Bolton: Ye Olde Dying Church

I called at Bolton-le-Moors in the autumn. I wished to visit the parish church which, naturally, was all locked up. Close by was the town’s oldest pub, Ye Olde Man and Scythe, serving small ales since at least 1251. Further down the street sits Ye Olde Pastie Shoppe, serving street food since 1667. Both are fine establishments, whetting Boltonian whistles and filling bellies for generations.

The parish church at the end of the street is only Victorian, but it has at least three predecessors, each more ancient than the other. I can forgive a church being locked-up; our chapel is locked up during most day times. I find it harder to forgive the absence of any gospel message, either from a pulpit (upon which I cannot here comment) or on a website, which I here can. I can find an explanation of how to donate, hire a building, discover its heritage, baptise a child and bury the dead - but not how to get to heaven. It is a good job I was not having a heart attack at the time and had ten seconds to find peace with God.

I can only imagine that the publican at Ye Olde Man and Scythe serves better or at least equally good beverages as his predecessors. If the quality declined, his doors would close. If Ye Olde Pastie Shoppe’s baker presented substandard offerings to the good folk of Bolton, they would take their custom elsewhere. This is what happens with churches: if they offer no clear spiritual hope, no simple gospel invitation, no straight forward explanation of Christ’s saving work on the cross, then their attendances shrink and their clergy preach to the air. For several generations now, churches have offered nothing but froth and bubble. In the late 1650s, when Richard Goodwin was here the minister, congregants and townsmen would have been clearly told of their fallen state, of God’s grace, of Christ’s blood, of the Spirit’s invitation. Those who now attend Bolton Parish Church may judge for themselves in this regard. If my suspicions are unfounded, then I am sure they will apply to many other parish churches throughout the kingdom.  

“Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord God, “That I will send a famine on the land, Not a famine of bread, Nor a thirst for water, But of hearing the words of the Lord." Amos 8:11