Rev Alexander Gordon

Our worship today comes from Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church and is the first in a new series considering significant Non-Subscribers from history.

Alexander Gordon was born in Coventry on 9th June 1841 and died in Belfast on 21st February 1931. A self-styled Englishman by birth, Scotsman by education and an Irishman by inclination Alexander Gordon was the foremost historian of religious dissent in the British Isles whose influence is still recognized today.

Alexander Gordon arriving at Dunmurry, 18th January 1931

I’ve mentioned before the above photograph of Alexander Gordon, (click here to see the original post) the last known picture of him, arriving at Dunmurry to take the service in 1931 and this and many other images are used in the video for today’s service.

Click on the video to see the latest service (from 9.45 am on Sunday, 16th May 2021)

The service is recorded in Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church and is conducted by the minister. The reader is Carol Nixon who reads Psalm 100 and the organist is John Strain who plays the hymns Spirit of God, unseen as the wind (Irish Presbyterian Hymn Book 478) and Fairest Lord Jesus (Irish Presbyterian Hymn Book 19). Also played at the beginning and end of the service are As the deer pants and Who is on the Lord’s side.

As well as the images connected with Alexander Gordon the film includes video of the eighteenth-century roof beams of Ballee Church constructed from Memel pine.

Memorial in First Presbyterian Church, Rosemary Street, Belfast

Over the course of a long career Gordon was minister of a number of congregations in England and Ireland and was Principal of the Unitarian College, Manchester and lecturer in Ecclesiastical History at the University of Manchester, in what was then the first free faculty of Theology in Britain. He was also a renowned historian who travelled all over Europe in the course of his work. He regularly travelled between England and Ireland, even throughout the First World War, and always travelled from wherever he was to Dunmurry in order to attend the twice yearly communion services there. He also travelled across Europe visiting record offices and archives – most notably in Poland, Hungary and Transylvania – at a time when such visits were rare and logistically difficult. This is referenced in the service. His researches, whose subject matter stretched over centuries and many areas of religious life, link us with the past and with his life. They set us in context and in time.

Time

Time is the feather’d thing,
And, whilst I praise
The sparklings of thy looks and call them rays,
Takes wing,
Leaving behind him as he flies
An unperceived dimness in thine eyes.
His minutes, whilst they’re told,
Do make us old;
And every sand of his fleet glass,
Increasing age as it doth pass,
Insensibly sows wrinkles there
Where flowers and roses do appear.
Whilst we do speak, our fire
Doth into ice expire,
Flames turn to frost;
And ere we can
Know how our crow turns swan,
Or how a silver snow
Springs there where jet did grow,
Our fading spring is in dull winter lost.
Since then the Night hath hurl’d
Darkness, Love’s shade,
Over its enemy the Day, and made
The world
Just such a blind and shapeless thing
As ’twas before light did from darkness spring,
Let us employ its treasure
And make shade pleasure:
Let ‘s number out the hours by blisses,
And count the minutes by our kisses;
Let the heavens new motions feel
And by our embraces wheel;
And whilst we try the way
By which Love doth convey
Soul unto soul,
And mingling so
Makes them such raptures know
As makes them entranced lie
In mutual ecstasy,
Let the harmonious spheres in music roll!


Jasper Mayne (1604-1672)

Faith guided by Reason

Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church (1837)

Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

The reading for our service today, from Clough, comes from the 4th chapter of Ephesians.

Click on the video to see this week’s service (after 9.45 am on Sunday, 9th May)

The service is conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers with the reading being given by Elsie Nelson. Church organist Alfie McClelland plays the hymns Immortal Love, forever full (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 84) and The Lord my pasture shall prepare (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 88) also played at the start and end of the service are Sun of my soul and Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation.

Also uploaded this week is this short video, a Prayer for Spring:

Filmed in the grounds of Dunmurry Church

The One Spirit

Today our service comes from the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church in Dunmurry. Conducted by Rev David Steers, the minister in charge, Emma McCrudden gives the reading from 1 Corinthians ch.12 v.4-14 and church organist Allen Yarr plays the hymns on the piano. The hymns played in the service are For the beauty of the Earth (‘Church Hymnary’ 17) and When peace like a river (‘Mission Praise’ 757).

Click on the video above to see the service (after 9.45 am on Sunday, 2nd May 2021)

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

1 Corinthians ch.12 v.4-6

Ode, Composed on a May Morning by William Wordsworth

While from the purpling east departs
The star that led the dawn,
Blithe Flora from her couch upstarts,
For May is on the lawn.
A quickening hope, a freshening glee,
Foreran the expected Power,
Whose first-drawn breath, from bush and tree,
Shakes off that pearly shower.

All Nature welcomes Her whose sway
Tempers the year’s extremes;
Who scattereth lustres o’er noon-day,
Like morning’s dewy gleams;
While mellow warble, sprightly trill,
The tremulous heart excite;
And hums the balmy air to still
The balance of delight.

