Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society April 2022

The issue for 2022 (vol 28 No.1) will be with subscribers shortly and once again this is a very full and very special issue because members will receive two journals for their subscription. Part One contains three important articles plus reviews and more, Part Two is produced in collaboration with the Reckoning International Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist Histories Project.

Part One

The cloisters, Ullet Road Church Liverpool

In Part One our main articles look at Unitarianism, slavery and philanthropy. A number of Unitarians were actively involved in the abolition of slavery. One very prominent example of this was William Roscoe whose memorial is located in the cloisters in Ullet Road Church, a set of buildings constructed at the end of the nineteenth and start of the twentieth centuries which perfectly illustrate the enormous philanthropic contributions of wealthy Unitarians at this time.

‘Jewel Case’ – The Man and his Money Derek McAuley

Very Rev George Case, MA, DD (used with permission of Clifton Diocesan Archives)

Derek McAuley traces the story of the Very Rev George Case whose journey from the Anglican to Catholic priesthood was followed by a very generous bequest to the Unitarian movement. His father was a contemporary of William Roscoe in Liverpool but unlike Roscoe he was deeply implicated in the slave trade. Using modern tools and databases Derek examines the source of Dr Case’s wealth.

Reflections on a Window Rory Delany

The Wilson Memorial Window, Dublin Unitarian Church (Photo: Rory Delany)

The most prominent and striking window within Dublin Unitarian Church, St Stephen’s Green is the Wilson Memorial Window which memorializes Thomas Wilson, long standing member of the congregation and generous benefactor. In this article Rory Delany looks at the source of Thomas Wilson’s wealth, again using the databases and records which have become available and which highlight those families involved in the slave trade. He contrasts Thomas Wilson’s attitudes and business interests with his contemporary and fellow church member James Haughton who was a noted anti-slavery campaigner.

Unitarians and Philanthropy 1860-1914 Alan Ruston

Looking towards the library at Harris Manchester College

Alan Ruston gives a substantial survey of Unitarian philanthropy between 1860 and 1914. Many wealthy Unitarians gave vast sums to build churches, establish charities and develop educational institutions such as Manchester College (see above) which was founded in 1786 in Manchester but moved to Oxford in 1893 following a number of very generous donations.

Books Reviewed

Reviewed by David Wykes, Alan Ruston and David Steers

Part Two

The ethnographic composition of Hungary in 1910 (Map: Lehel Molnár)

Part Two of this issue develops the successful initial event of the Reckoning International U/UU Histories Project which was entitled ‘Transylvanian Unitarians Resisting and Surviving in Authoritarian Times’ and which took place on Thursday, 4 November 2021. This can be viewed online at the Starr King School for the Ministry YouTube channel (https://youtu.be/ozH1fnDkSHk).

The dismemberment of Hungary by the Treaty of Trianon (Map: Lehel Molnár)

We are very pleased to be able to carry in this issue an introduction and summary of the whole Reckoning project compiled by its co-ordinators Claudia Elferdink and Lehel Molnár This is followed by two articles which are not transcripts of the original webinar but which give additional insight and information on the experience of Hungarian Unitarians over the last one hundred years, particularly following the Communist takeover in Romania after the Second World War. The first of these is ‘The Hungarian Unitarian Church in the Twentieth Century’ by Sándor Kovács and Lehel Molnár, an explanation of the struggles of the church from the Treaty of Trianon – when Hungary lost two thirds of its historic territory – to the present century. This is followed by ‘Resistance or/and Compromise. The Struggles and Service of Unitarian Bishop Elek Kiss (1888–1971) in Communist Romania’ by Sándor Kovács which gives a very detailed view of the problems and stresses experienced by the church in the Communist era.

The ethnographic compostion of Hungary in 1880

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.

Silent yet eloquent memorials

Starting off on the tour

On Wednesday, 23rd March a group from the four Belfast Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Churches enjoyed an excellent visit to the Belfast City Cemetery. We were blessed by good weather, almost like a summer’s day, which showed off the whole site to its fullest advantage. Designed in the shape of a bell and opened in 1869 it has been the burial place of approximately 225,153 people ranging from the some of the poorest members of society, buried in paupers’ graves, to some of the wealthiest merchants, industrialists and businessmen of Victorian Belfast. Years of neglect and vandalism obscured the importance of the cemetery in the city’s history for a long time, but the remarkable work done by Tom Hartley on the graves and history of the cemetery, not least reflected in his book Belfast City Cemetery, has opened up the cemetery to a wider and appreciative public. It is good too to see the construction of a visitors’ centre and the restoration of some of the larger memorials. Tom Hartley has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the history and significance of the site and was our informative guide as he showed us round a large proportion of the original Victorian graveyard, so attractively laid out with the Belfast hills providing a dramatic backdrop. Tom made special reference to some of the Presbyterian and Non-Subscribing Presbyterian graves in the cemetery and we encountered the last resting places of some familiar figures from our tradition. Among others we saw the grave of Margaret Byers, the founder of Victoria College, and Elisha Scott, legendary Liverpool goalkeeper. Cemeteries are such important repositories of history: funeral monuments, grave inscriptions, memorial artwork all tell us a great deal and in this case Belfast City Cemetery provides a fascinating window into the growth, development and history of Belfast as a city. After the tour we had lunch at Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich. Below are some images of what we saw:

