Wesley and Moor Park Methodist Chapels

Churches and Chapels by Atticus (Contents)

These two places of worship must constitute one dose. They are in the same circuit, are looked after by the same ministers, and if we gave a separate description of each we should only be guilty of that unpleasant “iteration” which Shakspere names so forcibly in one of his plays. Wesley Chapel is the older of the two, and, therefore, must be first mentioned. It is situated in North-road, at the corner of Upper Walker-street, and we dare say that those who christened it thought they were doing a very hand-some thing – charming the building with a name, and graciously currying favour with the Wesley family. People have a particular liking for whoever or whatever may be called after them, and good old John may sometimes look down approvingly upon the place and tell Charles that he likes it. The chapel, which was built in 1838, enjoys the usual society of all pious buildings: it has two public houses and a beershop within thirty yards of its entrance, and they often seem to be doing a brisker business than it can drive, except during portions of the Sunday when they are shut up, and, consequently, have not a fair chance of competing with it.

The chapel is square in form, has more brick than stone in its composition, and has a pretty respectable front, approached by steps, and duly guarded by iron railings. Neither inside nor outside the building is there anything architecturally fine. A decent mediocrity generally pervades it. The entrances are narrow, and there is often a good deal of pushing and patient squeezing at the neck of them. But nobody is ever hurt, and not much bad temper is manifested when even the collateral pew doors mix themselves up with the crowd, and prevent people from getting in or out too suddenly. The chapel, although simple in style, is clean, lofty, and light. A gallery of the horse shoe pattern runs round the greater portion of it. Thin iron pillars support the gallery and the “chancel” end, which is arched and recessed for orchestral accommodation, is flanked by fluted imitation columns.

There is accommodation in the place for between 800 and 900 persons; but it is not often that all the seats are filled. The average attendance will be about 800; and nearly every one making up that number belongs to the working-class section of life. Amongst the body are many genial good-hearted folk-people who believe is doing right without telling everybody about it, in obliging you without pulling a face over it; and there are also individuals in the rank and file of worshippers who are very Pecksniffian and dismal, cranky, windy, authoritative, who would look sour if eating sugar, would call a “church meeting” if you wore a lively suit of clothes, and would tell you that they were entitled to more grace than anybody else, and had got more. The better washed and more respectably dressed portion of the congregation sit at the back of the central range of seats on the ground floor, also along portions of the sides, and in front of the gallery.

Towards the front of the central seats there is a confraternity of humble earnest-looking beings, including several aged persons, who are true types in form, manner, and dress, of unsophisticated Methodists. Here, as elsewhere, there are very few people in the chapel ten minutes “before the train starts.” Those present at that time are mainly middle-aged, unpretentious, and very seriously inclined; others of a higher type follow; and then comes the rush, which lasts for about five minutes. Worship is conducted in the chapel with considerable quietness. You may hear the long-drawn gelatinous sigh, the subdued, quiet, unctuous “amen,” and if the thing gets hot a few lively half-innate exclamations are thrown into the proceedings. But there is nothing in any of them of a turbulent or riotous character. The parsons can draw out none of the worshippers into a very ungovernable frame of mind; and we believe none of the people have for some time been very violent in either their verbal expressions or physical contortions. They are beginning to take things quietly, and to work inwardly during periods of bliss.

There are about 400 “members” in connection with Wesley Chapel, and we hope they are nearly half as good as such like people usually profess to be. The rule in life is for people to be about one-third as virtuous as they say they are; and if they can be got a trifle beyond that point by any legitimate process, it is something to be thankful for. There is a very fair organ at Wesley Chapel, and the person who plays it does the requisite manipulative business with good ordinary skill. The choir is a sort of family compact; the members of one household preponderate in it; but its arrangements are well worked, and the music, taking everything into account, is pretty fair. It is far from being classical; but it will do. The singing in the galleries and below is full, if not very sweet; is spirited and generously expressed if not so melodious. Quite the old style of vocalising prevails in some quarters of the place, and it is mainly patronised by old people; they swing backwards and forwards gently and they sing, get into all kinds of keys, experimentally, put their hands on the pew sides or fronts, beating time with the music as the business proceeds, and like singing hymn ends over again.

