Having reached the letter ‘D’ in our alphabetical survey we look at ‘Doors’.
Doors are both highly symbolic and completely essential for our meeting-houses. In this service we look at the doors we find in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland.
In religious art perhaps the most famous image of a door is that found in William Holman Hunt’s Light of the World:
A more ornate image than the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church doors that appear in today’s film. An image inspired by the reading used in today’s service:
Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.
Revelation ch.3 v.20.
What meaning can we find in the doors of our churches, what can they tell us of our attitudes and faith?
Today’s service comes from Dunmurry. The pianist is Allen Yarr who plays Ye holy angels bright (Church Hymnary 39) Yield not to temptation (Church Hymnary 704) and Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, by J.S. Bach. The reading is Revelation ch.3 v.20-22.
All the doors mentioned in the video can be seen on my Non-Subscribing Presbyterian History blog beginning here: Portals to a Liberal Faith
And remember each week we will upload a new video that will go live on Sundays at 9.45 am. The services can be found on our YouTube channel. Click here to see the videos
At first sight it might seem strange to select Collecting Ladles as the subject for letter ‘C’ in our alphabetical exploration of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church. But Collecting Ladles formed a fairly essential part of church life for Presbyterians in Ireland and Scotland for generations. In some places they are still in use today but often aren’t recognized by those outside the Scots-Irish Presbyterian community. The above picture perfectly illustrates their use in a church in Scotland. It is a delightful image, although the people in the pew being asked for their offering seem to display something of the modern concept of the ‘messy church’ more than anything else. But collecting ladles also lead us into questions of giving and the stewardship of resources.
Our service today is filmed in Downpatrick. Church organist Laura Patterson plays the hymns God has spoken to his people’ (Mission Praise 182) and How can I keep from singing (Hymns for Living 133/Mission Praise 1210). The reading is 2 Corinthians ch.9 v.6-8.
The latest issue of Faith and Freedom (Spring and Summer 2021, Number 192) has just been published.
Our cover features a striking image that is a piece of ‘discovered art’. A picture by an unknown New Zealand artist which complements so well Wayne Facer’s book A Vision Splendid: The Influential Life of William Jellie, A British Unitarian in New Zealand, which has recently gone into its second edition. The picture also appears on the cover of that book. This publication is the subject of an extensive essay and review by Graham Murphy. In Unitarianism in New Zealand: Essay and Review he uncovers the origins of Unitarianism in New Zealand through the exertions of British and Irish expatriates, most notably Moneyreagh-born William Jellie, and their relationship with Maori culture and the development of the colony right up to the devastating impact of the First World War.
Colin Walker writes about The commemoration of three Ulster Unitarians who died at the Somme: Captain James Samuel Davidson, Lieutenant James Dermot Neill and Second Lieutenant Ernest George Boas. They were all the sons of prominent Ulster businessmen, all served in the 36th ‘Ulster’ Division and all were commemorated by plaques created by Ulster artist Rosamond Praeger who was herself a Unitarian and probably knew all three of them personally. All were caught up in the Home Rule Crisis immediately before the war and all of them signed the Ulster Covenant, including Ernest Boas who was Jewish by descent but brought up in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church. Dr Walker skilfully unpacks the connections between them and also Rosamond Praeger (who like Ernest Boas was also from an originally Jewish family) and reflects on their faith and their legacy.
In Incarnation: the Supernaturalist Story and the Humanitarian Story, a sermon originally preached in Cambridge, Frank Walker assesses the way the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation can be understood in the light of humanity’s repeated cruelty and excesses, seen most notably in the Holocaust. Despite the obvious problems he finds reason to be optimistic: ‘Incarnation is a continuing reality. Creative energy is forever expressing itself in all the glorious and stupendous variety of life on earth and in the whole universe. And life, which often seems so fragile and vulnerable, subject to catastrophes and extinctions, is so tenacious and adaptable, and is constantly renewing itself’.