The grave of Rev John Scott Porter (Biblical scholar, theologian and Belfast Non-Subscribing minister) and his brother William Porter, attorney general at the Cape Colony who introduced a franchise into the colony that extended the vote, at the time, to all people irrespective of race.
View across the cemetery showing the memorial to John Kirker (1891) on the right in the form of an ornamental Celtic Cross carved from a single piece of limestone.
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Tom Hartley at the grave of Lord and Lady Pirrie. William Pirrie was a leading Belfast politician and shipbuilder, chairman of Harland and Wolff and responsible for the building of the ‘Titanic’. His wife Margaret Montgomery Pirrie was a significant figure in her own right, closely involved in the establishment of the Royal Victoria Hospital and a granddaughter of the Rev Henry Montgomery of Dunmurry.
Another nineteenth-century Celtic Cross containing ancient religious imagery including, in this case, the Ouroboros (at the bottom of the Cross), the snake consuming its own tail.
The infamous location in the cemetery where an underground wall, six feet tall, divided what were planned to be the Catholic and Protestant plots.
The grave of Elisha Scott, Belfast born Liverpool goalkeeper who played for the club for 22 years and made 468 appearances for Liverpool (which undoubtedly would have been more but for the First World War). He finished his career as a highly successful player-manager of Belfast Celtic until sectarian violence brought about the closure of that club.

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

Our response to the situation in Ukraine

We are currently witnesses to an almost unbelievable situation with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Air strikes, tanks, missiles – the invading Russians are using the full force of their military capabilities against the people of the country. Vladimir Putin’s forces have occupied the site of Chernobyl and are clearly intent on trying to capture or lay siege to the capital city. The sight of a forty mile long Russian military convoy making its way towards Kyiv is one that can only induce a sense of utter horror for us, especially when we consider the deaths already of so many men, women and children. At the moment the Russians seem to be intensifying their assault although the resistance in Ukrainian cities is much stronger than the invaders anticipated.

The roof of the University of Kharkiv after being hit by a Russian missile (Photo: BBC)

So far there have been tens of thousands of refugees who have left Ukraine and this could eventually amount to hundreds of thousands, even millions of people. One thing we can do to be of assistance to the people of Ukraine is to send aid to refugees and Emma McCrudden has organised an appeal for this. Further details can be found on First Dunmurry NS Presbyterian Church on Facebook.

Firefighters try to stop the blaze at the University of Kharkiv (Photo: BBC)

Can you help?

We are collecting donations that will be sent and distributed to Ukrainian refugees and those impacted by the current invasion. All items can be left in the Dunmurry McCleery Hall (main entrance) up until Sunday 6th March. Items requested include:

– Warm clothes for children or adults
– Sleeping bags or blankets
– First aid supplies
– Toiletries
– Non perishable food items.

For more information, please message First Dunmurry NS Presbyterian Church on Facebook directly.

Lord God,
We ask you to hold the people of Ukraine deep in your heart.
Protect them, we pray;
From violence,
From political gamesmanship,
from being used and abused.
Give, we pray,
the nations of the world the courage
and the wisdom
to stand up for justice
and the courage too,
to dare to care – generously.
Lord in your mercy,
Take from us all,
The tendencies in us
That seek to lord it over others:
Take from us those traits
that see us pursuing our own needs and wants
before those of others.
Teach us how to live in love
And dignity
And respect – following your example.
In your name and for your sake,
Amen

(Prayer from the Faith Impact Forum of the Church of Scotland)

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

Be still and know that I am God

So far in February we have had two online Reflections which look at verses from Matthew chapter 6; Look at the birds of the air, and from Psalm 46; Be still and know that I am God. But the call to still ourselves in the presence of God and an awareness of the natural world around us are both routes to closer engagement with the divine. There are different ways to centre ourselves in a way that leads to deeper communion with God.

I am very pleased too, to have images of birds taken by Graham Bonham which feature in the video, some of which are reproduced here.

Sparrow. Photo by Graham Bonham
Look at the birds of the air

February Reflections: Look at the birds of the air
Rev Dr David Steers
First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Dunmurry
Pianist: Allen Yarr
Hymn: ‘For the beauty of the earth’
Bird photographs all taken and kindly provided by Graham Bonham

Snowdrops, Ballee. Photo by Sue Steers
Be still and know that I am God (available after 8.00 am on Sunday, 13th February)

Reflections on Psalm 46

First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Dunmurry

Organist: John Strain (Ballee NSP Church)

Jay. Photo by Graham Bonham

January Reflections

In the month of January 2022 we have uploaded four new short video Reflections to our YouTube channel. These cover Epiphany; the installation of the Rev István Kovács as the new bishop of the Hungarian Unitarian Church in Kolozsvár, Transylvania, Romania; the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity; and Psalm 8. John Strain and Allen Yarr provide music. The Reflections are by Rev David Steers and Jennifer Miles provides a reading. The picture at the top of the page and the thumbnail for the fourth video are images taken remotely from the camera on the International Space Station. The videos can be seen below.

