly amuse – to evoke mild smiles and dubious glances – rather than meet with reciprocity of approval. It must be some great man in the region of Wesleyanism; some grand, tearing, pathetic, eloquent preacher who can stir to a point of moderate audibility the voices of the multitude of worshippers.

In Lune-street Chapel, the Ten Commandments occupy a prominent position, and that is a good thing. It would be well if they were fastened up in every place of worship, and better still if the parsons referred to them more frequently. Respecting the ministers of the chapel in question, we way say that there are three. None of them can stay less than one, nor more than three, years. It is a question of “Hey, presto – quick change,” every third year. The names of the triumvirate at Lune-street are, the Rev. W. Mearns, M.A., who is the superintendent; the Rev. W. H. Tindall, second in command; and the Rev. F. B. Swift, the general clerical servant of all work. Mr. Mearns is a calm, rather bilious-looking, elderly man. There is nothing bewitching in his appearance; he looks like what he is – a quietly-disposed, evenly-tempered, Methodist minister. He is neither fussy, nor conceited, nor fond of brandishing the sword of superiority. He goes about his work steadily, and is as patient in harness as out of it. He has northern blood in his veins which checks impulsiveness and everything approaching that solemn ferocity sometimes displayed in Methodist pulpits. There is nothing oratorical in his style of delivery; it is calm, slow, and has a rather soporific influence upon his hearers. There is more practical than argumentative matter in his sermons; but, in the aggregate, they are hard and dry – lack lustre and passion; and this, combined with his stoical manner of delivery, has a chilling, rather than an attractive, influence. He always speaks in harmony with the rules of grammar. His sentences, although uttered extemporaneously, are invariably well finished and scholarly. His words are well chosen; they are fit in with cultivated exactitude and polished precision. They will stand reading; nay, they will read excellently – infinitely better than the burning rhapsody of more phrensied and eloquent men; but they fall with a long-drawn dulness upon the ear when first uttered, and don’t, as Sam Slick would say, “get up one’s steam anyhow.” Mr. Mearns has a clear head and a good heart, but his spoken words want power and immediate brightness, and his style is deadened for the want of a little enthusiasm.

The Rev. Mr. Tindall comes up in a more polished, energetic, and fashionable garb. He is eloquent, argumentative, polemical. His literary capacity is good, and it has been well trained. He has read much and studied keenly. His sermons are well thought out; he has copious notes of them; and when he enters the pulpit they are made complete for action – are fully equipped in their Sunday clothes and ready for duty. His delivery is good; but physical weakness deprives it of potency; and his contempt of the clock before him renders people now and then uneasy. His manner is refined; his matter is select; but there is something in both at times which you don’t altogether believe in digesting. A rather haughty, dictatorial ring is sometimes noticed in them. A large notion of the importance of the preacher occasionally peeps up. He has a perfect right to venerate Mr. Tindall, and if he is a little fashionable, what of that? – isn’t it fashionable to be fashionable? Only this may be carried a little too far, even in men for whom pulpits are made and circuits formed, and it is not always safe to let organ “15” in phrenological charts get the upper hand. After all we admire Mr. Tindall’s erudition and eloquence. He is free from vulgarity, and in general style miles ahead of many preachers in the same body, whose great mission is to maltreat pulpits and turn religion into a rhapsody of words.

The well-meaning and plodding Mr. Smith succeeds. He is a hard worker; but there does not appear to be over much in him at present. More thinking, and a greater experience of life, may cause him to germinate agreeably in a few years. His style is stereotyped and copied; there is a lack of original force in him; when he talks you know what’s coming next – you can tell five minutes off what he is going to say, and that rather spoils the sensation of newness and surprise which one likes to experience when parsons are either pleasing or terrifying sinners. But Mr. Swift does his best, and, according to Ebenezer Elliot, he does well who does that. It would be wrong to deal harshly with a new beginner, and therefore we have decided to check our criticism – to be brief – with Mr. Swift and express a hope that in time he will be president of the Conference.