A Chautauqua performance is ‘a uniquely American dramatic format’ in which is portrayed an individual historic figure, ‘as if returning to life to address the audience’. Back in the Spring and Summer issue of Faith and Freedom in 2019 Kevin Murphy provided us with a Chautauqua performance concerning Francis David. In this issue he does the same for one of the most prominent American Unitarian theologians in history. An Appearance of William Ellery Channing: A Chautauqua Performance is a wonderfully insightful exploration of the theology that Channing came to espouse in the context of the circumstances of his life.
Martin Camroux (foreword by David R. Peel), Keeping Alive the Rumor of God: When Most People are Looking the Other Way, WIPF & Stock, Eugene, Oregon, 2020, pp 204, ISBN 978-1-7252-6241-6, £20 pbk.
Accessing a reliable grounding in wonder
Reviewed by BOB JANIS DILLON
Bert Clough, Dancing with Mortality: Reflections of a Lapsed Atheist, Bert Clough, Newbury, England, 2020, pp 111, ISBN 978-1-8381695- 0-3, £10 pbk.
Finding truth through the lives of ‘great souls’
Reviewed by JIM CORRIGALL
Marcus Braybrooke, Meeting Jewish Friends and Neighbours, Marcus Braybrooke, 17 Courtiers Green, Abingdon, OX14 3EN, firstname.lastname@example.org, 2020, pp 225, ISBN 9798564270243, £12.50 post free.
A comprehensive analysis of Jewish faith and life
Reviewed by PETER GODFREY
Wayne Facer, Prophet at the Gate. Norman Murray Bell and the Quest for Peace, Blackstone Editions, Toronto, 2021, ISBN 9781775355656, $25 NZD pbk.
Norman Murray Bell – Pacifist and anti-war campaigner in New Zealand
Reviewed by GRAHAM MURPHY
Catherine Robinson (ed.), Fragments of Holiness, The Lindsey Press, London, 2019, pp 205, ISBN 978-0-85319-091-2, £9 pbk.
An anthology for daily use
Reviewed by LENA COCKROFT
Cliff Reed. Beyond Darkness Words for Reflection, Lindsey Press, London, pp 134, ISBN 978-0-85319-095-0, £9 pbk.
Waking up to the Divine within you
Reviewed by DAVID STEERS
An annual subscription for each volume (two issues) costs £15.00 (postage included) in the United Kingdom. Single copies can be ordered at a cost of £8.00 each (postage included). Cheques should be made out to Faith and Freedom and sent to the business manager:
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Churches in County Down are replete with interesting ancient mausolea and tombs and this is especially true in the area around Lecale, most particularly amongst the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches, and the churchyard at Downpatrick, for instance, alone has eight or nine large tombs of different designs.
But the most celebrated Mausoleum of all is at Clough.
The Murland Mausoleum was built in about 1860 by a family who were closely connected to the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian congregation at Clough for generations. The Murland family were wealthy local mill owners, they lived at Ardnabannon and it is thought that the architect who designed their house also designed the family mausoleum. This was Thomas Turner, a Dublin-born architect who began his career as an assistant to Charles Lanyon in Belfast and who had a long and productive career designing buildings all over Ireland including Stormont Castle and Coleraine Town Hall.
But it is very clear when you look at the Murland Mausoleum that this was the work of someone steeped in the designs of classical architecture and particularly ancient funerary architecture. The inverted torch is used in Christian iconography to represent the resurrection and the eternal life of the soul. But it actually goes back to ancient Greece where it represented Thanatos the Greek god of death.
It is a very rich design.
Professor James Stevens Curl describes it as
something one might expect to find in the cemetery of Père-Lachaise or in one of the great American cemeteries, rather than in a small rural churchyard in the shadow of the Mountains of Mourne.
The Ulster Architectural Heritage Society list describes the mausoleum as ‘the phenomenal Murland vault of about 1860, furnished with all the pompe funebre of the classical manner, with trimmings.’
