I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope

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 (it will be available from 9.45 am on Sunday, 29th November):

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!

A prayer by Theodore Parker (1810-1860)

God is not only interested in religion

The words at the top of this page are by Marcus Braybrooke. They are a distillation of a longer quotation from William Temple (Archbishop of Canterbury 1942-1944) quoted in Marcus’s book Peace in Our Hearts, Peace in our World:

It is a great mistake to suppose that God

is interested only, or even, primarily in religion.

Religion is more than doing things a certain way, it is about the way we live our lives. Consequently faith is supposed to find its conclusion in the way we live. We are reminded of this in the Letter of James:

What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him?
If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food,
and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?
So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

James ch.2 v.14-17

How we live and how we interact with the world is a measure of how far the Kingdom of God is being constructed.

As Mahatma Gandhi said:

No work that is done in God’s name

And dedicated to God is small.

A scavenger who works in God’s service shares equal distinction

With a king who uses his gifts in God’s name.

This is the theme of today’s online service. Filmed in Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church Alfie McClelland plays the organ and Elsie Nelson gives the reading. The hymns played are Thou Whose Almighty Word (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 173) and Guide me, O Thou Great Jehovah (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 326).

The service can be seen here:

Sunday Worship Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church

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

The Spirit of Understanding and Goodwill

Orders of Worship was published in 1932 and was rooted in a deeper, historic liturgical tradition which is outlined in the preface to the book. But it also undoubtedly reflects the times in which it was published, it could hardly not, and when you read a prayer like the one below you can sense the international tensions that would be uppermost in people’s minds when it was written. It is the second of two prayers entitled ‘For the Peace of the World’ published in Orders of Worship. But when I read it the other day it seemed curiously apposite when we consider our contemporary concerns (Presidential elections, Brexit etc) beyond the Coronavirus. I think that is testimony to the skills of the compilers of Orders of Worship, it is a true test of any liturgy that it has a power and relevance beyond the time of its immediate creation. I used it together with a prayer for schools, colleges and universities and a short reflection in a video which was uploaded the other day, it can be seen at the bottom of this page.

From Orders of Worship

Remembrance

November is a month of Remembrance and next Sunday we will have an online Remembrance Service but this weekend’s worship also explores that theme with a service that commemorates the life of Flight Lieutenant John Alexander Bright. Complete with many illustrations from the service that was held at Templepatrick in November 2019 to dedicate his medals the video also includes images that depict his service in the Second World War and the various memorials where he and countless others like him are commemorated:

Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Worship, Sunday, 1st November

Reformation Day

Today, 31st October, is Reformation Day and in this week’s Time for a Story Sue Steers tells the story of the production of the Bible in English:

The History of the Bible

Non-Subscribing Presbyterian reflections:

Filmed at First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Dunmurry

Interpreting the Bible

The Bible or Shakespeare

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.

Click on the video above to see today’s service

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.

Celebrating Harvest

This Sunday’s worship again reflects on the importance of the harvest in our lives, both spiritually and temporally. Our reading is given for us by Dillon Howell and the hymns and harvest music is played by John Strain on the organ at Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church.

The video both begins and ends with images from harvest services in our churches over recent years. They are always such uplifting occasions and a great deal of thought goes into making the churches look so attractive. It is nice to be reminded of some of the imaginative and creative displays that we always see in our churches. Click on the above video to see the service.

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is gracious,

for his steadfast love endures for ever.

Psalm 107.1

Harvest Thanksgiving

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)

and a Harvest Medley

And God saw everything that he had made…

This is the time of year for services of Harvest Thanksgiving, important occasions for all kinds of congregations in many different types of denomination. Our service today includes the Diary of a Church Mouse by John Betjeman and read by Sue Steers. In this famous poem the Mouse reveals that :

Christmas and Easter may be feasts
For congregations and for priests,
And so may Whitsun. All the same,
They do not fill my meagre frame.
For me the only feast at all
Is Autumn’s Harvest Festival

Above all the Harvest underpins our understanding of God.

Christina Rossetti wrote:

Lord, purge our eyes to see
within the seed a tree,
Within the glowing egg a bird,
Within the shroud a butterfly,
Til, taught by such, we see
beyond all creatures, thee.

The hymns are We plough the fields, and scatter (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 456) and Come ye thankful people come (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 454) and are played by John Strain on the church organ. You can see the service here:

Time for a Story: Reformation

The end of October sees Reformation Day and Time for a Story retells the story of Martin Luther and the 95 Theses, including the top selling model of Luther manufactured by Playmobil. The story is told by Sue Steers and can be seen here:

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.

The legacy of the Rev Henry Montgomery (1788-1865)

Our worship today comes from Dunmurry and considers the theological legacy of the Rev Henry Montgomery, nineteenth-century minister of the church and leader amongst the Non-Subscribing Presbyterians.

Henry Montgomery, portrait in Dunmurry Church

That the imposition of human tests and confessions of faith, and the vain efforts of men to produce an unattainable uniformity of belief, have not only tended to encourage hypocrisy, but also to restrict the sacred right of private judgment – to lessen the authority of the Scriptures – to create unrighteous divisions amongst Christians – to sanction the most barbarous persecutions – to trench on the natural and civil rights of men – to place undue power in the hands of the few – to throw a shield over the time-serving – to expose the honest to injuries and persecutions – to perpetuate errors in almost all churches – and to prevent that free inquiry and discussion which are essential to the extension of religious knowledge.

(From the principles expounded by Henry Montgomery in 1830)

Morning Worship, Sunday, 20th September 2020

Service from the First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Dunmurry. Conducted by the Rev Dr David Steers. Today’s reading is given by Noelle Wilson from Mark ch.2 v.18-28 and 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) on the church organ. Click on the above link to see the service.

Apple Tree, Ballee

And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.

After the flood, while the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.

Genesis (ch1 v.31 & ch.8 v.22)

All our churches are now returning to Sunday worship although not on every Sunday just yet during the current crisis. For the time being we will also be continuing with our online acts of worship every Sunday on our YouTube Channel: Downpatrick, Ballee & Clough NSP Churches.

The first service back at Dunmurry after lockdown was also live streamed on Facebook on Sunday, 13th September at 11.30 am. The full service can be seen in the following video: