|St Ninian's, Whitby|
I mentioned St Ninian's to a friend who moves in Yorkshire ecclesiastical circles, who said, 'Oh yes, the mad church'.
round the fair city of Whitby, I was intrigued by the exterior of St
Ninian's, which looked very much like an old Nonconformist chapel.
Its name, appearance, location, and welcoming open door simply didn't
match one another. It matched even less when I went in and discovered
an Anglo-Catholic adventure playground of the most trad variety.
assumed that this was a former Nonconformist chapel taken over by one
of the various breakaway Anglican Catholic organisations, and filled
with their bits and pieces. I had it completely wrong. The church was
built as a nominally-Anglican proprietory chapel in the 1770s, hence
the very Nonconformist look to the place, and was brought within the
CofE mainstream by the great Victorian-Edwardian vicar of Whitby,
George Austen. He'd intended his own St Hilda's on the clifftop,
staring symbolically across the harbour at the low-church St Mary's,
as the spearhead of High Anglicanism in the area (and, he dreamt, as
the cathedral seat of a bishop), but by the early 1900s St Ninian's
was far outstripping it, becoming the home of a very advanced
Anglo-Catholic congregation. The membership had dwindled by the 1980s
and the CofE moved to close the church. The congregation refused to be
closed, and after a bit of shillyshallying ended up joining the
Anglican Catholic Church, which had in turn broken away from the
Episcopal Church of the USA in the 1970s.|
means St Ninian's is a bit odd. As you can see in the photo above, it
retains its ranks of pews unbroken by a central aisle - |
designed for people to sit and listen to sermons rather than process to an altar. Yet all around is the paraphernalia of a very
Catholic-minded church indeed, including side altars and swooning pre-War Stations of the Cross.
from the high altar, which is obviously well looked-after, I found the
furnishings dusty and a bit down-at-heel; the bookstall was
threadbare; and everything had a makeshift, second-hand air. Yet what
it also had was a palpable sensation of great devotion, serious
purpose, and passionate dedication to what the building represents.
That doubtless means the people who express that dedication and
devotion could, indeed, be a bit peculiar, but that doesn't undermine
what this place does and how it feels. And that earns my admiration.
In 2013 St Ninian's left the ACC again.
It's looked after by Fr Philip French, who has moved through a number
of fringe denominations and is, let's say, not without controversy.
People often make the mistake of thinking the church is under the
actual Roman Catholic Church, but it is very much not, as the Diocese
of Middlesbrough will tell you very definitely!
Discover more about St Ninian's here.