God is not only interested in religion

The words at the top of this page are by Marcus Braybrooke. They are a distillation of a longer quotation from William Temple (Archbishop of Canterbury 1942-1944) quoted in Marcus’s book Peace in Our Hearts, Peace in our World:

It is a great mistake to suppose that God

is interested only, or even, primarily in religion.

Religion is more than doing things a certain way, it is about the way we live our lives. Consequently faith is supposed to find its conclusion in the way we live. We are reminded of this in the Letter of James:

What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him?
If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food,
and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?
So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

James ch.2 v.14-17

How we live and how we interact with the world is a measure of how far the Kingdom of God is being constructed.

As Mahatma Gandhi said:

No work that is done in God’s name

And dedicated to God is small.

A scavenger who works in God’s service shares equal distinction

With a king who uses his gifts in God’s name.

This is the theme of today’s online service. Filmed in Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church Alfie McClelland plays the organ and Elsie Nelson gives the reading. The hymns played are Thou Whose Almighty Word (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 173) and Guide me, O Thou Great Jehovah (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 326).

The service can be seen here:

Sunday Worship Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church

Faith and Freedom, Autumn and Winter 2020

The latest issue of Faith and Freedom (Autumn and Winter 2020, Number 191) is now available and on its way to subscribers.

Detail from the William Penn window, Lancaster, Pennsylvania (Photo: Emily Klenin)

In this issue Professor Emily Klenin shares her research into a significant Unitarian Universalist Church building. Geography, History, and the Inner Light: Decorating a Unitarian Church in Central Pennsylvania, 1899 – 1932 explores the story of a unique building. The Unitarian Church of Our Father was established in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1902 and as the new church was built it became the venue for a remarkable experiment in art and design thanks to the involvement of local millionaire M.T. Garvin. According to Professor Klenin there is no evidence that ‘that any of his contemporaries thought him personally interesting’ but Garvin was a secretive and generous philanthropist who bequeathed his department store to his staff and funded the creation of this church in the American Gothic Revival style with Arts and Craft influences. Born a Quaker, M.T. Garvin became a Unitarian and built the church with its Chapel of the Emancipators decorated throughout with stained glass of the highest quality created by the Bavarian firm of F.X. Zettler. The ‘emancipators’ memorialized include William Ellery Channing, Theodore Parker, Joseph Priestley, William Penn, significant American Presidents and many more including a rare window celebrating the League of Nations. Devices and symbols incorporated in the windows are explained by Professor Klenin. In a masterful article Professor Klenin describes the building, its decoration and the influences that led M.T Garvin to create it. Blending theological knowledge with artistic appreciation and considerable technical knowledge she gives a brilliant account of this remarkable building:

The southeast window in this way becomes a focal point for force lines (a structural notion native to engineering…but borrowed by modernist painters) linking windows with pulpit, south window with south window opposite, and southeast with northeast and northwest. But there is more. The light from without, specified textually at the bottom of the window, also finds a vertical counterpart high above the pulpit, in the wooden bas relief showing Quaker founder George Fox, facing the congregation and accompanied by a text stating that he is ‘preaching the Inner Light’.

Further detail from William Penn’s window (Photo: Emily Klenin)

David A. Williams is a distinguished emeritus professor of astronomy and a former President of the Royal Astronomical Society. In Is anybody out there? he examines the most recent research that deals with the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe. How many ‘exoplanets’ have been found orbiting stars in the Milky Way? How many might be in the habitable zone? How long might civilizations last? How might they get in touch? All these things are discussed.

Coronavirus, conspiracy theories and paranoia is the topic discussed by Dr Charles Stewart, a pharmaceutical physician. Dr Stewart looks at how the current outbreak of Covid-19 began and ties this in with various conspiracies and fears. The Rev Frank Walker tells the story of Sebastian Castellio, the Pioneer of Toleration which includes discussion of the role played by Michael Servetus. Catherine Robinson is a member of the Unitarian congregation in Oxford which meets in the chapel of Harris Manchester College. In ‘A Sincere Communion of Souls’: Unitarians in Oxford 130 years ago she tells the story of how the congregation was founded in Oxford, a place then viewed by some Unitarians as ‘a bastion of conformity and orthodoxy’.

