A blog about church history and related matters, particularly unitarian and non-subscribing history, as well as matters of faith, theology, liberal christianity, non-creedal religion and related topics. By the editor of 'Faith and Freedom' and the 'Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society'.
In our service this morning, from Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, we continue to look at the early history of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian denomination and in this address ask questions about the meaning of ‘heresy and orthodoxy’ and look at the role of Thomas Emlyn in sparking the first subscription controversy when the Synod of Ulster introduced compulsory subscription to the Westminster Confession following his imprisonment in Dublin in 1703.
The service comes from Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church and is conducted by the minister. The reading is from Romans ch.14 v.1-9 and is read by Sue Steers. Church organist John Strain plays the hymns Who is on the Lord’s side (Thanks and Praise 164) and Wisdom Divine, bright shining, never fading (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 55) on the church’s Carnegie organ.
Also this week we have uploaded to the Downpatrick, Ballee & Clough NSP Churches YouTube channel a service that was originally broadcast from All Souls’ Church, Belfast on BBC Radio Ulster in 1995:
Converted from a cassette tape to mp3 format the service was recorded live from the radio in October 1995. The service is conducted by the minister at the time, Rev David Steers. The readers are Barbara Moneypenny (Psalm 46) and Jim Jackson (Luke ch.6 v.12-31). Muriel Singleton leads the prayers. The church organist is Albert McCartney who plays on the church’s Compton organ the hymns Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation; Just as I am, thine own to be; Dear Lord and Father of mankind; Immortal, invisible, God only wise and leads the Church Choir in the singing of Lead me Lord (music S.S. Wesley, words Psalm 5) and Grant us Thy Peace (music Timothy Troman, words D. Bruce-Payne).
After almost twelve months of on and off lockdown as we have grappled with the challenges of the Coronavirus we have been effectively in our own period of perpetual Lent. Our service today reflects on Lent in the light of this situation.
The service comes from Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church and is conducted by the minister. The reading is given by Robert Neill of Downpatrick and comes from Luke ch.4 v.1-15. Church organist, Alfie McClelland, plays the hymns ‘Walk in the light, so shalt thou know’ (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 334) and ‘Courage, friend, and do not stumble’ (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 329). Click on the video above to see the service.
A small but historically important liberal Christian denomination, the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church was born out of the interaction between faith and the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century. This act of worship includes this first part of a video series telling the history of the Church. In this film detailing the origins of the denomination in the Presbytery of Antrim in 1725, the work of John Abernethy, the Belfast Society, the influence of Glasgow University, and the Church’s place in a Europe-wide movement are all discussed.
The service is filmed at Downpatrick, a distinctive building of 1711, and one of the best examples in Ulster of a traditional T-shaped meeting house. The organist is Laura Patterson, who plays ‘Christ be our light’ and ‘The power of the Cross’. The reading is Isaiah ch.51 v.1-6.
You can see the service and the address on the history of the denomination in the following video:
Service of Worship from Downpatrick, including part one of the History of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland (available from 9.45 am on Sunday, 14th February)
This week our service of worship comes from Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church. The service is conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers, and the reading, from Matthew ch.3 .v.4-17, is given by Carol Nixon. John Strain, church organist plays the hymns In Christ Alone and Take my life, and let it be.
Today we consider the baptism of Jesus and this encounter related in Matthew’s gospel between Jesus and John the Baptist on the banks of the River Jordan. A moment of revelation – not least for Jesus himself – but also a moment of change where we move from a prophet warning that His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire to Jesus’ vision of a kingdom where the least are greatest of all: Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.
You can also listen to our joint service between Ballee, Clough and Downpatrick Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Churches broadcast live from Downpatrick on BBC Radio Ulster on Sunday, 22nd May 2005 here:
This Sunday’s service comes from First Dunmurry NS Presbyterian Church and considers the question of finding wisdom. There are lots of distractions in life and plenty of goals to aim for, which may or may not actually be worthwhile, but we have to underpin all that we do with a wise appraisal of ourselves and the world we live in.
Today’s reading comes from Job ch.28 v.12-13, 23-28 and is given by Noelle Wilson. Church organist, Allen Yarr, plays the hymns When I survey the wondrous cross (Church Hymnary 106) and Ye holy angels bright (Church Hymnary 39). At the start of the service Allen plays the Air from Handel’s Water Music on the piano.
We are moving towards the Spring now as the pictures of snowdrops in the grounds of Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church testify at the top and bottom of this post.
My soul, bear thou thy part, triumph in God above, and with a well-tuned heart sing thou the songs of love; let all thy days till life shall end, whate’er he send, be filled with praise.