Roscoe Gardens – cause for concern

The congregational memorial in 2019

In July 2019 I published a post about Roscoe Gardens, Mount Pleasant in Liverpool, a little-known green space near Liverpool city centre. It is the site of the burial ground of Renshaw Street Chapel and the home of a memorial to the chapel and its members including such notable figures as William Roscoe and Joseph Blanco White. You can see the original post here. In the last year this has become one of the two most frequently visited posts on this blog, the other being Croft Unitarian Chapel to which I hope to return in the near future.

Memorial to William Roscoe

The reason for the frequency of views of the Roscoe Gardens post has been a developing abuse of the site that has seen scant disregard for for its importance to the city and its status as a burial ground and memorial.

Inscription on the memorial

On the evening of Friday, 30th April the Rev Phil Waldron went to Roscoe Gardens in his clerical robes to kneel in prayer at the congregational memorial to highlight this ongoing problem. In solidarity with his stand I am pleased to publish his press release below which explains all the issues. Let us all pray that this leads to some action by Liverpool City Council:

Rev Phil Waldron kneels in prayer in Roscoe Gardens, Friday, 30th April 2021

Statement from Rev Phil Waldron and the Unitarian community in Liverpool:

Since July 2020 Liverpool City Council has been complicit in the desecration of the graves of many of our city’s citizens and the gifting of an entire public park to a private business. Since July 2020 Roscoe Gardens has been locked off, and public access removed and denied, consistently by the business operating in the space.

Roscoe Gardens is not just a public park, but a Unitarian burial ground and needs to be treated with the basic levels of decency, dignity and respect that is not only presumed human moral basics but also obligations under the law of the local authority.

The council have allowed a marquee structure of such vast size, it should be subject to planning requirements, to be erected over and pegged into the graves of those interred on the site.

The Listed memorial of William Roscoe, one of the first abolitionists is currently in a state of disrepair, as is the green space of the park itself. Members of the Unitarian congregation are being denied their right to pay their respects to those interred at the site. Members of the local community, including the elderly and those less able of body, have been deprived of their nearest greenspace during a pandemic and lockdown.

The structure erected by the business is directly adjacent to, and outside of peoples homes. Families of children have had nothing short of months of misery, endured by the obscene and lurid content matter of the ‘entertainment’ blasted directly into their homes, let alone the anti-social behaviour of customers.

This is nothing short of an affront to those buried in the ground beneath them, including founders of the Temperance movement.

As B G Orchard once wrote, “… no group of men has so manifested far-sighted appreciation of great questions affecting social wellbeing of the town or worked with more dogged ardour to promote national education, public parks, free libraries and museums… at present Renshaw Street Chapel is probably the greatest political force in our midst.” –

we are shocked Liverpool City Council sees fit to allow the graves of these people who built the socialist foundations of our city, to be desecrated and ran into disrepair, in such a way.

Liverpool City Councillors and Officers, and even our local MP, have been made aware of ongoing complaints since August 2020 and failed to act. In fact, to this date, Liverpool City Council have ignored every reference to desecration to the graves made, and to this date, not one single Councillor or Officer has had the foresight to contact the Unitarian Church, not only to apologise, but to seek the permission they are obliged to, for use of the space, as set out under the Burial Act.

The business operator has shown no willingness to listen to the community and currently only allows access to the space if a petition is signed in support of their continued occupation of consecrated ground. The business has also consistently breached the terms of the Land Use Agreement they had with the council, and evidence has been provided, again consistently, to the responsible officers and no action has been taken.

Liverpool City Council has failed in its duty to protect this sacred, public space and abandoned its commitment and obligations to respecting culture, faith and our city’s history.

We have asked several times for answers to the simple questions overleaf, and still await a response from the council. We are now demanding the immediate restoration of the dignity of those interred at the site and unfettered public access to the public park resumed.

The Free Mind

This Sunday’s online service comes from the First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Downpatrick and is conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers. The reading comes from Luke ch.6 v.43-49. Church organist Laura Patterson plays the hymns and also accompanies Molly McCloy who sings ‘My Lighthouse’ as a solo.

Click on the above video to see the service (available from 9.45 am on Sunday, 25th April 2021)

I call that mind free, which, through confidence in God and in the power of virtue, has cast off all fear but that of wrong-doing, which no menace or peril can enthrall, which is calm in the midst of tumults, and possesses itself though all else be lost. (W.E. Channing)

The service makes use of W.E. Channing’s sermon on ‘Spiritual Freedom’ given in Boston, Mass. in May 1830.

