The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice

The quotation at the top of this page comes from Martin Luther King. It is in fact itself a distillation of a quotation from Theodore Parker, the nineteenth-century Unitarian theologian and abolitionist:

I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.

It is interesting to compare the two sayings; one a very powerful soundbite, the other, the older one – the first to make the case for this imagery – far less snappy but explaining the idea in a very clear way.

I use this saying in this week’s online service which looks back to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The impetus for this momentous event came from the churches, most notably in Leipzig where St Nicholas Church became the centre of resistance to a corrupt state in a society poisoned by secret police and corrupted by layers of informers and spies.

St Nicholas Church, Leipzig (Wikimedia Commons)

The minister of the main church in Leipzig, the Rev Christian Führer, led the people in mass prayer vigils which helped to bring the system to an end. His position was similar to that of László Tőkés in Romania, who I was privileged to meet a couple of years ago in Transylvania, and who distilled his experience in his book With God, for the People. But both men showed the necessity of observing the phrase in our reading today ‘choose this day whom you will serve’.

You can see the service in this week’s video:

Available from 9.45 am on Sunday, 15th November

This week’s service is filmed in Dunmurry. The reading is from Joshua ch.24 v.14-18 and is given for us by Emma McCrudden. Church organist Allen Yarr plays the hymns When I survey the Wondrous Cross and Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation.

Time for a Story: War Horse

With Armistice Day in mind this week’s Time for a Story, given by Sue Steers, tells the story of the work of horses in the First World War, an aspect of the story of that conflict which was long overlooked until the publication of Michael Morpurgo’s book War Horse. The video can be seen here:

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

Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society Vol. 27 No. 1 April 2019

The new issue of the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society is out now and will be arriving with subscribers shortly. If you aren’t already a subscriber details of how to sign up can be found below.

St Saviourgate Door

Entrance to St Saviourgate Chapel, York. Catharine Cappe’s congregation

In this issue Andrew M. Hill looks at A Pattern of York Feminism: Catharine Cappe as spinster, wife and widow. His article gives a tremendous amount of insight to this woman, born in 1744 who died in 1821, and who Andrew discusses broadly in terms of three categories:

  • as a woman making efforts to escape conventional female roles;
  • as the companion and colleague of her husband and
  • as a social reformer with a burning zeal.

 

The Christian Examiner and Theological Review

A review (from ‘The Christian Examiner’ of 1825) of Richard Wright’s most famous book. The Northiam Library borrowing book at the time records 122 pamphlets being borrowed, mostly written by Richard Wright, Unitarian Missionary 

Valerie Smith examines Late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Unitarian Readership particularly through the surviving library records of a number of chapels, including Newcastle, Northiam, Bridport and Lewes and looks at the reading habits of lay men and women from ‘lower levels of society’ within Rational Dissent.

Captain Philip Hirsch VC
Captain Philip Hirsch VC

Alan Ruston continues his work on Unitarian engagement with the First World War with 1919 – a re-evaluation of the part played by Unitarians in the First World War, looking at casualties, the Belgian Hospital Fund and the work of Rose Allen and some of the publications from the First World War which are only now being rediscovered.

Sue Killoran’s paper given to the annual general meeting of the society on The Library and Archives at Harris Manchester College, Oxford completes the main articles. This is an edited version of her lecture given in 2017 which can also be viewed online here:

 

In the Record Section Alan Ruston introduces some further research into Unitarians and the First World War with Ann McMellan’s and Lesley Dean’s initial findings from The Pearson Papers in Dr Williams’s Library, some First World War examples. They are working on some 25,000 papers connected with Rev J. Arthur Pearson (1870-1947), London District Minister from 1908 to 1944 and popularly known as ‘the Bishop’.

