A couple of short acts of worship to mark Holy Week, 2022:
Some music for Palm Sunday. Four pieces plus an introduction played by the organists of Dunmurry and Ballee for a Palm Sunday service:
Hymns played by Allen Yarr (Dunmurry) and John Strain (Ballee).
How deep the Father’s love, introduction played by Allen Yarr. King of glory, King of Peace, played by John Strain. Ride on, ride on, in majesty, played by Allen Yarr. When I survey the wondrous Cross, played by Allen Yarr. Now thank we all our God, played by John Strain. Filmed at First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Dunmurry and Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church.
Image: ‘The Entry of Christ into Jerusalem’ (1320) by Pietro Lorenzetti. A fresco in the south transept of the Lower Church, San Francesco, Assisi. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.
A short prayer and meditation for Good Friday:
Rev Dr David Steers, First Dunmurry (NS) Presbyterian Church. (Source: John Pritchard ‘The Second Intercessions Handbook’. Images the crypt and a side altar (also at the top of this page) at the Metropolitan Cathedral, Liverpool).
We have now completed the whole of our alphabetical survey having added the letters V to Z over the Christmas period. V stands for Verse, W looks at the role of Women in the church and ministry, X is represented by eXile, Y stands for Yahweh, and Z is for Zechariah. All the videos can be seen below.
Where fishes play and bells do ring
Having reached the letter V in our study of Non-Subscribing Presbyterianism we look at poets and poetry in our tradition. Radicals, United Irishmen, literary giants, writers in Ulster Scots; the story of poets in our tradition is remarkably broad.
Who was the first person to refer to Ireland as the ‘Emerald Isle’? Which Ulster town was described as a place ‘where fishes play and bells do ring’? Which hymn penned by a Non-Subscriber has been in print for over 200 years? To which congregation did the ‘Shipyard Poet’ belong? Find out the answer to these and other questions in today’s service which looks at seven poets from the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian tradition. Conducted by the Rev Dr David Steers and filmed at First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Dunmurry the reading is from Isaiah ch.12 v.4-6. Church organist Allen Yarr plays the hymns: Just as I am, Thine own to be (Church Hymnary 497) and Thy Kingdom come, O God (Church Hymnary 152).
The twenty-third in a series of alphabetical explorations of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland. W – Women. Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Worship conducted by the Rev Dr David Steers. Filmed at Ballee and Dunmurry Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Churches. Reading: Acts ch.16 v.11-15. Organist: John Strain (Ballee) who plays the hymns: My spirit longs for thee (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 301) and Sent forth by God’s blessing (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 409). In today’s service we look at the role of women in our denomination and at the Rev Gertrude von Petzold who has the distinction of being the first women minister, commencing her ministry in Leicester in 1904.
X is for eXile
In this service we look at the considerable contribution made by Non-Subscribers who left their native shores to found churches and extend their faith all around the world, particularly in Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. Who knew that there was once a Presbytery of Canada or that the first electoral register in the Cape Colony in South Africa was introduced by a Non-Subscriber and paid no attention to race? The service is conducted by the Rev Dr David Steers and filmed at Downpatrick and Dunmurry Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Churches. The reader is Gilbert Cameron (Dunmurry) who reads Jeremiah ch.24 v.4-7 and the organist is Laura Patterson (Downpatrick) who plays the hymns: In the bleak midwinter and When he cometh. At the start of the service John Strain also plays ‘Hark a thrilling voice’ on the organ at Ballee.
The name of God
In the penultimate service in our alphabetical journey through our religious tradition we have reached the letter ‘Y’ and look at the Hebrew word for God, what we understand by it and how it influences our faith in the twenty-first century. Filmed at Ballee, Clough and Dunmurry Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Churches the reader is Elsie Nelson (Clough) who reads Exodus ch.3 v.1-6. John Strain plays the hymns: I heard the voice of Jesus say (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 199) and Go work in my vineyard (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 294). At the start of the service John also plays Lo he comes with clouds descending.
Having reached the letter Z in our journey through the alphabet of our denomination, Z stands for Zechariah. This service is filmed at Ballee and Dunmurry. The reader is Robert Neill (Downpatrick) who reads Luke ch.1 v.67-79. Laura Neill (Downpatrick) plays Auld Lang Syne on the bagpipes. John Strain plays the hymns: I heard the voice of Jesus say (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 199) and Go work in my vineyard (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 294).
We have covered the letters N to Q in our alphabetical look at Non-Subscribing Presbyterianism. These letters cover, in turn; ‘New Light’, ‘Organs’, ‘Pews’ and ‘Quires and Places where they sing’.