There are, as always, some insightful and important reviews – Jim Corrigall on Alastair McIntosh’s latest theological reflection on the climate crisis, Riders on the Storm: The Climate Crisis and the Survival of Being; and on Guy Shrubsole’s Who Owns England? How We Lost Our Green & Pleasant Land & How to Take it Back. Professor Alan Deacon reviews John Barton, A History of the Bible: A Book and its Faiths, a ‘beautiful, affirming book’ which looks at the creation and history of the Biblical texts and their relation to faith and the church. Finally, David Steers reviews a remarkable account by Gladys Ganiel and Jamie Yohanis of the theological impact of the ‘Troubles’ on members of one Irish denomination in Considering Grace. Presbyterians and the Troubles.

Window showing Monticello. Thomas Jefferson’s house, now a
National Historic Landmark and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, saved partly through the exertions of M.T. Garvin (Photo: Emily Klenin)

Emily Klenin’s photographs of the windows of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lancaster, Pennsylvania can be seen at this link:

https://adobe.ly/31HHxiX

An annual subscription to Faith and Freedom costs £15 (postage included). Contact the business manager:

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Email: faithandfreedom@btinternet.com

Postcard from Crumlin

Postcard from Crumlin, June 1908
Message on postcard

I purchased this postcard on eBay recently. It is not in great condition but it is a fairly rare example of a Baird of Belfast postcard of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church at Crumlin. It came with added interest because it was sent by Mrs Ashworth to her friend Mrs Arbuckle of 16 Danube Street, Belfast in June 1908. The message gives us a little glimpse into Non-Subscribing Presbyterian church life in 1908.

Mrs Ashworth, the author, writes in friendly, yet also fairly formal tones to Mrs Arbuckle. Mrs Ashworth (as she describes herself) was the wife of the Rev Alexander Osborne Ashworth minister of York Street Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church at the time. She refers to her husband only as Mr Ashworth in her short note although also mentions a person called Blanche who appears to be their daughter. They are also staying in the manse at Crumlin. ‘Mr Ashworth, Blanche and I’ came to the manse on 1st June, ‘Mr & Mrs Bowen & Jack’ left the same evening for Wales where they would remain for most of the month before returning for a six week stay at Carnlough. Prior to sending the card the Ashworths had made some unsuccessful attempts to meet up with Mrs Arbuckle and her family.

It’s not possible to identify the Mrs Arbuckle, but there is a good chance that she was a member of York Street Church, indeed there was a Mary Arbuckle living on York Street itself in the 1901 census and Danube Street is certainly within the catchment area of York Street Church.

Most of the contents reveal mundane domestic arrangements involving three Belfast families over 110 years ago. But knowing that two of those families were the families of NSP ministers and the fact that it was all written on a postcard depicting Crumlin Church enables us to put some flesh on the bones of this brief correspondence.

Mr and Mrs Bowen were the Rev Samuel Evans Bowen and his wife. S. E. Bowen was called to be minister of Crumlin in 1908, he was ordained later in the year on 3rd September by the Presbytery of Templepatrick. It may be that Alexander Ashworth and his wife were preparing the manse for their arrival, although he was clerk of the Presbytery of Antrim at that time and was still minister of York Street until 1909 when he retired, although he continued as a very active senior minister until 1913 and remained active in his denomination for many years afterwards until his death in 1935. Ashworth was born in the Rossendale valley in Lancashire in 1846 and trained at the Unitarian Home Missionary College. He came to York Street in 1893 after previous ministries in Chatham, Stalybridge, Doncaster and South Shields. For many years he was also the Sunday School Convenor for the Non-Subscribers. This job was no sinecure, in 1909, for instance, he organised the Annual Sunday School Conference at Downpatrick, an event which attracted 450 participants.