For local schoolchildren it is a place well-known for decades as somewhere where the bravest of them could stand near the open grill and peer in at the coffins resting in the dusty gloom.
As such an old structure the building was gradually becoming in need of restoration and to see this done the church was able to partner with the experience and expertise of the Follies Trust, a body set up in 2006 to help, in their own words, with ‘the conservation, preservation, restoration and protection, in their original setting, of mausolea and monuments; follies; grottoes; garden buildings and other structures of particular beauty or historic, environmental, architectural or industrial significance.’
At the church we were very pleased to welcome local expert Dr Finbar McCormick of Queen’s University, Belfast who gave a fascinating talk on the history and development of memorials to the dead in Ireland and beyond, looking at the influence of the Reformation and classical ideas.
This was a prelude to the work being done on the mausoleum. A number of specialists have looked at the building, and the job of restoring the structure was given to Noel Killen, noted for his work in restoring the nearby Mill at Ballydugan.
Generally, considering its great age, the building was in good shape but there was lots to be done to make the structure fully watertight and secure again for the future. Stonework that had crumbled had to be replaced. The iron work in the grills and the heavy door had to be conserved. They were also repainted in the original colour, which had largely long faded from view.
Work commenced in August 2019 and was completed within a few months. To mark the completion of this work and the collaboration that was involved we planned a special service of celebration with representatives of the Follies Trust and others, but this wasn’t to be. Like so many other plans it fell foul of the pandemic and couldn’t be held. But the important thing is that this striking and unique structure is now restored and fit to last for another 160 years.
Our worship this week comes from Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church and among other things it considers the next step in our history of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church. This year is also the tercentenary of Ballee NSP Church building, although the lockdown caused by the pandemic has so far prevented us from celebrating this milestone in the way we had intended.
The reading is taken from Psalm 145 v.1-9. Church organist John Strain plays the hymns Come let us sing of a wonderful love (Junior Mission Praise 29) and Courage friend and do not stumble (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 329). As well as marking Mothers Day our service also considers the third part of the history of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland.
International Women’s Day
For this week’s ‘Time for a Story’ Sue Steers has put together this short film for the week of International Women’s Day. It looks at the lives of four women, from different eras, who made a difference to society and the world around them.
In part two of the history of the NSPCI mention was made of Rev Samuel Clarke, Rector of St James’s Piccadilly (or Westminster depending on which location you prefer) who published ‘The Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity’ in 1712. A radical and widely read Anglican theologian in the early eighteenth century, Ballee NSP Church (which has had its own library since the 1830s) actually has eight volumes of Samuel Clarke’s sermons.
But although these were published in 1743 they didn’t come to Ballee then. A signed dedication reveals that they were given by the Rev David Maginnis (who was born in Downpatrick and became minister of York Street in Belfast) to the Rev John Porter, born in Moneyreagh and, in 1850, about to commence his ministry in Ringwood, Hampshire where he stayed for ten years before coming to Ballee in 1860. An interesting indication of a friendship between two radically inclined Non-Subscribing ministers in the mid-nineteenth century, still valuing the works of an Anglican radical of one hundred years before.
It is interesting to note that the volumes originally belonged to an owner who had their own coat of arms which was reproduced in the books as a bookplate. But at some point the name or motto that appeared underneath the coat of arms has been scored out. So, unless an expert in heraldry can tell us who the arms belonged to, we don’t know who the original owner was.
The latest issue of Faith and Freedom (Autumn and Winter 2020, Number 191) is now available and on its way to subscribers.
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’.
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.
Emily Klenin’s photographs of the windows of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lancaster, Pennsylvania can be seen at this link:
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:
Lectern Ullet Road Church, Liverpool
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?
There was a good attendance at Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church for the annual service of Harvest Thanksgiving on Sunday, 20th October. The special guest preacher was the Rev Dr Will Patterson, such a good friend of the congregation, with special music being provided by the Flutes of Mourne, making their first visit to the Church. Flutes of Mourne played a beautiful selection of pieces during the service. The Church was wonderfully decorated throughout.