Filmed at Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church and conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers, the reading is from Matthew ch.5 v.13-16 and is given by Robert Neill. The organist is Alfie McClelland who plays the hymns Take my life and let it be (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 283) and The wise may bring their learning’ (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 247) as well as Lord of all hopefulness.
N stands for New Light and that is what we look at in the service, a term first coined by the Rev John Malcome in 1720 but indicative of the theological position of the Non-Subscribers ever since.
Non-Subscribing Presbyterians were pioneers in the use of organs and this video looks at their use in the denomination beginning with the building of the first organ in the Second Congregation of Belfast in 1806 and once played by the famous Edward Bunting. Our worship is filmed at Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church and conducted by the minister. Our reader is Robert Neill who reads Psalm 150. John Strain plays the hymns: In Christ there is no East or West (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 235) and Go work in my vineyard (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 294) as well as Here O my Lord I see Thee face to face at the start of the service.
Perhaps the most famous historical organist in our denomination, the recorder of the music of the 1792 Harpers’ Festival in Belfast and organist at Belfast’s Second Congregation which installed the first organ in a dissenting church in Ulster in 1806.
Filmed at the First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Downpatrick and conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers, the reading is Psalm 122. The organist is Laura Patterson who plays the hymns: To God be the glory! Great things He hath done, I, the Lord of sea and sky, and Amazing Grace. Having reached the letter P, in the service we look at those essential items of church furniture: Pews.
Quires and Places where they sing
Filmed in Clough, Ballee and Dunmurry churches the reading comes from Psalm 92 v.1-5. Ballee organist: John Strain plays the hymns Immortal, invisible, God only wise (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 30), Make me a channel of your peace’(Hymns of Faith and Freedom 338) and also plays I am not worthy holy Lord.
Having reached the letter Q we look at Quires, an archaic spelling of Choirs which comes from an 1862 prayer book, partly edited by James Martineau, which re-used the original phrasing of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. To find out more click on the video above.
Very special thanks goes to John Strain, organist at Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, who has now recorded over 100 pieces for our online services during the period of the pandemic over the last 18 months. This is a significant contribution which has been a tremendous part of our online worship. Thank you John.
The latest issue of the Transactions, including a special Supplement, is now ready. New subscribers are very welcome, annual membership costs only £10. If you haven’t yet taken out a subscription or would like to renew your subscription that can be done through the Society’s treasurer who can be contacted via the Unitarian Historical Society website here.
The new issue contains the following articles:
The History of the Kolozsvár English Conversation Club
Sándor Kovács relates the hitherto unresearched story of the Kolozsvár English Conversation Club. A major source for illuminating the relationship between Unitarians in Transylvania and Hungary and in the UK and USA. The Club was founded in 1876 by János Kovács and gave local people the opportunity to learn English. It became the main point of contact for visiting Unitarians throughout the rest of the century, over the period of the celebration of the Hungarian Millennium in 1896 and on into the twentieth century.
Received with Thanks. Unitarian Hymns sung by Mainstream Churches
Nigel Lemon investigates hymns penned by Unitarian writers which have found favour in mainstream hymnbooks. He looks at around 50 Unitarian hymns which are found in a selection of mainstream books published in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and focusses on thirteen Unitarian authors.
Thomas Aikenhead: An Historiographical Introduction
Thomas Aikenhead was an Edinburgh student who stood trial for blasphemy in December 1696, and was put to death in the following January. Said to be the last person to be executed for blasphemy in Britain he is often also claimed as a Unitarian martyr. Rob Whiteman examines the way his trial and execution has been understood across the centuries.
Tercentenary of a Unique Donation: Glasgow University and Chowbent Chapel
Universities are not known for their generosity to outside bodies but in 1721 the University of Glasgow (see image at the top of this page which shows Glasgow College at the end of the seventeenth century) made a donation to Chowbent Chapel whilst it was being built. The congregation had just been dispossessed from their old chapel by a new landlord. This short article explains how and why Glasgow University supported the building of the new chapel (pictured above).
Protestant Dissent and Philanthropy 1660-1914, edited by Clyde Binfield, G.M. Ditchfield and David L. Wykes, The Boydell Press, 2020, hardback, 264 pages, ISBN 978-1-78327-451-2. Studies in Modern British History Vol 39. Price £65. Reviewed by Alan Ruston Subscribers to the Transactions will be pleased to know that they are able to purchase this book with a special 35% discount using the code given in the issue.
A Radical Religious Heritage, by John Maindonald, second edition, 2020, paperback, 68 pages ISBN 978-0-473-52784-6. Price $NZ 25.00 Reviewed by Graham Murphy
Obituaries of Ministers of Unitarian Congregations Index and synopsis of references New entries, and Additions and Corrections extended from 1 February 2014 to 31 January 2021 Compiled by ALAN RUSTON
This issue comes with Alan’s latest Supplement which brings over twenty years of research by Alan on Unitarian obituaries right up to date. It also makes use of the late Professor R.K. Webb’s index cards based on a wide variety of sources for biographical details of Unitarian ministers from circa 1780 to the early 1990s.
