The A to Z of Non-Subscribing Presbyterianism: Collecting Ladles

Collecting the Offering in a Scottish Kirk by John Phillip, 1855. (Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons. York Museums Trust)

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.

To see the service click on the above video after 9.45 am on Sunday, 11th July

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.

Eighteenth-century collecting ladle Downpatrick (two ladles from Ballee at the top of the page)

In May

The Welsh poet W.H. Davies (1871-1940) lived a difficult life (described in his Autobiography of a Super-Tramp of 1908) but achieved a high level of popular appreciation for his verses during his lifetime. He is probably best known today for his poem Leisure.

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

In today’s service I make use of another of his poems, one that is, perhaps, less well-known – In May. It features in our act of worship from First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Downpatrick.

Click on the video to join our service which goes live at 9.45 am on Sunday, 23rd May 2021

The service is conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers and the organist is Laura Patterson. The reading is Psalm 103 and the hymns played are 10,000 Reasons, Great is thy faithfulness, and Be still for the presence of the Lord.

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)

In the Garden of Eden

The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is a powerfully potent one in the human imagination. Often seen as the source of sin in the world, in today’s service we examine this well-known story in the light of a view of the Bible that is less hidebound by fundamentalism and a literal approach and which relies instead on the use of human imagination and appreciates the importance of metaphor. A tradition that goes back at least to the writings of Origen.

The service comes from the First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Downpatrick and is conducted by the Rev David Steers. The reading is from Genesis ch.2 v.15 – ch.3 v.8. Church organist Laura Patterson plays You are my strength, When He cometh and For the beauty of the earth.

Evening in Lissagally (Photo: Paul Eliasberg) From the 2018 ‘Faith and Freedom’ Calendar

So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field.

(Genesis ch.2 v.19-20).

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

Christmas Service of Carols and Readings

If you can’t get to church on Sunday amidst all the current restrictions or, indeed, if you have been to church but would like to join in another Christmas service, you can click on our video and join in our Service of Carols and Readings.

Filmed partly in Downpatrick it features music played on the organs at Ballee and Downpatrick plus music on the trumpet and bagpipes as well as readers from different churches who re-tell the Christmas story.

Click on the video to see the service:

Service of Christmas Carols and Readings, Downpatrick

Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church

First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Downpatrick

Christmas Carol Service

Sunday, 20th December 2020

  1. O Come, O come, Emmanuel (played by Jack on the trumpet)
  2. Opening Words Rev Dr David Steers
  3. 1st Reading Isaiah ch.9 v.2, 6-7 Nigel
  4. 1st Carol O Come, all ye faithful (played by Laura on the bagpipes)
  5. 1st Carol O Come, all ye faithful (played by John on the organ at Ballee)
  6. 2nd Reading Isaiah ch.11 v.1-9 Margaret
  7. 2nd Carol O little town of Bethlehem (John)
  8. 3rd Reading Isaiah ch.40 v.1-5 Rosemary
  9. 3rd Carol Once in Royal David’s City (John)
  10. 4th Reading Luke ch.1 v.26-35 Adele
  11. 4th Carol The first Nowell (played by Laura on the organ at Downpatrick))
  12. 5th Reading Matthew ch.1 v.18-25 Emma
  13. 5th Carol Mary’s Boy Child (Laura)
  14. 6th Reading Luke ch.2 v.1-7 Emma
  15. 6th Carol Silent night! (John)
  16. 7th Reading Luke ch.2 v.8-20 Noelle
  17. 7th Carol See amid the winter snow (Laura)
  18. 8th Reading Matthew ch.2 v.1-12 Mary
  19. 8th Carol Hark! The Herald Angels sing (John)
  20. 9th Reading John ch.1 v.1-14 Robert
  21. Prayer
  22. 9th Carol Joy to the world (Laura)
  23. Benediction
  24. A Great and Mighty Wonder (John)

O thou eternal Wisdom, whom we partly know and partly do not know;

O thou eternal Justice, whom we partly acknowledge, but never wholly obey;

O thou eternal Love, whom we love a little, but fear to love too much:

Open our minds, that we may understand;

Work in our wills, that we may obey;

Kindle our hearts, that we may love thee.