Rev A. O. Ashworth in 1909

The Rev Alexander Ashworth is probably hardly remembered today, for one thing the church where he had his longest and most significant ministry was destroyed in the blitz of 1941, but he gave devoted service in many different ways for decades.

Rev S. E. Bowen in 1908

The same was true of S.E. Bowen. Another former student of the Unitarian College in Manchester he was minister in Crumlin for over twenty years (to 1929) before returning to his native Wales to minister at Allt-y-placa, Capel-y-bryn and Cwm Sychbant for 27 years. But with this postcard we get a view of the Crumlin meeting-house. Judging by the trees it is of a similar, although not identical, vintage to the photograph that appeared in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine in October 1908 to accompany the account of his ordination. In both pictures the ivy seems to be contained in identical positions but the postcard shows a small tree or bush to the right of the church which is not there in the magazine image. The postcard could be quite a few years older than the other photograph.

The Crumlin meeting-house is fairly secluded and can’t be seen from the main road. Built in 1835 it replaced an earlier church of 1715. It is a miniature replica of Belfast’s First Presbyterian Church designed by Roger Mulholland. It is interesting that the congregation of Crumlin took that building as a template for their new church over 60 years later.

Crumlin in 1908 (NSP Magazine)
Crumlin in 2019

Whenever I try to take an architectural photograph I always aim to get a shot of the building without the distractions of either people or vehicles. I wasn’t able to do this with this picture of Crumlin taken in the autumn of 2019. The foreground is crowded with cars. But in the long term a photograph of something like a church which includes other details that date it actually makes it more interesting to the viewer. But if I was going to compose the cars for a photograph I wouldn’t park them like that!

The interior of Crumlin has an elegant charm.

Pulpit
Pews

The account of S.E. Bowen’s ordination published in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine is quite full and interesting. In the service the Rev S.E. Bowen said that ‘Unitarians were a people who believed not so much in attempting a definition of religion as in working for truth and liberty, being bound together by a profound belief in the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man.’ Later, over the welcome dinner there were a number of speeches given. Representing the Presbytery of Antrim the Rev W.S. Smith told the whole congregation to pick a day in October and arrive at the manse with a spade ready for three hours of work, leading the author of the report to note that the manse garden must ‘to say the least, be inferior in condition to the Garden of Eden when it was given to the father of all living to dress it and keep it’. The Rev Alexander Gordon was also there speaking highly of S.E. Bowen as a former student of his. He also related how he had recently been in the south of France and attended worship in a Protestant congregation there where the service was conducted by a young man in a congregation that only numbered sixteen, ‘yet he had been favourably impressed with the manifest consciousness of the congregation that they had come to worship, and with the energy and the earnestness of the preacher.’ It made me wonder what else Alexander Gordon did in the south of France in the summer of 1908, I can’t imagine that he just went there to sunbathe.

Front entrance

Sunday Worship from Inch Abbey

Inch Abbey c.1180

Today’s service comes from Inch Abbey in county Down. Service led by Rev Dr David Steers. Also taking part in the service are the Rev Rosalind Taggart and the Rev Norman Hutton.

Readings: Psalm 148 and Matthew ch.5 v.1-12

Organists:

Alfie McClelland, Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church

John Strain, Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church

Hymns:

Glorious things of thee are spoken (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 233)

Seek ye first the kingdom of God (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 272)

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 221)

Sent forth by God’s blessing (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 409)

Click on the above video for today’s service

Time for a Story: Stargazing

This week’s story, told by Sue Steers FRSA, with special animation by InkLightning, features the life of Galileo. It can be seen here:

The life of Galileo

Sunday Worship, Dunmurry 2nd August

 

Dunmurry window 2016

A great eagle, with great wings and long pinions,

rich in plumage of many colours,

came to Lebanon.