Our online Sunday worship today comes from Clough and has, as its starting point, Psalm 121
I lift up my eyes to the hills. From whence does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
Psalm 121 is associated with travelling and with pilgrimage, neither of which are particularly possible at the moment, but the reading is given a vivid backdrop by the sight of the mountains of Mourne.
In the service Clough church organist Alfie McClelland plays the hymns: Seek ye first the kingdom of God, Once to every soul and nation and Through all the changing scenes of life.
Click on the video below to see the service:
By tradition St Patrick is buried in Downpatrick but this year the town was inevitably much quieter and more subdued than usual, although a brief ceremony was held at his grave. But I recorded a few reflections on St Patrick’s Day which can be seen in the following video:
According to tradition St Patrick is buried with the remains of St Brigid and St Columba here in the grounds of Down Cathedral.
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)
Morning has broken
Like the first morning,
Blackbird has spoken
Like the first bird.
Praise for the singing!
Praise for the morning!
Praise for them, springing
Fresh from the Word!
Our service today comes from the First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Downpatrick. Our organist is Laura Patterson, the reading (from Ephesians chapter 3 verses 7-19) is provided by Robert Neill, and Jack Steers also plays the trumpet.
The hymns played are:
Morning has broken (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 433)
Amazing grace – such love profound (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 337)
The service includes an exploration of the idea of ‘Thin Places’ and includes a quotation from a poem by the eighteenth-century Welsh poet and Calvinistic Methodist minister Thomas Jones (from The Mistle Thrush – in Celtic Christian Spirituality, edited by Mary C. Earle):
If our Lord is great, and great his praise
From just this one small part of earth,
Then what of the image of his greatness
Which comes from the whole of his fine work?
And through the image of the ascending steps
Of his gracious work, which he has made,
(Below and above the firmament,
Marvellously beyond number),
What of the greatness and pure loveliness
Of God himself?
We also uploaded in the week just gone a new Time for a Story video, in this case the story of the widow and the emperor, a marvellous tale about Hagia Sophia, the emperor Justinian, the widow Euphrasia and some hungry donkeys.
This week’s service is recorded at Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, county Down. We are pleased again to have the services of John Strain, our Ballee organist, who plays some music at the start and end of the service as well as the two hymns:
‘Through all the changing scenes of life’ (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 48)
‘Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father’ (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 54)
Lamentations ch.3 v.21-26
Don’t Quit by John Greenleaf Whittier (with special thanks to Emma McConnell)
When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low but the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh.
When care is pressing you down a bit, rest if you must but don’t you quit.
Life is queer with its twists and turns as every one of us sometimes learns.
And many a failure turns about when he might have won if he stuck it out.
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow, you may succeed with another blow.
Success is failure turned inside out, the silver tint of the clouds of doubt.
And you never can tell how close you are, it may be near when it seems so far.
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit, it’s when things seem worse that you must not quit.
Recent videos on the churches’ channel also include a reflection on Time which includes consideration of J.R.R. Tolkien:
‘All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’
And a prayer for VE Day also by Sue Steers which includes an account of the life of George Cross who took part in the D Day landings and returned to Normandy at the age of 100:
This week’s service is a Communion Service recorded at Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church
Sunday, 3rd May 2020
Service conducted by the minister the Rev Dr David Steers
Organist: John Strain
Reading: Matthew ch.14 v.13-21
The hymns played are:
‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ No. 326
Guide me, O thou great Jehovah
‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ No. 61
Now thank we all our God
The full words of the hymns can be found in the description under the video on YouTube.
For most congregations in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland May is the month in which one of the two communion services of the year are held.
We also uploaded to YouTube, earlier in the week, another video which set out to explain something of the background to the celebration of Communion within the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland. Recorded at Downpatrick it can be seen here:
Our service this morning comes from the First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Downpatrick and again features the Mountains of Mourne which can be viewed in the distance while a bagpipe duet plays courtesy of Robert and Laura Neill. When the music stops it is replaced with the music of birdsong. We are pleased to again have John Strain playing the organ at Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, providing us with the music for the hymns:
All things bright and beautiful (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 245)
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty! (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 19)
Reading: Genesis ch.1 v.20-31.
The sermon takes as its starting point some words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks:
We are each, regardless of class, colour or culture, in the image and likeness of God. This is the most important statement in Western culture of the non-negotiable dignity of the human person.