The Blackburn Diocese is often called ‘the Church of England in Lancashire’ as the borders of the Diocese and County are virtually the same. It has also been called ‘England in miniature’ as its social and geographical characters echo the variety of the country. Communities range from England’s newest city, Preston, to secluded villages; scenery from a varied coastline to high moors; and homes from traditional mill terraces to expanding estates.
The Diocese was founded in 1926 by the then Bishop of Manchester, William Temple, who was concerned to emphasise Christian pastoral support for the expanding cotton towns. This was underlined by transforming the parish church in the centre of Blackburn into Lancashire’s Anglican cathedral.
The long history of Christianity in Lancashire could date from Roman or Celtic times. Saxon evidence includes the sixth century chapel at Heysham and Saxon crosses at Whalley, where abbey ruins mark an important medieval monastic community. The House at Whalley Abbey is the Diocesan Conference and Retreat Centre although it caters for a wide variety of functions.
Lancashire’s relative isolation made it a continuing haven for traditional Catholicism after the Reformation in the 1530s, and also for radical Puritanism in the seventeenth century. The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) grew from a vision that the Society’s founder, George Fox, received on Pendle Hill.
Today the 250 Church of England parishes include many members of other world faiths. Mosques are as likely to punctuate the skylines of East Lancashire as church spires, and Preston’s places of worship include a large Hindu temple.
Socially and industrially the diocesan area has also undergone radical change. Once dominant textile communities have been forced to diversify. Academic progress has seen three universities established in the county in the last 50 years.
Industries as diverse as engineering and tourism retain important places in the regional economy.
Christian care for changing populations includes the largest number of aided schools in England, besides chaplaincy work in prisons, schools, hospitals and universities. Expanding educational chaplaincy, alongside new directions in Christian social care and developing interests in Christian dialogue, provide examples of how a changing Church establishes mission priorities for changing societies.
Mission to all, and prayer for all, remain at the heart of diocesan life, as summarised by the diocesan Vision Statement.