Salem Chapel tells the story of Arthur Vincent, recent graduate of Homerton College, Cambridge, who has been called to pastor Salem Chapel upon the retirement of its previous minister, Mr Tufton. Salem belongs to the Dissenters of Carlingford, to whom Oliphant attributes varying degrees of kindness, hospitality, generosity, commercial acumen, stubbornness, and complacency. Chapel life is naturally rooted in Carlingford's mercantile center, and the cheerful bustle of tea-meetings, singing classes, charitable and missionary activities echoes the hum of commerce. At the center of this "brisk succession of 'Chapel business'", stands the minister. He is, Oliphant declares, "everything in his little world. That respectable connection would not have hung together half so closely but for this perpetual subject of discussion, criticism, and patronage".