He took the top of the cedar,

broke off its topmost shoot;

he carried it to a land of trade,

set it in a city of merchants.

Today’s service comes from Dunmurry with a reading given by church member Emma McCrudden (Ezekiel ch.17 v.1-8) and the hymns played by church organist Allen Yarr.

Eagles are frequently found in the Bible and in Christian iconography. They are often found in churches:

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Lectern Ullet Road Church, Liverpool

 

All Souls Eagle

Lectern All Souls’ Church, Belfast

 

Click on the video to see today’s service from Dunmurry

 

Time for a Story: Navigation

This week’s Time for a Story is filmed in First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Banbridge and deals with the question of finding True North. With illustrations of the North Pole from the British Museum and some special music. How do we find our own internal compass to return home to the place where we wish to be?

North Pole 01

Scenes from the North Pole

First communication with the natives of Boothia Felix. Several figures standing outside igloos, mountain in the background with a flag. 1834 Mezzotint. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Sunday Worship Banbridge, 26th July

Banbridge with Methodist church second

Our service today comes from First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Banbridge. The reading is given by Sam Agnew (Mark ch. 4 v.21-34) and John Strain is the organist, playing the organ at Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church. The hymns are O worship the King, all glorious above (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 21) and God speaks to us in bird and song (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 66).

 

I see an angel waiting to be released

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Michelangelo, the famous Renaissance sculptor, was once encountered chipping away at a large, shapeless block of marble. “What do you see?” someone asked him. Michelangelo replied simply “I see an angel waiting to be released”. (Picture: Ullet Road Church, Liverpool).

 

Click on the above video to see Time for a Story: Neverland which tells the story of a famous statue in Liverpool’s Sefton Park which stands alongside the Palm House there. The video is filmed nearby in the outstanding building of Ullet Road Unitarian Church designed by Thomas and Percy Worthington at the end of the nineteenth and start of the twentieth centuries. The video also features some of the wildlife in the park as well as animation by InkLightning.

Below are some of images taken at the time in the church and in the park that relate to the video.

Sefton Park:

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P1040466

P1040498

Ullet Road Church:

P1040526

P1040534

P1040557

 

Service from Hope Street, Liverpool, Sunday 19th July 2020

L01 10 seconds (1)

This Sunday’s service was filmed on location in Liverpool. It is a praise service, intended also to show our appreciation of all those who contribute music to our services during the lockdown.  In the video we visit Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral, the Roman Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral, the site of the Hope Street Unitarian Church – which are all located on Hope Street – and travel out to the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth, originally built in 1618.

The reading is Psalm 98 and is read by Rosemary Neill of Downpatrick. The organists are: Laura Patterson, Downpatrick; John Strain, Ballee; and Alfie McClelland, Clough.

The hymns sung are:

Onward Christian Soldiers (Mission Praise, 543)

Father Hear the Prayer we Offer (Hymns of Faith and Freedom, 299)

And can it be (Mission Praise, 33)

City of God, how broad and far (Hymns of Faith and Freedom, 299)

Breathe on me, breath of God (Hymns of Faith and Freedom, 177)

All the places visited in the video have been mentioned one way or another on this blog and the following links will give more information about them:

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, designer of the Anglican Cathedral and iconic telephone kiosks

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral under Construction

Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral

The Church on Hope Street

The Ancient Chapel of Toxteth

The 400th anniversary of the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth

Ancient Chapel: then and now

 

 

Also uploaded this week – Time for a Story: The Promise

The story of St Dunstan, 10th-century Abbot of Glastonbury (the ruins of which Abbey can be seen above), Archbishop of Canterbury and the person who devised the Coronation Service still used by British monarchs today. Filmed at Downpatrick with pictures from the British Museum and animation by InkLightning.
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Special Offer from Dunmurry – Rev Mac Floral Designs

A Celtic Way was printed in 2007, by Very Rev William McMillan. The 96 page hard back book contains a wide range of colour images of Rev Mac’s floral arrangements, garden and travels.