Amen

Remembrance Sunday 2020

In so many places tomorrow Remembrance Services have either been curtailed or cancelled because of the pandemic. This is one of the many inevitable consequences of the situation around the coronavirus. Nevertheless, many churches will hold a service of Remembrance on Sunday morning, at least they will in Northern Ireland although obviously not in other places such as England where a lockdown has again closed the churches. I will be leading two Remembrance services tomorrow and we also have an online Remembrance Service which can be viewed here:

Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Remembrance Service, Sunday, 8th November 2020

Our service comes from Downpatrick and features the two memorials which we have in the church. One is the First World War memorial which includes the names of all the members of the congregation who served in the war as well as three who are listed as having died in the war. When I researched the details for the Roll of Honour of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland in 2018 I discovered that many church war memorials, although often cast in bronze or carved in marble, sometimes didn’t quite match the records as we know them today. So in the case of the Downpatrick memorial one of the members who is listed as having served actually died in 1920 from wounds he received at Ypres and his grave is recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. So four members of the congregation were killed through fighting in the First World War.

We also have a second memorial which includes a poppy from the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation which was on show in the Tower of London in 2014 and which was given in memory of Rifleman John Hayes. Click on the following link to read about this:

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red poppy dedicated at Downpatrick

In today’s video I have also included an image of every Non-Subscribing Presbyterian twentieth-century war memorial of which I am aware.

Detail from the illuminated Roll of Honour of the First Presbyterian Church, Rosemary Street, Belfast

Time for a Story

On 4th November 1922 Howard Carter finally discovered the entrance to the tomb of Tutankhamun. In this week’s Time for a Story Sue Steers tells this fascinating tale. The video can be seen here:

Time for a Story: Tutankhamun

For the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life

Last week we were considering the legacy of Rev Henry Montgomery and using the story in Mark’s gospel of Jesus and the disciples walking through the grainfields and plucking the ears of corn to eat on the Sabbath. In its own way this was a template for being prepared to radically reform religious practice whenever it is deemed essential.

No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; if he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made.
And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but new wine is for fresh skins.

Mark ch.2 v.21-22.

Today’s service continues with this theme. Filmed in the First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Downpatrick the reading is from 2 Corinthians ch.3 v.1-6 and is given by church secretary Mary Stewart. Laura Patterson plays the hymns How deep the Father’s love for us and Great is thy faithfulness. Click on the following link to join in the service:

If you look closely at the film outside the Church in Downpatrick at the start and during the hymns you will catch glimpses of the Swifts flying about the church yard.

Sunday Worship from Downpatrick

Today our service comes from Downpatrick and considers the career of the Rev David Maginnis who was born in Downpatrick and whose family belonged to the congregation.

An exploration of the life and ministry of Rev David Maginnis

b. Woodgrange, Downpatrick, 6th February 1821.
Educated Belfast Academical Institution, Queen’s College, Belfast


Minister York Street, Belfast and Stourbridge

d. Stourbridge, 11th August 1884

The interior of York Street NSP Church, Belfast where Rev David Maginnis ministered. This building was the third building on the same site. It was destroyed in the blitz of 1941

Service from First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Downpatrick 

Service conducted by the minister Rev Dr David Steers

Reader: Mary Stewart, church secretary (Isaiah ch.51 v.1-6)

Organist: Laura Patterson

(Click on the above link to see the service)

This week’s Time for a Story contains another tale from Aesop’s Fables. Click on the video below to see it. Story told by Sue Steers, featuring special music and animation.

Time for a Story: Tales from Aesop, Friendship

Tales from Aesop, Friendship