 

Salters' Hall scan crop

Salters’ Hall in the early nineteenth century

In addition we have two notes: The Tercentenary of the Salters’ Hall Debates by David Steers marks the anniversary of this important early eighteenth-century controversy (the text of which can be read online by clicking here) and Rob Whiteman discusses the career of the Rev Helen Phillips, a much overlooked pioneer within the Unitarian ministry who became the second woman to become a minister (following Gertrude von Petzold) in 1916 and who lived until 1961 but has attracted very little notice from historians until now.

St Saviourgate Interior 03

The interior of St Saviourgate Chapel, York which houses the memorial to Catharine Cappe which reads:

Her whole life

was a beautiful, instructive & encouraging example

of Piety and Benevolence:

Piety – ardent, rational and unostentatious,

manifested in uniform obedience

to the law of God,

and in cheerful submission

to all dispensations of his providence:

Benevolence – pure, active and persevering,

directed by a sound judgement

and unlimited by its exercise by any regard

to personal ease or party distinctions.

Annual membership of the UHS costs only £10, each member receiving a copy of the Transactions. Membership can be obtained from the treasurer, Rev Dr Rob Whiteman, 10 Greenside Court, St Andrews, KY16 9UG, to whom cheques (made payable to the Unitarian Historical Society) should be sent.

Dedication of the Roll of Honour

Dedication Downpatrick 18th November 2018 table 03

Decoration around communion table

Dedication Downpatrick Order of Service

Order of Service

On Sunday, 18th November the First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Downpatrick hosted the service for the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War and the dedication of the new Roll of Honour of all the men and women who served in the war.

Dedication Downpatrick 18th November 2018 table 01

The service included Biblical readings as well as poetry from the First World War and extracts from the diaries and writings of Nurse Emma Duffin and Captain J.S. Davidson, who was killed on the first day of the battle of the Somme. Laura Patterson was the organist, Jack Steers played the Last Post while Laura Neill played a lament on the pipes after the dedication of the Roll and at the start of the service.

Dedication Downpatrick 18th November 2018

Some of those taking part in the service (Photo: Mary Stewart)

Those who took part in the service included (left to right) Rev Paul Reid (Larne) who led the congregation in prayer, Jeffrey Martin who read the extracts concerning Captain Davidson, Rev Brian Moodie (Dromore) who read from the diary of Emma Duffin, Rt Rev Colin Campbell (Moderator, Holywood and Ballyclare) who dedicated the Roll, Rev Dr David Steers (Downpatrick, Ballee and Clough) who conducted the service, Rev Rosalind Taggart (Templepatrick) who read John ch.15 v.1-17, Rev Norman Hutton (Newry, Banbridge and Warrenpoint) who preached, Laura Neill who played the bagpipes and Sue Steers who read In Flanders Fields. The Rev Bridget Spain (Dublin – not shown in picture) read Micah ch.4 v.1-5.

Dedication Downpatrick 18th November 2018 poster

Poster, including picture of Downpatrick Church member Rifleman John Hayes, supplied by Richard Edgar

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Some images from before and after the service (Photos: Jeffrey Martin and Mary Stewart)

 

Roll of Honour of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland

The Roll of Honour for the First World War of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland is now ready and will be dedicated at the service at Downpatrick on Sunday, 18th November at 3.00 pm.

Everyone is welcome at the service which will also commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War.

The Roll contains an introduction and two sections. The first is a list, by congregation, of all the men and women, with their service details where known, who are known to have served in the First World War. The second part is an alphabetical list of all those who gave their lives in the Great War. The book runs to 50 pages and everyone who attends the service at Downpatrick will receive a complimentary copy. Thereafter the book will be available for purchase at a cost of £5 (postage not included). All profits from sales of the book will go to the Poppy Appeal and Help for Heroes.