Dunmurry congregation have copies of this book to give away. If you would like one, please email: firstdunmurrynsp@gmail.com

Copies can be collected from The Manse, Dunmurry by prior arrangement. If you would like a copy posted, please request bank transfer details. P&P is £4 (UK only).

Visit to Transylvania in 1868

Starting today, and then on each subsequent day, I will be uploading to the new velvethummingbee YouTube channel, a section from John James Tayler’s 1868 ‘Narrative of a Visit to the Unitarian Churches of Transylvania’. Published in The Theological Review for January 1869.

The first instalment can be seen here:

John James Tayler (1797 – 1869) was born in Surrey, the son of a non-conformist minister. At the age of 17 he went to Manchester College, York to be trained for the ministry under the direction of the principal, Charles Wellbeloved.

Portrait JJTayler

John James Tayler (1797–1869). Portrait (1848) by George Patten. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

Proving himself an able scholar he graduated from Glasgow University in 1819 and the following year took on the ministry of Mosley Street Chapel in Manchester. Heavily influenced by the romantic movement, and a friend of Wordsworth, Tayler became one of the leaders of Unitarianism in Britain. A close ally of James Martineau he imbibed much of the new theological thinking from German scholars, particularly after a year spent studying there, and, being fluent in German, corresponded with many German theologians. With Martineau and others he also began to propound a more spiritual and devotional approach to worship which was physically embodied in the building of Upper Brook Street Chapel, the new gothic church built for his congregation to the plans of no less an architect than Sir Charles Barry, the architect of the new houses of parliament.

 

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Upper Brook Street Chapel during its recent restoration as student flats [Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net)]

For a number of years he combined his ministry in Manchester with the role of professor of ecclesiastical history at Manchester College when it had moved back to that city. However, in 1853 when the college moved to London he moved with it and became the principal.

Over the years Manchester New College had an increasing connection with the Unitarian church in Transylvania which traced its history back to the reformation but which had had very little direct contact with groups in Britain until the mid-nineteenth century. Ministerial students from Transylvania travelled to the College as part of their education so by the time of the celebration of the 300th anniversary in 1868 there was a cohort of English-trained ministers in the country. Another connection came through the person of John Paget, a Leicestershire Unitarian partly educated at Manchester College, York, who met and married a Transylvanian countess, Baroness Polyxena Wesselényi, and went to live at Gyéres in Transylvania.

Paget_János

John Paget, Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

Paget was a noted commentator on Hungarian politics, agriculture and education and turned his estates into a model of modern agriculture. His two volume account of his travels and experiences in the country, Hungary and Transylvania; with Remarks on their Condition, Social, Political, Economical (1839), illustrated by George Hering, became essential reading across Europe and remains an important text today. He was known to Tayler who also made use of Paget’s book in his account of his journey. Paget’s home, estates and vineyards had been ransacked in 1849-50 following the Hungarian war of independence and he and his family were forced to flee to England for a number of years. By 1869 he had been back in Transylvania for about fourteen years and Tayler and his daughter were able to visit him and his wife on their way to Torda.

Old tower at Klausenberg

Illustration by George Hering from John Paget’s ‘Hungary and Transylvania’

Every day I am going to read an extract from Tayler’s ‘Narrative’ as we follow him through his journey through Transylvania to join in the celebrations of the 300th anniversary of the Edict of Torda and will upload the readings on my personal YouTube channel.

To be certain of receiving an update for each new video click on the subscribe button at the end of the video.

gyulafehervar 02

David Steers (at the time Moderator of the Presbytery of Antrim); György Jakubinyi, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Gyulafehérvár; Ferenc Bálint Benczédi, Bishop of the Hungarian Unitarian Church, at the cathedral, Gyulafehérvár in January 2018. The view at the top of the page is also the cathedral at Gyulafehérvár.

