The Old Wooden Pulpit

Salem Chapel is dominated by a large wooden pulpit. When I enquired as to the type of wood, most say pitch pine. This is a golden brown wood with beautifully swirling rings and lines. Its colour is deeper than other pines and its higher resin content develops quickly in trees over twenty years old, making it is rather more durable than similar timbers. When cut, its sap produces a wonderful citrus smell. So strong is that sap that it can be used to weather-proof, as one might traditionally use pitch. This is why Whitmore’s Timber merchants describe its common uses as heavy construction work, lorry and railway wagons, shipbuilding, masts, flooring, dock work, and decking. This wood is attractive, durable and has a natural water resistance.

The builders of Salem Chapel therefore chose their wood wisely. Not only was it pleasant to the eye but also tough and likely to last. Pitch pine is native to the Baltic and North America, not Lancashire and Yorkshire. The joiners therefore went to some trouble, perhaps procuring it from either Hull or Liverpool, rather than using a more accessible, readily obtainable wood. Although the chapel was built in 1817, it was refurbished in 1898, so I can’t be certain upon which date the pulpit was actually constructed. Either way, it has stood strong for over a century. 


If one takes a closer look at the panelling behind the pulpit, in front of which the preacher stands, one will see the wood is not pitch pine at all. Someone made a good attempt with a paintbrush or heated implement at imitating the said wood’s rich grain. It’s rather convincing, but makes me curious as to why they would go to such trouble. I can only conclude that they lacked the money to buy all the ‘good’ wood they needed. Those parts of the pulpit closest to inspection are the real thing; those parts further back are the attractive forgeries. 

A nice historical detail, a passable anecdote. Yet this is the centre of our church life, the focus of our attention for two hours on Sundays. How many sermons has that old pulpit heard? How many fists have thumped its lectern, how many feet have trodden its boards? It has heard sermons which seem to be faithful to God’s word, but have, on closer examination, been nothing but the ponderings of men. Others have been eloquent and stirring, sounding great but edifying little. Still others have withstood two centuries of worldly wisdom and fashion, contended for the faith, withstanding the seeping fluids of a watered-down gospel.

I pray that our beautiful old pulpit will sometimes hear sermons of beauty and eloquence, but always ones of faithfulness and truth.

Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 2 Timothy 4:2