There is a school beneath the chapel. On week-days its average attendance is about 115; and on Sundays 450. We must now for a moment pass on to Moor Park Chapel. This is a new, and somewhat genteel-looking building – has a rather “taking” outside, and is inclined to be smart within. It was opened on the 26th of June, 1862. A style of architecture closely resembling that of Lancaster-road Congregational Chapel has been followed in its construction. There is much circular work in its ornamental details; its general arrangements are neat, and well finished; nothing cold or sulkily Puritanical presents itself; a degree of even taste and polish has been observed in its make. This is a more “respectable” chapel than its companion at the top of Walker-street; its patrons are supposed to be a somewhat richer class. It will accommodate about 900 people; but, as at Wesley Chapel, so here – there are more sittings than sitters. “It has been known to hold 1,300, on an excursion,” said a quiet-minded young man to us when we were at the chapel; but we didn’t understand the young man, couldn’t fathom his “excursion” sentiments, and afterwards threw ourselves into the arms of one of the ministers for numeric protection.

There is a good gallery in the building, and the pillars which support it prop up a sort of arched canopy, like an oblong umbrella, which is too low, too near the head, and must consequently both confine the air, and develope sweating when the place is filled. There is a neat pulpit in the chapel, and it is ornamented with what seem to be panels of opaque glass. We were rather distressed on first seeing them, being apprehensive that one of the preachers might, some very fine Sunday, when in a mood more rapturous than usual, send the points of his shoes right through them; but our mind was eased when an explanation was made to the effect: that the “glass” was ornamental zinc, and that the feet of the preachers couldn’t get near it. Behind the pulpit there is a circular niche for the members of the choir, who, aided and abetted in musical matters by a pretty good harmonium, acquit themselves respectably.

The congregation, as hinted, is more “fashionable” than that at Wesley Chapel: it is more select, has more pride in it, sighs more gently, moans less audibly, turns up its eyes more delicately, hardly ever gets into a “religious spree,” and is inclined to think that piety should be genteel as well as vital. The members here number 280. Immediately adjoining the chapel there is good school accommodation; and the attendance appears to be very creditable. On week days the average is two hundred; and on Sundays it reaches about four hundred. At both Wesley and Moor Park Chapels there are week-night services and class meetings. The former are rather dull and badly attended; and a special effort on the part of both those who talk and those who listen is required to get up the proceedings into a state of pleasant activity; the latter are fairly managed, and are somewhat like “experiences meetings;” talking, singing, and praying are done at them; there is a constant fluctuation, whilst they are going on, between bliss and contrition; and you are sometimes puzzled to find out – taking the sounds made as a criterion – whether the attendants are preparing to fight, or fling themselves into a fit of crying, or hug and pet each other.

The circuit embraces the two chapels named, also Kirkham, Freckleton, Bamber Bridge, Longridge, Moon’s Mill, Wrea Green, and Ashton; it has now about 795 members; and all of them, with the exception of 115, as figures previously given show, are in Preston. The circuit, so far as members go, is slightly decreasing in power; but it may recruit its forces by and bye; There has been a species of duality in it during the past three years; its energies have been a little divided; faction has reigned in it; there have been too many Raynerites and Adamites and sadly too few Christians in it; pious snarling and godly backbiting have been too industriously exercised; and one consequence has been weakened power and a declension of progress. But the brethren are getting more cheerful, much old spleen has subsided, and, we hope, they will all kiss and get kind again soon.

When this sketch was first printed the Rev. T. A. Rayner was the superintendent minister; the Rev. J. Adams being second in command; and they worked the different sections alternately. Mr. Rayner is an elderly gentleman, with a strong osseous frame, which is well covered with muscle and adipose matter; he has been about 34 years in the ministry, and should, therefore, be either very smart or very dull by this time; he has a portly, grave, reverential look; carries with him both spectacles and an eye-glass; is slow and coldly-keen in his mental processes; thinks that he can speak with authority; and that all minor dogs must cease barking when he mounts the oracular tripod; he is sincere; works well, for his years, and in his own way does his best; he is a man of much experience, and has fair intellectual powers; but his temperament is very icy and flatulent; his humours heavy and watery, and a phlegmagog purge would do him good. He is a rigid methodical man; believes in original rules and ancient prerogatives; is a Wesleyan of the antique type, but is devoid of force and enthusiasm; he never sets you on fire with declamation, nor melts you with pathos; he had rather freeze than burn sinners; he thinks the harrier principle of catching a hare is the surest, and that travelling on a theological canal is the safest plan in the long run. He is more cut out for a country rectory, where the main duties are nodding at the squire and stunning the bucolic mind with platitudes, than for a large circuit of active Methodists; he would be more at home at a rural deanery, surrounded by rookeries and placid fish ponds, than in a town mission environed by smoke and made up of screaming children and thin-skinned Christians.

