Church History: The 20th & 21st Centuries

Eventually, after the publication of Darwin’s The Origin of Species, one branch of “broad church” morphed into atheism, another into Unitarianism. “Broad church” began to be labelled “low”. It was well after the middle of the 20th century before there were any changes in the worship patterns which had characterised church services in the previous 3 centuries. The Liturgical Movement during the last quarter of the 20th century brought alongside that of the Prayer Book, the new forms of Eucharistic worship and Services of the Word, culminating in 2000 in the Common Worship series in the year 2000. In Giggleswick Church, an 8.00am Book of Common Prayer Holy Communion service is celebrated every Sunday, and again there is Holy Communion during the week on a Wednesday morning. Holy Communion integrated with Bible readings and a sermon, takes place at the main morning service time usually twice in the month, Holy Communion is celebrated on the 5th Sunday of the month at the main service time at a united service at one of the 3 parishes in the benefice. Non-eucharistic services which take place on the in-between Sundays are Services of the Word, based on Common Worship’s Morning Prayer series, matching the seasons of the Liturgical Year. This new liturgy was inspired by early forms of Christian worship. The Greek word “Eucharist” meaning “thanksgiving” was used of Holy Communion in the early church.

It was Anglo-Catholic influence, despite Oliver Cromwell’s heavy footprint, that helped eventually to revive the appreciation and value of visual imagery among most Anglicans, whatever their tradition. What has confirmed it, is the overwhelming influence of the visual in modern communication methods, the media, TV – computerised gadgets, pictorial avatars and icons of this and that. In 2019, Oliver Cromwell however, must have turned in his grave not only because St Alkelda’s Church, Giggleswick has become the starting point of the St Alkelda’s Way Pilgrimage to the church of St Mary and St Alkelda, Middleham in Wensleydale, but also that the PCC and members of the church congregation agreed to raise money to pay for the new, mysterious and beautiful window depicting St Alkelda’s martyrdom to be installed alongside the other fine Victorian and early 20th-century stained glass windows, in Giggleswick Church.

There is however, one continuing custom that may have pleased Cromwell. In 1547, Edward VI issued an injunction regarding the retention of 2 lit candles on the altar before the administration of the Sacrament of Holy Communion “which for the signification that Christ is the very true light of the world, they shall suffer to remain still”. After the Restoration in 1660, lit altar candles were in general use in English parish churches once more. In the 19th century, under the influence of the “low” church movement, there was considerable litigation and dispute about the use of lights at Holy Communion. It is a fact that the majority of Anglican churches today, whatever their tradition, have lit candles on the altar during Holy Communion services and communicants find the custom enriching and thoroughly appropriate Biblically. Giggleswick is a rare exception, although the candles on the handsome early 18th century chandelier in the nave are lit for special occasions, there are never any on the main altar. Nightlights illuminate the window sills and are used on the prayer stand to accompany prayer requests. Recently, permission has been given by the PCC for lit candles to be used during week day services of Holy Communion in the Memorial Chapel (formerly called Carr, and before that, the Lady Chapel).

Throughout the 20th century until the present day, there has been a robed choir whose musical contributions have been greatly valued by Giggleswick congregations on special occasions and regularly at Evensong on the first Sunday of the month. By the end of the 20th century however, widespread changes began to make themselves felt and alterations to worship practices and church layout had to be executed. In most English parishes, the living was removed from incumbents and vicars became priests in charge, operating directly under the guidance of the bishop. See the article on Priests by Revd Hilary Young, in charge of the benefice from 2012-18 on the website of Holy Ascension Church, Settle.

Readers, lay men and women, are trained to lead and preach at Services of the Word, not only as parishes were joined together to alleviate the shortage of clergy, but also because lay ministers help to keep the churches open and their distinctive lay approach makes a valuable contribution to worship and the continuity of the fellowship. Recently, their numbers have been increased by the addition of trained worship leaders. The lay team operates under the guidance of the priest in charge and uses modern Anglican forms of Common Worship, or at the monthly services of Evensong, in Giggleswick, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Rathmell Church was the first to join with Giggleswick in 2000, followed by Settle in 2008, 3 churches under one priest in charge. In 2012, the first woman priest, Revd Hilary Young, was appointed to serve in the three parishes with the Revd Stephen Dawson, priest in charge of Langcliffe, Stainforth and Horton, appointed as assistant priest.

Throughout the centuries, the fabric and building of the ancient church in Giggleswick has been lovingly maintained and upgraded to suit the needs of the time. In 2004, the bells and the organ were renovated while in 2013, the back and north side pews were removed, and the Memorial chapel sound-proofed with glass panels between the arches. The wood from the pews was recycled into side cupboards to store chairs which could be used to provide extra seating when required. Small tables are available on which to serve refreshments after church services. The empty north side with toys, crayons and books on offer, has been used regularly by toddlers and children during services. A second toilet was provided under the bell tower, while the kitchen was thoroughly modernised. The church has become not only a worship area, but now offers hospitality and leisure spaces where weekday concerts and meetings can be and are held. The church is open every day to visitors and pilgrims walking the St Alkelda’s Way.

Members of St Alkelda’s are also involved the ecumenical activities provided by Churches Together in Settle & District, the Women’s World Day of Prayer and the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and to meeting, praying, and studying the Bible with Christians from other denominations. The Anglicans of the 3 churches Settle, Giggleswick and Rathmell worship together on the 5th and sometimes 1st Sundays of the month. We have got to know each other and enjoy the fellowship we have in our united services of Holy Communion. A number of ladies are members of the Mothers’ Union. Giggleswick also has a fortnightly Bible Study group. Settle provides coffee and light lunches after Holy Communion on Tuesdays. All 3 churches have welcomed people who have come to live in our parishes from elsewhere and who have brought their own traditions with them to enrich us all. To call Settle Church “high”, Giggleswick “low” and Rathmell somewhere in between, no longer has any meaning. We talk more of “our church family” than we do of “the congregation”. Maybe, it is the welcome, warmth and compassion of an open Christian fellowship that is needed to serve God in Christ in this present age.