The History of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland

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 University of Glasgow in the late seventeenth century

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)

Blessed are the meek

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:

Service Downpatrick, Sunday, 24th January 2021

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

© The Trustees of the British Museum

What does the Lord require of you?

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.’

Sunday Service, 17th January 2021

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.

Search me, O God, and know my heart

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.

Click on the video to join in our service
Ballee NSP Church, built 1721

And suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings

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

Service of worship

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.

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:

Nigel Clarke,
Business Manager, Faith and Freedom,
16 Fairfields, Kirton in Lindsey,
Gainsborough, Lincolnshire.  DN21 4GA.

It’s also possible to pay via PayPal via clicking here.

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:

P1040546

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