Sea-born Reflections

Travelling across the Irish Sea from Belfast to Liverpool I was struck by the tranquility and the blue-ness of the sea. I filmed the scene for a couple of minutes, partly in the hope of seeing a pod of dolphins swim past, but found it strangely calming. So with sections of hat film to start and close this short video I put together a few Sea-born Reflections:

Reflections while crossing the Irish Sea.

Click on the video above to see the Reflections.

Conducted by the Rev Dr David Steers, First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Dunmurry.

Hymns: Will your anchor hold in the storms of life played by Laura Patterson (organist Downpatrick) and O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness played on the piano by Allen Yarr (organist Dunmurry).

Pew Numbers 1783-1871

Back in September 2017 I started to look at pew numbers (click here to see that post), particularly looking at Ballee and Downpatrick. Ballee is interesting because numbers like this

Ballee Number 12 – on the inside of a cupboard

were impressively painted on each box pew but removed when the interior was refurbished before the First World War. Since they re-used the timber in the reconstruction of the new interior if you know where to look you can still find the old numbers in odd places like the one above, which is on the inside of a cupboard door. The Ballee numbers, where they still exist, are much larger and emphatic than most pew numbers.

Downpatrick only has pew numbers upstairs in the galleries, and Clough and Dunmurry for instance, don’t have any numbers at all. In modern times the idea of numbering pews is not something that anyone would take up, but for hundreds of years it was essential. Pews were occupied via pew rents, the families who rented them had an entirely proprietorial attitude to the pew or half pew which they paid for. This is the origin of the sense – which many people still have – of a certain pew being ‘their’ pew. In many cases, generations ago, this was quite literally true. In more recent times large urban congregations that had prominent preachers would tell those who rented pews to be in place fifteen minutes before the service began or else their pew would be given to some of the queue of potential hearers formed up outside.

But I have had a look out for pew numbers recently and here is a selection.

First of all a nice example of a ceramic pew number from Killinchy. The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church in Killinchy was built in 1846 and I have no reason to doubt that this sequence of numbers all date from that period:

Killinchy 38

Older examples, which I would suspect date from the opening of the church in 1783, are the engraved brass numbers affixed to the oak doors of the pews in First Church, Rosemary Street, Belfast:

First Church, Belfast 31
First Church, Belfast 57

In Dublin Unitarian Church the numbers are painted and again will date from the opening of the church, in this case in 1863.

Dublin 28

You can see the care and precision that has gone into these numbers with their three dimensional gold shields.

Dublin 12

All Souls’ Church, Belfast dates from 1896, a building designed by the architect Walter Planck. But the pews are much older and the numbers will be as old as the pews. Again these are brass with the numbers engraved on the surface and picked out in black paint. They still look sharp and clear. The pews in All Souls’ date from 1871. In that year the interior of the Second Congregation, also on Rosemary Street, Belfast, was entirely re-modelled and the box pews replaced with modern open pews, possibly re-using some of the timber from the old pews. This would have been a move as bold and radical in 1871 as a church hauling out its pews today and replacing them with chairs.

All Souls’ 24

The numbers must date from Rosemary Street times because they never were an entirely complete sequence, a tendency which has become more noticeable as more pews have been removed in the last decade.

All Souls’ 20

In all these churches a lot of effort has gone into supplying bespoke numbers for the pews. Times change and their importance has waned but each example speaks to us eloquently of a particular time and place.

Giving thanks for the world

Our two most recent videos involve both celebrating and nourishing the natural environment. Our first video contains a ‘Prayer for the Glory of the Outward World’, which is based on one found in Orders of Worship, and includes ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’ played on the piano by Allen Yarr, church organist. It features some of the lovely plants growing around First Dunmurry (NS) Presbyterian Church and it can be seen here:

Many of our churches celebrated the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and at Ballee and Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Churches special services were followed by the planting of trees to mark the occasion, a Mountain Ash at Ballee and a Magnolia ‘Black Tulip’ at Clough. This is part of the Queen’s ‘Green Canopy’ which aims to plant trees to enhance the natural environment. We are grateful to everyone who took part, to Sue Steers FRSA who led the service and to John Strain and Jack Steers who provided the music. The video can be seen here:

Ballee tree planting, Sunday, 5th June 2022
Clough tree planting, Sunday, 5th June 2022

Rev John Scott Porter (1801-1880)

In an overgrown corner of Belfast’s City Cemetery stands a bold and intricately carved Celtic cross which marks the grave of the Rev John Scott Porter.

Son of a prominent Presbyterian minister and brother to two more he was part of a significant dynasty. This week’s Reflection looks at the life and work of John Scott Porter.

Rev John Scott Porter (1801-1880) – click on the video above (available from 8.00 am on Sunday, 8th May).

Educated at the Belfast Academical Institution he commenced his ministry at Carter Lane Chapel, London (which became Unity Chapel, Islington), where he became a prominent proponent of the Arian group within English Presbyterianism, editing the Christian Moderator. He returned to Belfast, to the First Presbyterian Church, in 1831.

John Scott Porter c.1845 by Richard Rothwell (Ulster Museum/National Musuems Northern Ireland)

In the video we reflect on his career as a theologian, controversialist, Biblical scholar and Unitarian. Other members of his family are buried with him including his brother William, one time attorney general at the Cape Colony, who brought in a franchise that was inclusive of all races.