From Ye holy angels bright by Richard Baxter (1615-91)
You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are — no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
Matthew ch.5 v.5 ‘The Message’
This Sunday’s service comes from the First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Downpatrick and is conducted by the minister. Mary Stewart, the church secretary, gives the reading from Matthew ch.5 v.1-10 as we consider the idea of ‘the meek’ and humility. Church organist Laura Patterson plays the hymns How can I keep from singing (Hymns for Living 133/Mission Praise 1210) and Hide me now under Your wings (Mission Praise 1057) as well as Shall we gather at the river as an introduction to the service.
Click on the following video to see the service:
During the service we also quote the Rev Matthew Henry (you can see a picture of his chapel in Chester on this blog by clicking here) :
Portrait of Matthew Henry, half-length, in an oval surmounted by ribbons and laurels, slightly turned to the left, dressed in an academic gown with bands at his neck and a periwig on his head, illustration to the “Gospel Magazine” (1779) Engraving and etching
In Micah chapter 6 verse 8 we read the famous statement:
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
In our service today, from Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, we explore how you can summarize – in a few words or a sentence – the real meaning of faith.
On one occasion someone asked Rabbi Hillel to recite the whole of the Torah while standing on one leg. He said simply, ‘What is hateful to you, do not do to others. That is the whole of Torah, the rest is commentary on it.’
The service is conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers. Robert Neill gives the reading from Micah ch.6 v.6-8 and Alfie McClelland, the church organist, plays the hymns which are Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 22), Sun of my soul, thou Saviour dear (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 439) and Rejoice! the Lord is King (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 62). Click on the above video to see the service.
Our service for this Sunday comes from Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church which this year celebrates its tercentenary.
The service is conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers, and John Strain, the church organist, plays the hymns ‘O Love that wilt not let me go’ (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 276) and ‘Spirit of the living God’ (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 178) as well as ‘How deep the Father’s Love for us’ (Irish Church Hymnal 224) which is played at the beginning and end of the service. The reading is Psalm 139 v.1-12, 23-24.
The above quotation comes from Meister Eckhart and it seems a fitting thought to have in mind at the start of a new year, especially after all the difficulties of the year that has gone before.
This new year is also the 300th anniversary of the building of the Ballee meeting-house and both the new year and this tercentenary feature in our service for Sunday, 3rd January. The date is close too, to the feast of the Epiphany and a reflection on the story and meaning of the Magi features in our worship.
Christmas Crib at Ballee from a couple of years ago
With music played by John Strain on the organ at Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, Jack Steers on the trumpet and Laura Neill on the bagpipes. The reading comes from Matthew ch.2 v.1-12.
Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church traces its origins back to the middle of the seventeenth century but the present meeting-house was built in 1721, after the previous one blew down in a storm. For three hundred years the congregation have worshipped in this important example of an early eighteenth-century T-shaped meeting-house. We have a number of special events planned to celebrate this significant milestone.
We have three services online over the Christmas period all of which can be accessed from this post.
Our service for Christmas Eve on Thursday 24th December is filmed in First Dunmurry (NS) Presbyterian Church and conducted by Rev Dr David Steers. The readings include A Visit from St Nicholas, read by Sue Steers, The Oxen by Thomas Hardy and It is a good thing to observe Christmas day by Henry van Dyke. Church organist Allen Yarr plays the carols O Come all ye faithful, O Little Town of Bethlehem and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. Ballee organist John Strain plays It came upon the midnight clear and Laura Neill plays Jingle Bells on the bagpipes. Special thanks to InkLightning for the Father Christmas artwork.
Our Christmas Day service is filmed in Clough, Ballee and Downpatrick churches. Conducted by Rev Dr David Steers the readings are given by Sophia Cleland (Luke ch.2 v.8-20) and Eve Lightbody (Matthew ch.2 v.1-12). Music includes God rest ye merry gentlemen played on keyboards and sung by Dillon and Haydn Howell; Silent Night played by Laura Neill on the bagpipes and Laura Patterson on the organ of the First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Downpatrick; Mary’s Boy Child; Joy to the World; The First Nowell; Jingle Bells/Christ is born today; When a child is born, all played by John Strain on the organ of Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church.
Sunday, 27th December
Filmed at Inch Abbey in county Down and conducted by Rev Dr David Steers our service for the last Sunday in 2020 includes as readings Llananno by R.S. Thomas and an extract from My Cathedral: A Vision of Friendship by Alexander Irvine. Jack Steers plays It came upon the midnight clear on the trumpet, Downpatrick organist Laura Patterson plays In the bleak mid-winter, and John Strain plays While shepherds watched their flocks by night and O little town of Bethlehem on the organ at Ballee.