Mr. Rayner has many good properties; but short sermon preaching is not one of them. Some of the descendants of that man who, according to “Drunken Barnaby,” slaughtered his cat on a Monday, because it killed a mouse on the Sunday, were in the bait of preaching for three hours at one stretch. Mr. Rayner never yet preached that length of time, and we hope he never will do; but he can, like the east wind, blow a long while in one direction. One Sunday evening; when we heard him, be preached just one hour, and at the conclusion intimated that he had been requested to give a short sermon, but had drifted into a rather prolix one. We should like to know what length he would have run out his rhetoric if be had been requested to give a long discourse. By the powers! it would have “tickled the catastrophe” of each listener finely – doctors would have had to be called in, a vast amount of physic would have been required, and it would never have got paid for in these hard times so that bad debts would have been added to the general calamity. We could never see any good in long sermons and nobody else ever could except those giving them. Neither could we ever see much fun in a parson saying – “And now lastly” more than once. In the 60 minutes discourse to which we have alluded, the preacher got into the lastly part of the business five times. If that other conclusive phrase – “And now, finally brethren” – had been taken advantage of, and similarly worked, we might never have got home till morning. Summarising Mr. Rayner, it may be stated that he is calm, phlegmatic, earnest but too prolix, likes to wield the rod of authority and occupy one of the uppermost seats in the synagogue, is an industrious minister but adheres to a programme antique and chilling, is a real Wesleyan in his conceptions, but behind the times in spirit and mental brilliance, is in a word good, grim, imperial, cold as ice, steady, and soundly orthodox.

Mr. Adams, the junior minister, is quite of a different mould; he is sprightly, gamey, wide awake, full of courage, with a smack of Yankee audacity in his manner, and a fair share of conceit in his general make up. There is much determination in him, much of the lively bantam element about him. He has a sharp round face which has not been spoiled by sanctimoniousness. He is sanguine, combative, go ahead, and would like a good fight if he got fairly into one. He cares little for forms and ceremonies; is a good mower; wears a billycock which has passed through much tribulation – we believe it was once the subject of a church meeting; can play cricket pretty well, and enjoys the game; is frank, candid, and speaks straight out; can say a good thing and knows when he has said it; has an above-board, clear, decisive style; is not a great scholar, and would be puzzled, like the generality of parsons, if asked how many teeth he had in his head, or who was the grandfather of his mother’s first uncle; knows little of Latin and less of Greek, but understands human nature, and that, says the Clockmaker, beats scholarship; has been in America, which accounts for the nasal ring in his talk; is active, sanguine, free, and easy, and would enjoy either a ridotto or a fast; can utter lively, merry things in his sermons, and does not object sometimes to recognise the wisdom of Shakspere. Mr. Adams is a good platform speaker, and he can give straight shots as a preacher. Sometimes his discourses are only common-place, wordy, and featherless; but in the general run he is much above the average of sermonisers. He has good action, can put out considerable canvas when very warm, smacks the pulpit sides with his hands when, particularly earnest, and occasionally makes a direct aim at the Bible before him, and hits it. We rather like his style; it is free, but not coarse; spirited, but not crazy; determined, but not bigoted; and it is in no way spice with either cant or hallowed humbug. Mr. Adams was five years in America, and he is now completing the tenth year of his career as a regular Wesleyan minister. He has a large veneration for his own powers and thinks there are few sons of Adam like him in the Methodist world; still he is a hard-working, shrewd, clear-headed little man, a good preacher, with a deal of every day fun and sunshine in his heart, and calculated to take a considerably higher post than that which he now occupies.