Front Cover 02

Front Cover

Back Cover 02

Back Cover

Service to Commemorate the Centenary

of the end of the First World War and

Dedication of the Roll of Honour

in memory of all the men and women of the

Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland

who served or gave their lives in the Great War

Sunday, 18th November 3.00 pm

at the

First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Stream Street, Downpatrick

 

Remembrance Sunday 2018

On this Remembrance Day, the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, I conducted Remembrance services at Clough and Downpatrick and was pleased to take part in the district Remembrance Service at the War Memorial in Downpatrick.

Faith and Freedom/Hibbert Trust Podcasts

I was also sent just today this information and links by Rev Kate Dean:

Discover the story of Emma Duffin, a Unitarian from Belfast who served as a voluntary nurse during the First World War. Thanks to her detailed Diaries we have a fascinating insight into her experiences. ‘Their Sister in Both Senses’ is written by Trevor Parkhill and the recording has been made with the support of The Hibbert Trust. The article originally appeared in the Unitarian publication Faith and Freedom. You can listen to the podcast on the Hibbert Trust SoundCloud channel, which also includes a recording about Unitarians in WWI, written and read by Alan Ruston.

 

Emma Duffin ‘Their Sister in Both Senses’: https://soundcloud.com/user-415732446/emma-duffin-their-sister-in-both-senses

 

Or there is a video version of the recording on UKUnitarianTV’s YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/kB01CbbkRzE

 

A big thank you to Kate for doing this.
The text of the original article (and Alan Ruston’s articles about Unitarians and the First World War) can be read on the Faith and Freedom Great War Project website here:
http://www.faithandfreedom.org.uk/GWarticles.htm
‘Their Sister in Both Senses’ can be read here:
http://www.faithandfreedom.org.uk/pdfs/Their%20sister%20in%20both%20senses%20GWP.pdf
The Diaries of Emma Duffin are a moving and eloquent account of her experiences in the war.
……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
With the centenary of the end of the First World War in mind one of the things I read this morning in church was the poem ‘Aftermath’ by Siegfried Sassoon, written in 1919:
……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Have you forgotten yet?…
For the world’s events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.

But the past is just the same – and War’s a bloody game…
Have you forgotten yet?…
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz –
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench –
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, ‘Is it all going to happen again?’

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack –
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads -those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?…
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget.

Irish Non-Subscribers serving in the Canadian Expeditionary Force

Another curious detail of the First World War Roll of Honour of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland is the high proportion of servicemen who served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Out of the 588 names on the Roll a fair number served in overseas regiments including Australia (6), New Zealand (2), and South Africa (1). In addition there were four soldiers who served in the Indian Army and three joined up in the US Army. But by far the largest category for overseas service was the Canadian armed forces which totalled 27 personnel. Of these men 11 were killed during the war.

The congregations of All Souls’, the Domestic Mission, Mountpottinger, Belfast First Church, Clough, Downpatrick, Dromore, Glenarm, Holywood, Killinchy, Larne, Newry, Rademon and Templepatrick all number Canadian servicemen amongst those who joined up. Young men who had left their homes to begin a new life in a new country answered the call to return to Europe to fight in the war. As a Dominion Canada declared war on Germany in conjunction with Great Britain and a high proportion of the early volunteers in the Canadian army were men who had emigrated originally from Britain or Ireland.

One feature of the Canadian – and also Australian and New Zealand servicemen – is the online availability of their full military records. It is quite simple to call up their records and follow their careers from enlistment onwards in some detail. It is painfully sad to read of young men killed in France or Flanders and the Canadian authorities making arrangements to send a widows’ pension to their wife perhaps in Winnipeg or perhaps in county Down. It is frequently sad to read the records of those who survived the war. Few came through the years of conflict without a wound or some experience of disease or illness. Many must have suffered for the rest of their lives.

Hugh Hanna cropped

Extract from the attestation papers of Belfast born Hugh Hanna, a member of Mountpottinger congregation who was killed serving with the 3rd Battalion Canadian Infantry. (At the top of the page can be seen part of the enlistment papers of Robert Black, a member of Downpatrick, originally from Hollymount, Ballydugan who served with the 20th Battalion Canadian Infantry but who survived the war and was discharged in January 1919).

Both images are taken from:

Library and Archives Canada

Personnel Records of the First World War

https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/first-world-war/personnel-records/Pages/personnel-records.aspx

 

NSP Lives of the First World War 05: killed fighting on the first day of the Somme

 

One of the striking features of the Roll of Honour of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland is the large proportion of those who were killed during the First World War who lost their lives on the first day of the battle of the Somme.

The Roll of Honour includes a total of 98 servicemen who died in service. Of these 17 are listed as having been killed on the first day of the battle of the Somme (1st July 1916) and two more are listed as having been killed on 2nd July. In other words 19 out of 98 or just under 20% of all the fatal casualties in the denomination occurred at the start of the battle of the Somme.

Almost all of these men were part of the Ulster Division, mostly serving with the Royal Irish Rifles, eight of them belonging to the 13th Battalion and four of them serving with the 11th Battalion. The two soldiers who were recorded as killed on 2nd July were both members of the 8th Battalion.

The statistics alone indicate the impact the battle of the Somme must have had on the Ulster Division and on those back at home. Of the 19 who were killed five were officers, two were NCOs and the others were private soldiers. Some of the men were quite well-known such as Captain James Samuel Davidson, the son of S.C. Davidson the founder of the Sirocco works in Belfast.

Captain JS Davidson 1916

Captain James Samuel Davidson, 13th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles attached 108th Coy. Machine Gun Corps

Other deaths indicate the devastating effect the battle of the Somme had on families. So at Templepatrick two brothers were killed on the first day of the Somme, James Harper of the 15th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, aged 23, and his younger brother Joseph, aged just 19, serving with the 11th Battalion of the same regiment, both killed at the start of the battle. At Holywood congregation James Dermot Neill was killed on the first day of the Somme, his younger brother Robert Larmour Neill had been killed in action in May of the previous year. Both brothers are remembered on a family memorial in Holywood Church.

Holywood Memorial Lieut R L Neill

Holywood memorial to James Dermot Neill and Robert Larmour Neill

NSP Lives of the First World War 04: The Harrison family of Newtownards

 

One of the features of the new Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Roll of Honour is how often we see groups of brothers join after the outbreak of war. In many churches there are sets of brothers, sometimes two, sometimes three, sometimes four who respond to the appeal for volunteers. From contemporary newspaper reports we can imagine the effect this had on the families and friends who were left at home.

Newtownards 1909

The First Presbyterian Church, Newtownards in 1909

At the start of the First World War the secretary of the Newtownards congregation was Samuel Harrison, a man widely respected in the town and in the church. Three of the sons of Samuel and Grace Harrison (all members of Newtownards) joined up after war broke out, as well as two of their grandsons. In the July 1916 issue of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian it was announced that his younger son, Thomas James Harrison, had been awarded the Military Medal for bravery. In the Newtownards news of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian it was reported that “What the special act of bravery was that earned him this distinction has not been officially disclosed as yet, but we understand it was connected with acts of great bravery in rescuing wounded comrades. As a Church, we are proud of the fact that one of our number has earned this coveted distinction, and also that he is the first one in the town to receive this medal.”

In fact, as will be seen from the Roll of Honour, Thomas Harrison was himself killed before he could be presented with this medal. He died, along with so many others, on 1st July 1916, the first day of the battle of the Somme.

I am grateful to Jeffrey Martin and Nigel Henderson for providing me with this picture of him which appeared in the Newtownards Chronicle at the time:

Rifleman Thomas James Harrison

From the ‘Newtownards Chronicle’

Credit: Nigel Henderson (Great War Belfast Clippings)

The extent of the casualties on the first day of the Somme must have had a devastating effect back home. At the time of Thomas’ death Samuel was nearly 72 years old and himself died little over a year later. It was perhaps a measure of how highly he was thought of that quite an unusually full obituary of him appeared on the pages of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian. It detailed his education at the National School at Ballycullen, an education cut short by the need to go out to work as a farm boy, but supplemented by a return to night class “after a hard days’ work begun at daylight”.

