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.
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.
This week our service of worship comes from Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church. The service is conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers, and the reading, from Matthew ch.3 .v.4-17, is given by Carol Nixon. John Strain, church organist plays the hymns In Christ Alone and Take my life, and let it be.
Today we consider the baptism of Jesus and this encounter related in Matthew’s gospel between Jesus and John the Baptist on the banks of the River Jordan. A moment of revelation – not least for Jesus himself – but also a moment of change where we move from a prophet warning that His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire to Jesus’ vision of a kingdom where the least are greatest of all: Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.
You can also listen to our joint service between Ballee, Clough and Downpatrick Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Churches broadcast live from Downpatrick on BBC Radio Ulster on Sunday, 22nd May 2005 here:
In Micah chapter 6 verse 8 we read the famous statement:
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
In our service today, from Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, we explore how you can summarize – in a few words or a sentence – the real meaning of faith.
On one occasion someone asked Rabbi Hillel to recite the whole of the Torah while standing on one leg. He said simply, ‘What is hateful to you, do not do to others. That is the whole of Torah, the rest is commentary on it.’
The service is conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers. Robert Neill gives the reading from Micah ch.6 v.6-8 and Alfie McClelland, the church organist, plays the hymns which are Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 22), Sun of my soul, thou Saviour dear (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 439) and Rejoice! the Lord is King (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 62). Click on the above video to see the service.
We have three services online over the Christmas period all of which can be accessed from this post.
Our service for Christmas Eve on Thursday 24th December is filmed in First Dunmurry (NS) Presbyterian Church and conducted by Rev Dr David Steers. The readings include A Visit from St Nicholas, read by Sue Steers, The Oxen by Thomas Hardy and It is a good thing to observe Christmas day by Henry van Dyke. Church organist Allen Yarr plays the carols O Come all ye faithful, O Little Town of Bethlehem and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. Ballee organist John Strain plays It came upon the midnight clear and Laura Neill plays Jingle Bells on the bagpipes. Special thanks to InkLightning for the Father Christmas artwork.
Our Christmas Day service is filmed in Clough, Ballee and Downpatrick churches. Conducted by Rev Dr David Steers the readings are given by Sophia Cleland (Luke ch.2 v.8-20) and Eve Lightbody (Matthew ch.2 v.1-12). Music includes God rest ye merry gentlemen played on keyboards and sung by Dillon and Haydn Howell; Silent Night played by Laura Neill on the bagpipes and Laura Patterson on the organ of the First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Downpatrick; Mary’s Boy Child; Joy to the World; The First Nowell; Jingle Bells/Christ is born today; When a child is born, all played by John Strain on the organ of Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church.
Sunday, 27th December
Filmed at Inch Abbey in county Down and conducted by Rev Dr David Steers our service for the last Sunday in 2020 includes as readings Llananno by R.S. Thomas and an extract from My Cathedral: A Vision of Friendship by Alexander Irvine. Jack Steers plays It came upon the midnight clear on the trumpet, Downpatrick organist Laura Patterson plays In the bleak mid-winter, and John Strain plays While shepherds watched their flocks by night and O little town of Bethlehem on the organ at Ballee.
Our service for the first Sunday in Advent comes from Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church. Advent begins this year with Northern Ireland once again back in lockdown, this time for two weeks. As before we are not allowed to have public worship in our churches, but as we have done throughout the pandemic we have an online service on our YouTube channel every Sunday.
The service for Advent can be seen here:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.
Isaiah ch.9 v.2
Today’s reading is from Jeremiah ch.33 v.14-16 and is read by Haydn Howell. Church organist John Strain plays the hymns Come, thou long-expected Jesus (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 110) and How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 111). John also plays Promised Lord and Christ is he and Make way, make way.
The closing scenes of the video includes film of some Whooper Swans in a field in the shadow of the Mountains of Mourne. Newly arrived from Iceland they spend the winter here and currently share their field with some Greylag Geese:
We thank Thee for the stars wherewith Thou hast spangled the raiment of darkness, giving beauty to the world when the sun withdraws its light. All this magnificence is but a little sparklet that has fallen from Thy presence, Thou Central Fire and Radiant Light of all! These are but reflections of Thy wisdom, Thy power, and Thy glory!
Many of the most vivid phrases that have passed into everyday use in the English language originate in either the Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible or in Shakespeare. That is the starting point for our service today. The Bible requires translation for it to be intelligible and it requires interpretation to achieve any relevance for its hearers. For the best part of three centuries one version – the Authorized Version of 1611 – held sway in the English-speaking world. From the end of the nineteenth century onwards this has changed as a plethora of translations have emerged reflecting changes in language and Biblical understanding.
“Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asks the Ethiopian in Acts ch.8 v.27-40. “How can I, unless some one guides me?” he replies (RSV), or “How can I, unless someone explains it to me?” as the NIV says.
Today’s service comes from Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church. The reading (2 Timothy ch.3 v.14-ch.4 v.8) is given by Robert Neill (Downpatrick) and Alfie McClelland plays the hymns Through all the changing scenes of life and Jesus the very thought of Thee.
The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches of Downpatrick, Ballee and Clough are marking the time of Harvest with an online service. The service features readings delivered by members, hymns played on the organs of the three churches by the church organists and film of farming activity across the locality provided by church members.
The service can be viewed here:
The service is led by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers with readings given by:
Elsie Nelson, Deuteronomy ch.26 v.1-4, 8-11
Robert Neill, Psalm 65 v.5-13
Sophia Cleland, Mark ch.4 v.26-34
The Church Organists are:
Laura Patterson, Downpatrick
Come ye thankful people come (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 454)
We plough the fields and scatter (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 456)
Alfie McClelland, Clough
Rejoice the Lord is King (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 62)
John Strain, Ballee
Holy is the seed time
The God of Harvest Praise (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 457)
Today is St Patrick’s Day (17th March) but it comes in the midst of our growing awareness of the threat of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Among other things it looks like this virus is going to put the normal operation of churches out of action. Earlier today the Church of England announced the suspension of its Sunday services and a number of other denominations in Britain and Ireland have since followed suit. In their letter the Archbishops of Canterbury and York talk of putting less emphasis on weekly worship and more emphasis on giving daily prayers and support to those around us. I am sure this is a model that others will take up and although we face a lot of difficulties there are ways we can develop new forms of ministry that reach out to people and provide meaningful support in these testing times.
I uploaded a video to our new You Tube channel reflecting on this situation:
Over the weekend before St Patrick’s Day, in our Downpatrick Church, we had to take down the venerable old horse chestnut that stood at the back of the church. Sadly it was rotten in many places and was becoming a danger. Its age has been estimated at 300 years, so it is probably as old as the church itself. You can see the growth rings in the side view of the trunk telling us of the changing patterns of growth in each different year. It had surveyed the world through rebellion, industrial revolution, famine, two world wars and all the countless human experiences that have gone on in the church, as well as provide generations of children with conkers. We will now have to consider planting new trees to replace it.
James Robinson lent me this Calendar from Clough dating to 1956. As the caption says it shows the Sunday School before the Flower Service in July 1954. I think the Rev George Buckley made a Calendar for each year he was minister of Ballee and Clough and I will search out any more of them that we can post online. But this one is particularly interesting because it shows the members of the Sunday School. The Flower Service was an important annual service in Clough in those days and many members remember it. Mr Buckley took the picture one year and used it in the Calendar eighteen months later. I am sure everyone in the photo can be identified and a great many of them are regular attenders in the church to this day. It would be nice to put a name to each of the children so that we can post those online too.
Downpatrick: Then and Now
I am grateful to Mary Stewart and Thelma Lowry for the next image which is of the interior of Downpatrick in 1967 immediately following its previous renovation and redecoration in the 1960s. This picture was taken on the day of Thelma’s wedding in the church:
As can be seen the colour scheme is quite different to what we are used to today as this picture taken by Down County Museum in 2014 shows:
In the five years since this picture was taken a number of features have changed, including the addition of furniture and wall plaques. The ‘Squire’s Gallery’ is tidier too! But there is a different feel entirely to the interior, which is believed to be one much closer to the original interior of 1711.
I was pleased to lead members of Reclaim the Enlightenment on a tour of no less than seven Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Churches on Saturday, 26th October. We were fortunate to enjoy a beautiful bright day and although we couldn’t see everything or hear the full story in each place we did cover a lot of ground and saw a great deal. We visited, in turn, All Souls’, Belfast; Dunmurry (where the ladies kindly provided very welcome sustenance in the form of tea and scones); Rademon; Clough; Downpatrick; Ballee and Killinchy. As we went around the congregations we were welcomed by clergy and church members and I gave a talk about each church in each place except in Rademon where Jim Ferris gave a wonderful talk about his church. Below are some images from the day. You can read about Reclaim the Enlightenment here.
Refreshments at Dunmurry
Members of Reclaim the Enlightenment at Downpatrick