January 2022 Epiphany

Hungary and Transylvania

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

When I look up to the night skies (available from 8.00 am on Sunday, 30th January)

The A to Z of Non-Subscribing Presbyterianism – 26 videos telling the story of Irish Non-Subscription

The whole alphabet of Non-Subscription is now available to view on our YouTube channel. This tells the story of Non-Subscribing Presbyterianism in twenty-six chapters looking at a different aspect of the history, ethos, identity, theology or practice of this denomination. Filming began in June and ended in December 2021 with a service going live every week. Filmed at Downpatrick, Ballee, Clough and Dunmurry Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Churches, music has been provided by John Strain, Laura Patterson, Allen Yarr, Alfie McClelland, and Laura Neill. In addition a team of readers have taken part in these services each week including Elsie Nelson, Annabel Cleland, Noelle Wilson, Mary Stewart, Bobby Graham, Robert Neill, Emma McCrudden, and Gilbert Cameron.

The full list of topics covered is as follows:

Abernethy, John

Bible

Collecting Ladles

Doors

Education

Faith

Gifts of the Spirit

Hymns and Hymnbooks

Inquiring

Jesus

Kedron

Lord’s Supper

Montgomery, Henry

New Light

Organ

Pews

Quires and Places where they sing

Remonstrant

Stained Glass

Tokens

Ubi Spiritus Domini ibi Libertas

Verse

Women

eXile

Yahweh

Zechariah

They can all be accessed from this link:

The A to Z of Non-Subscribing Presbyterianism

The A to Z of Non-Subscribing Presbyterianism V to Z

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.

Verse

V is for Verse

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).

Women

The A to Z of Non-Subscribing Presbyterianism: Women

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

X is for eXile, the influence of Irish Non-Subscribers around the world

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.

Yahweh

The A to Z of Non-Subscribing Presbyterianism: Yahweh

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.

Zechariah

Z is for Zechariah

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).

Faith and Freedom Autumn and Winter 2021

The latest issue of Faith and Freedom (Volume 24 Part 2, Autumn and Winter 2021, Number 193) is now ready and on its way to subscribers. There has been a slight delay but it is now ready and available to subscribers old and new.

Cover of the new issue featuring Pandita Ramabai

In this issue we are delighted to have Margot Stevenson’s fascinating examination of the life and achievements of Pandita Ramabai (1858-1922): ‘Hindu reformer, scholar and educator, feminist and Christian’. Her religious affiliation changed during her lifetime, but while she became a Christian she was far from being an advocate for proselytism. Both a scholar and an activist she taught in the United States and United Kingdom and also set up schools in India. Although a convert she did not abandon her Hindu culture and Indian forms. Within Christianity she changed direction a few times and was linked to Unitarians for a time. Most of all she was defined by an ardent desire to ameliorate the lot of women, girls and widows in Indian society and would go to great lengths to personally rescue young girls who had been married as children and were subsequently widowed and faced a life of misery as a result. Her article also includes a number of illustrations of Ramabai and her work, a person who, in the words of Margot Stevenson, still ‘exudes a mysterious charisma’, almost a century after her death.

Barrie Needham asks about the idea of progress in religion (a very pertinent question for our journal since Faith and Freedom has described itself as ‘a journal of progressive religion’ since it was instituted in 1947). Truth, discovery about God, moral norms, a fulfilling life – how do we define a progressive religion?

Esther Suter is a journalist and ordained pastor in the Swiss Evangelical Church. She writes about ‘How do we become human?’ in the context of Fritz Buri (1907-1995) one of the most prominent liberal theologians in Europe in the twentieth century. An active member of the IARF with many close associations with Unitarians, Fritz Buri was a disciple of Albert Schweitzer who developed and extended his theology in his long career.

Csaba Tódor, a Unitarian minister and educator in Transylvania, looks at the difficulties experienced by churches behind what was once the ‘iron curtain’ as they transition and their societies transition from the centrally planned, authoritarian system of the Communist era to the market-led liberal democracies of the present era.

Helena Fyfe Thonemann gives us her exegesis of ‘Christ’s fury in the Jerusalem Temple at Passover, and the problem of vicarious sacrifice’ which looks at the meaning of communion in the context of replacing the covenant of the Old Testament.

As always we have some important reviews including Marcus Braybrooke on Andy Bannister, Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?, (Inter-Varsity Press, 2021) and Peter Godfrey on Brian Holley’s personal journey ‘from fundamentalism to faith’. In addition Andrew Hill reviews Samuel Haliday by the editor of the journal and Mary Stewart’s book on her church graveyard.

An annual subscription costs £16 and is available from the business manager or through payment via PayPal. You can subscribe via the Faith and Freedom website here: https://www.faithandfreedom.org.uk/subs.htm

The illustration at the top of this page shows Pupils of Pandita Ramabai at the Sharada Sadan, Poona (Pune) from Helen Dyer, Pandita Ramabai: The Story of Her Life (1900)