He was a man of fine, high principle, and greatly valued by his employer the obituary said. When promoted to the post of land steward he was the youngest man in that capacity in the county, eventually becoming the foreman of the road labourers for the local council. The obituary speaks highly of his ability to get on with all classes of people. The Newtownards Chronicle itself said “there is no individual in this county who is more highly respected by all classes and creeds than everybody’s good friend, Sam Harrison.” The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian detailed the local respect shown to him at his funeral:

Had he been one of the leading citizens or a wealthy manufacturer, the tribute would not have been so very remarkable; but as he died as he had lived – a plain working man – this tribute was the more noteworthy.

He had been a member of the church committee since 1875 and the secretary since 1898, the obituary emphasised his faith commitment:

A staunch Non-Subscriber and liberal Christian, his attachment to his Church was shown in the unselfish devotion of his mind and energies to its welfare.

Samuel Harrison 03

Picture from the ‘Non-Subscribing Presbyterian’

All this is part of the background to the experience of those who served in the trenches. In the words of his obituary Samuel Harrison left behind a fine record of faithfulness and a memory that should be an inspiration to those that follow him. For those left at home life continued as normal, at least outwardly. But it must have been hard to express in words the shared sense of loss felt by so many after 1st July 1916.

 

NSPCI Roll of Honour: Awards and Decorations

 

One of the things that people sometimes ask me is: Were any members of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland awarded the Victoria Cross during the war? The highest award for gallantry since its inception in 1856 by Queen Victoria it is synonymous with bravery. However, having compiled this new Roll of Honour it seems clear that none of the recipients in the First World War were Non-Subscribers. This is not surprising since it is quite a rare award, only 615 Victoria Crosses were awarded throughout the whole of the Great War. But it is also clear, when looking at the Roll, that a number of members of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches were given various awards for bravery or conspicuous service in battle.

Distinguished Service Order (DSO)

This was instituted by Queen Victoria in 1886 as an award for officers, usually at the rank of major. In the First World War it could be awarded for “an act of meritorious or distinguished service”, usually when under fire or in the presence of the enemy. Three members of the denomination in Ireland were awarded the DSO.

Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM)

Like the Victoria Cross this was a medal that dated back to the time of the Crimean War, in this case it was the first medal to be awarded to a member of the armed forces who was not an officer for gallantry in the field in the face of the enemy. There are three people awarded the DCM on the Roll of Honour.

Distinguished Conduc Medal George V

Distinguished Conduct Medal (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Military Cross (MC)

The Military Cross was instituted by Royal Warrant on 28th December 1914, after the start of the First World War. It was awarded to officers up to the rank of Captain for gallantry during active operations in the presence of the enemy. In the NSPCI Roll there are a total of 19 individuals awarded the Military Cross, including one recipient who was awarded a Bar to his MC.

Military Medal (MM)

The Military Medal was essentially the same as the Military Cross except it was awarded to ‘other ranks’. Instituted on 25th March 1916 its award was backdated to 1914. There are eight recipients of the MM on the Roll, including one person who was awarded a Bar to his first award.

Meritorious Service Medal (MSM)

This was awarded to Non-Commissioned Officers for meritorious service and was often awarded for service in the field during the First World War. Its award was extended to those NCOs below the rank of Sergeant and to private soldiers for acts of gallantry in the performance of military duties or in saving or attempting to save the life of another soldier. There are four instances of the MSM being awarded on the Roll.

Meritorious Service Medal George V

Meritorious Service Medal (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Roll of Honour, when published, will also include all known occasions when a soldier was mentioned in despatches, occasions when a serviceman received a foreign award, and awards and decorations given to those serving with the Red Cross.