What can we learn from reflecting on the impressive Celtic cross that marks his grave? An eloquent Victorian statement of piety and memory, for decades long forgotten, yet still making a statement about his beliefs and his ministry.

Completion of Murland Mausoleum Restoration

On Wednesday, 4th May 2022 the long delayed final stage of the restoration of the Murland Mausoleum by the Follies Trust at Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church took place. There was a good attendance of people gathered at the event, originally scheduled to take place in March 2020 but inevitably cancelled at the start of the lockdown. The meeting included a short service of thanksgiving for the work of the Follies Trust and the singing of the hymn Praise my soul the King of Heaven, accompanied by Melanie Campbell on the organ. Rev Dr David Steers welcomed everyone and spoke about the history of the Church, and introduced Dr Finbar McCormick who gave  a fascinating talk on the restoration of the Murland Vault and the history and place of mausolea as places of burial in Ireland. Primrose Wilson, chair of the Follies Trust, thanked everyone involved, especially Noel Killen who had carried out the restoration of the monument, and invited everyone to Ballydugan Mill where the launch of the Trust’s new book Fifteen Years of the Follies Trust took place.

Dr Finbar McCormick in the pulpit at Clough
After the service of thanksgiving in the Church

At the back of the mausoleum

Dr Finbar McCormick, Primrose Wilson, Rev Dr David Steers
Finbar McCormick with Clough members

Ballydugan Mill, itself restored from a ruin by Noel Killen

Book launch at the Mill

Noel Killen and David Rooney

With thanks to Sue Steers for the photos.

The Road to Emmaus

A short meditation for Low Sunday

Recorded for the Sunday after Easter including reflection on the dawn service held on the village green by Dunmurry Churches Together. With Jack Steers on the trumpet playing Easter Hymn (Jesus Christ is risen today). With a reading from Luke ch.4 v.13-35. Click on the video above to see this reflection.

Lord of the Emmaus Road…walk with us Lord, listen to our story, and let us hear your story, straight from the empty tomb.

Holy Week 2022

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:

Four Hymns for Palm Sunday

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:

Good Friday 2022

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).

Installation at Dunmurry

The Service of Installation at Dunmurry on Saturday, 26th March was a wonderful occasion and thank you again to everyone who took part and everyone in the Church who made the event possible. You can read a full report of the service with pictures on the First Dunmurry blog here.

Some of the participants after the service outside the McCleery Hall

There is a full audio recording of the service:

and also an online recording of the Statement of Principles and Objects:

Unfortunately the Moderator of Presbytery, Rev Stephen Reain-Adair, was prevented from being present by a positive test for Covid. We wish him a full recovery and thank the Very Rev Robert McKee who stood in as Moderator at the last minute.

The flowers in the Hall reflected the colours of the national flag of Ukraine and thank you to Elma McDowell and her team for their work in the Hall and the Church.

A retiring collection for the Disasters Emergency Committee Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal has raised £460.

Nation shall not lift up sword against nation

We continue to pray for Ukraine and offer up our Reflections on the situation in Ukraine created by the invasion by Russian forces.

At Dunmurry we organised a collection of warm clothing, non-perishable food, medical supplies and toiletries to send to Ukrainian refugees in Poland. The response from the church and wider community was heartening. In the space of a week two van loads of goods were sent but we are aware that this is only the start of the crisis; the number and needs of refugees will only increase, the difficulties faced by so many people inside Ukraine and now exiled outside the nation’s borders will grow. There will be a need for considerable action by governments in the West.

Collection for Ukraine at Dunmurry
This week’s Reflections

Our March Reflections look at Nation shall not lift up sword against nation (Isaiah ch.2 v.4), particulalrly in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Led by Rev Dr David Steers at Dunmurry the organist is John Strain (Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church) who plays the hymn Lord of all Hopefulness.

In our prayers we include the ‘World Peace Prayer’:

Lead me from death to life,
from falsehood to truth;
lead me from despair to hope,
from fear to trust;
lead me from hate to love,
from war to peace.
Let peace fill our heart,
our world, our universe.

Amen

Prayers for these times

Pray for Ukraine

God of all,
with alarm and concern we bring before you
the military intervention in Ukraine.

In a world you made for peace and flourishing,
we lament the use of armed force.

We mourn every casualty of this conflict,
every precious life extinguished by war.
We pray comfort for those who grieve
and those who are fearful.

Hear our longing that leaders and nations
will honour the worth of all people
by having the courage
to resolve conflict through dialogue.

May all our human failings be transformed
by your wonderful grace and goodness.

We ask this in the name of Christ,
the author of peace and sustainer of Creation.
Amen.

(A Prayer from the Joint Public Issues Team of of the United Reformed Church, Methodist Church and Baptist Union)

We also have two new Reflections on our YouTube channel:

Available from 8.00 am on Sunday, 27th February

Reflections on Transfiguration

First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Dunmurry

Rev Dr David Steers

Pianist: Allen Yarr

Hymn: ‘Praise to the Lord the Almighty’

Reading: Matthew ch.17 v.1-13

Includes reflection on the situation in Ukraine.

Wisdom

Reflections on Wisdom

First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Dunmurry

Rev Dr David Steers

Organist: John Strain (Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church)

Reading: Psalm 90