The Methodist Chapel
In those times, when I was young, religion was taken up with enthusiasm and even the people who did not profess to any religious order would help to build the chapels. I have seen the publican doing what he thought was his bit in building the new chapel in the village and I also assisted.
I was entrusted with the task of carting the stone and other building material, but I used to be very nervous when the Missioner came to our house, and would always be late for tea, for they tried hard to convert. Once my Uncle, who was full of the revival spirit, tried to convert me when we were both working on a hayrick. He began by saying, “Would you like to join our little band?” and he never got a chance to say more as I had guessed the rest, and had slid down the rick, and was off like a march hare!
No less than a week later I was in Chapel and wishing somebody would speak to me. It was getting on my nerves, so greatly moved was I. Whenever I heard a spider tick I thought it meant my doom, and I could hear one every night over my bed. As no one came to me and the mission ended I became brave again. As a boy I liked going to Chapel. Strangely enough there was always plenty of excitement, if nothing else. I have seen preachers so worked up by their oratory they had to take off their coats. They did not seem to spare themselves one bit. I have seen a whole congregation cry when one man prayed. I have seen men standing up, their arms waving, shouting at the top of their voices so that they could have been heard a mile away.
I once heard a local preacher denouncing pride. He was a very personal man. One of the members of the congregation was a young lady who had a very gay hat, all flowers and feathers, and a large hat into the bargain. The preacher made a thrust: “You with the flowers and feathers on your head;” he cried, “will be cast into the pit,” and words similar in effect. This so affected the young lady that she jumped up and went out. Her brother happened to be present, and he was also a Trustee of the Chapel.
“Come, come, my boy,” he cried, “Don’t get excited.” Whatever the outcome it livened things up for the onlookers.
The Camp Meetings in connection with the Chapel were quite a sensational event in the quiet life of the village. These would be held on a suitable meadow when the weather was fine. Crowds would come from surrounding villages, and when word got round that so and so from a certain parish was coming to the meeting we would tell ourselves that we were in for a good time.
In the evenings they would hold what they called a “Love Feast”. Everyone who wished could take part, and I found it of great interest to watch the attitudes of the different converts as they unfolded their feelings in public of how they came to be saved.
One of the “Feasts” I have in mind was conducted by the fishermen from a neigh-bouring town. Never before had I seen such an array of jerseys. One of these fishermen had a striped shirt underneath his jersey, and I am not certain whether it was through pride in his garment or whether it was through nerves, but when ever he was on his feet speaking, he would roll up his jersey and then unroll it again after displaying a great deal of striped shirt. Another of them began by saying “I could have preached you a rare sermon when I was walking over the golf links on my way to the meeting, but the bottom seems to have dropped out of the bag now”. To get the full effect of this sentence, one would have to hear it spoken in the local dialect, for instance the word ‘sermon’ sounded more like ‘Sarinond’. This man got in a great muddle in trying to tell his audience of his experiences and convictions, as his opening sentence implies.
There was such a good muster of these men that they could not all get into the pulpit so they had to speak where they could find room to stand up. One of these bore the nickname “Butcher” and I must say he looked like one, although he was a fisherman. I must describe his speech. I might have mentioned that this particular “feast” was held in the Chapel on account of the weather and this “Butcher” had been seated just in front of me. As soon as he rose in his pew to speak he gave himself full room for action, swinging his arms about wildly and shouting at the top of his voice. With each sentence he moved still further forward eventually forcing his way into the aisle. He looked very fierce, but seemed quite happy to relate his convictions in this manner.
After performing like this for a minute or so he felt fit to offer an apology for his lack of education, and, shouted out at the top of his voice “What matter if the words do come out arse-uppards!” No sooner had this been said, than he calmed down and slunk back to his pew very much embarrassed.
When at the height of their oratory, speakers’ movements were frequently a menace to those seated near them and you had to do some ducking if you sat in front of one of them, as my Uncle can testify. He came from the North and was not used to this kind of behaviour in Chapel, so instead of leaning forward in his seat when the man behind him got to his feet to speak, he remained seated upright, and it was not long before he received such a clout from the gesticulating man.
He said afterwards that the blow was entirely unexpected.
© Val Fiddian 2005