William Ellery Channing (1780-1842) by Henry Cheever Pratt, 1857 (Source: Wikimedia Commons Public Domain)

Tercentenary of Ballee

For three hundred years our congregation at Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church has been worshipping in its T-shaped meeting-house of 1721. It couldn’t be described as entirely unchanged since that year – originally the building would have been thatched and at some point later in the eighteenth century it had a new roof built of Memel pine, later still the old box pews were removed and used to fit out new rooms in the church. But still the walls are the same walls that have stood as silent witness to our faith for three hundred years.

To join the service click on the video after 9.45 am on Sunday, 18th April 2021

The service is conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers, and the reading is from John ch.4 v.31-38. The church’s organist, John Strain, plays the hymns Lord of all Hopefulness (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 257) and Sent forth by God’s blessing (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 443). At the start and end of the service John also plays Thine be the glory (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 288).

The video includes many of the special features of this historic church and explores the history of the congregation.

In the Ordnance Survey Memoir for this part of County Down in 1835 it notes that the Presbyterians:

have a house of worship at Ballee bridge, and at the late schism of the Synod of Ulster, the congregation departed from the body and joined the Remonstrants. The minister of the congregation receives 50 pounds a year stipend from his hearers and 75 pounds a year regium donum….

The regium donum was a government grant paid to ministers. But the Ordnance Survey also reports, under a section entitled Habits of the People:

A more intelligent or industrious population is rarely to be found, being punctually honest in their dealings and generally attached to the form of religious worship they profess without being intolerant.

On the Road to Emmaus

Two disciples walk along a dusty road towards Emmaus, a village about seven miles from Jerusalem. In their grief and confusion they are joined by a stranger who talks to them about what they have been through, yet at no point do they recognise him until later when they break bread together.

In today’s service we examine this story and its meaning where Jesus is only known in the breaking of the bread:

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.

Today’s service comes from Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church. It is conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers, with the reading from Luke ch.24 v.13-35 given by Robert Neill. Church organist Alfie McClelland plays Lord of all being, throned afar (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 2) and Come all who look to Christ today (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 236) as well as Praise to the Lord, the Almighty at the start and end of the service. Molly McCloy also sings the solo Bless the Lord, O my soul accompanied by Laura Patterson on the organ at Downpatrick.

Service from Clough, available from 9.45 am on Sunday, 11th April 2021

Click on the above video to join in our act of worship.

Easter 2021

This Sunday our Easter service comes from the First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Downpatrick. We are starting to move back to worship in our churches but are continuing with our online services on YouTube as well.

First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Downpatrick

Easter Service from Downpatrick

Click on the above video (after 9.45 am on Sunday, 4th April) for our Easter service

The service is conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers, and features church secretary Mary Stewart as reader (Matthew ch.28 v.1-10), Molly McCloy as soloist and Laura Patterson as organist. Gerard Manley Hopkins poem Easter is also read.

Good Friday Reflections

Good Friday Reflections 2nd April 2021

Sue Steers gives this reflection on Good Friday which combines an examination of a famous human story from 1912 with Jesus’s sense of destiny and self-sacrifice, looking also at images of Jesus, including this early Byzantine mosaic picturing Jesus without a beard. John Strain plays the organ at Ballee with the hymns My Faith Looks up to Thee (Irish Presbyterian Hymn Book 72), Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 288) and Thou Whose Almighty Word (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 173).

Palm Sunday 2021

Today’s service for Sunday, 28th March celebrates Palm Sunday.

The crowd spread their garments on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.
And the crowds that went before him and that followed him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
And when he entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?”
And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee.”

Matthew ch.21 v.8-11

Our service comes from Dunmurry where Dillon and Haydn read Philippians ch. 2 v.6-11 and John ch.12 v.12-16, the gospel reading complete with palm leaves. Church organist Allen Yarr plays the hymns: Ride on! Ride on in majesty! (Church Hymnary 92) and When I survey the wondrous cross (Church Hymnary 106). The opening and closing shots of the church show the glorious crop of daffodills in the church yard.

Palm Sunday Service, 28th March 2021

Click on the above video to join in the service (after 9.45 am on 28th March 2021)

Hosanna!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

Non-Subscribing Presbyterian History

The Academy Building, Leiden University. One of the places where Rev Samuel Haliday studied

Over recent weeks our online Sunday services have included a number of addresses covering the history of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland. I have now re-edited the first three of these and re-mastered them into four short illustrated talks. I have made a few small editorial changes and added some illustrations and some music.

Together these constitute the first section of a history of the denomination. This section tells the story of the Presbytery of Antrim and the influences and streams of thought that led to its foundation.

A Victorian imagining of the Westminster Assembly in 1644
(John Rogers Herbert c.1844 Wikipedia Commons)

Each of the videos can be accessed from this page. They deal with the events leading up to the Non-Subscribers being placed in the Presbytery of Antrim in 1725 (the plate at the top of this page was presented to the Presbytery on its 250th anniversary by the International Association for Religious Freedom in 1975).

Part One: Origins

Part Two: Enlightenment

Part Three: Scripture Doctrine

Part Four: New Light