The First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Stream Street, Downpatrick held their annual service of Harvest Thanksgiving on Sunday, 6th October. The special guest preacher was Sam Shaw, a missioner with an ecumenical order who delivered an inspiring address based on the story of the Good Samaritan.
Photo: Mary Stewart
Special music was provided by the choral group Counterpoint, with their conductor Dr Norman Richardson who has also had a long career working in peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.
Photo: Marion Moffett
Counterpoint are now in their 70th year and a sang a wonderful, varied and impressive programme. During the service we dedicated the church’s new loop system for the hard of hearing which had been made possible by a generous gift from the Baptist Church in Downpatrick which was given on its closure recently. Sam Shaw was an elder in that church and during the service we expressed our thanks for that generous act by the Baptists in Downpatrick. We were delighted to welcome Sam and his wife Silvana with their children Seán and Aislinn. The church organist was Laura Patterson. The church was beautifully decorated throughout with varied themes on the window ledges expressing different aspects of harvest and the challenges that we face in stewarding and protecting the world’s resources, accompanied also with appropriate prayers for creation.
The Catholic Apostolic Church was a remarkable church which combined revivalist enthusiasm with liturgical worship and married a millenarian theology with prophetic ministry. Because of their belief in the imminent second coming they set up a system that ultimately proved to guarantee their own obsolescence. Believing that the second coming of Christ was very near they tried to re-establish the offices of the primitive church starting with Apostles in 1832 which had reached the full number by 1835. Since only they could ordain the prophets, evangelists, pastors, ‘angels’ (bishops), deacons and other orders down to doorkeepers, the death of the last apostle in 1901, before the return of the Lord, meant that there was no longer any possibility of continuing in the long term.
I am not sure how many Catholic Apostolic churches there ever were but their churches were very grand and required sophisticated architectural designs. Because they tended to include in their number many wealthy people they were often able to design and build some quite magnificent buildings. The church in Gordon Square in London, now leased to various Anglican groups, would be the best surviving example of their architecture, but the Roman Catholic Church in Bristol was originally Catholic Apostolic and is another impressive building, in this case having a classical design. I did see the less grand Catholic Apostolic church in Belfast before it was suddenly demolished but wasn’t able to take a photograph of it. Indeed an online search does not produce any images of this building, although it would be nice to think some images are preserved somewhere. It seems to have given up its licence to conduct marriages in 1954.
This excursion into the world of the now vanished Catholic Apostolic Church was prompted by the discovery of an old USB on which I had transferred at some point a couple of slides featuring the Catholic Apostolic Church on Catharine Street, Liverpool. It closed at some point in the 1970s and later was used by the New Testament Church of God. Later still it passed into secular use, then became badly dilapidated before being burnt down in the mid-1980s.
The church in the mid-1980s
I found these images on the USB, originally taken as 35 mm slides the first of which I must have taken in about 1985 and the second in 1986. The first shows the church when it was unused and beginning to show signs of neglect. The second shows the view from the side towards the high altar after it was destroyed by fire. A great shame that such an unusual building was lost. Pevsner recorded that the plan of the building had been revealed to the first minister in a dream. He also said there were Flemish roundels incorporated in the stained glass windows. Whatever was there the little that survived was subsequently demolished and a block of flats built on the site.
The ruined interior after the fire
The image at the top of the page is a detail from an aerial view of Liverpool by John R. Isaac in 1859 and published in New York. This is a view from a hot air balloon and can be viewed on the Library of Congress site here.
Amongst the churches found in that image is the Catholic Apostolic Church on the corner of Catharine Street and Canning Street, it can be seen slightly to the right of centre still with its spire which was removed in the early 1970s. An account of all the churches in that picture can be read in an earlier post: Seven Churches in Liverpool in 1859 viewed from the air.
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