I was very honoured to be asked to attend the 450th anniversary celebrations of the anniversary of the Edict of Torda in 2018 and I will include some pictures from that time with the ‘Narrative’ along with a few other illustrations by George Hering from John Paget’s book and from other sources.

There is further information to read concerning my experiences in Transylvania on this blog in the following posts:

Edict of Torda

Gyulaféhervár

Inscriptions in Kolozsvár

Anniversary of the Edict of Torda

Diet of Torda 450 forint stamp

 

Worship Sunday, 17th May: Dunmurry

Dunmurry window

This week our service is recorded at the First Presbyterian NS Church, Dunmurry and Allen Yarr, the church organist, has very kindly provided music on piano for two hymns plus some additional music for the opening and closing of the service. The hymns are:

‘The Church Hymnary’ No. 704 ‘Yield not to temptation’

‘The Church Hymnary’ No.532 ‘Stand up! Stand up for Jesus’

The reading is from John ch. 2 v.13-2 and the address contains some reflection of Philip Larkin’s poem Church Going.

It pleases me to stand in silence here;

 

A serious house on serious earth it is,

In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,

Are recognized, and robed as destinies.

And that much never can be obsolete

In the end though our spiritual relationship with the divine is about something more than any building.

 

Over this last week we also uploaded another video, one which tells the little-known story of Henry Croft. His life-size, but diminutive, statue is hidden underneath Trafalgar Square in London. As such it is the complete antithesis of the giant statue of Lord Nelson that sits high in the sky, almost touching the clouds. You can hear all about the life of Henry Croft on this Time for a Story video above.

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View looking across Trafalgar Square from Charing Cross, towards the National Gallery and Nelson’s Column, St Martin’s Church on the far right, in the foreground to the left is the equestrian statue of Charles I, the surrounding streets busy with pedestrians, riders, coaches and carriages. 1852 Colour lithograph. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Worship in a Church of the Polish Brethren

Kolosy date 02

There are a number of previous posts on this blog about the Minor Reformed Church/Polish Brethren and my visit to Poland in the summer of 2019. They can be seen here:

The Polish Brethren

Fausto Sozzini, the Polish Brethren and Kraków

The Dominican Church of the Holy Trinity and the Unitarian history of Kraków

Raków

The grave of Fausto Sozzini

But I have now uploaded to YouTube a video of the short act of worship we held on Sunday, 28th July 2019 in the former Polish Brethren church at Kolosy.

To be honest there is a lot wrong with this video – sound, picture, continuity, all are faulty in one way or another. It was recorded on a device that was seriously unreliable, indeed the picture cuts out altogether towards the end although the sound continues for a little bit longer. However, the end of the film now contains a number of still images of the former church at Kolosy, both exterior and interior shots, and closes with the text of the Lord’s Prayer in Polish which we tried, but did not succeed, in saying together in that language.

It is reproduced here because it represents a rare if not quite unique event – an act of worship in a church of the Polish Brethren/Minor Reformed Church, a church which was suppressed during the counter-reformation in 1658, just four years after this little church was built.

The service is led by myself, the Rev Dr Sándor Kovács (Unitarian, Kolozsvár, Transylvania), and the Rev Dr Roger Jones (UU, Sacramento, California). We were part of an organised tour of sites connected with the Polish Brethren in July and August 2019. Although a service was planned for this day this was essentially an impromptu act of worship because the Rev Dr Jay Atkinson, who was to have led the service, was unfortunately taken ill on the way to the building and had to go to hospital. So it fell to the three other clergy present to devise a service on the way. This is the service which is presented in the video, albeit in rather imperfect form. The chapel was built in 1654 and closed in 1658 but somehow has survived to the present day, perhaps being used as a store for many years. But it is still immediately recognisable as a place of worship.