These opening lines from God’s Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins supply us with the opening words and the theme of this week’s online service. Filmed at various locations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland places visited include the Hawarden estate, Flintshire, North Wales; the sand dunes at Formby near Liverpool; the Derbyshire Peak district; the River Thames (Isis) at Oxford; Norton Priory, Cheshire; Sefton Park, Liverpool; Rathmullan, county Down; and Dunmurry, county Antrim. As we look at these varied landscapes we explore the meaning of this idea of the divine presence in the natural world alongside readings from Gerard Manley Hopkins, Thomas Merton and Ernesto Cardenal.
In the service Graham Murphy reads two poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins – Binsey Poplars and Pied Beauty, both recorded at Gladstone’s Library, Hawarden, Flintshire. In addition Robert Neill and Emma McCrudden read extracts from the works of Thomas Merton and Ernesto Cardenal.
Music played includes:
For the beauty of the earth, played by Allen Yarr, organist of First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Dunmurry.
Come let us sing of a wonderful love, played by John Strain, organist of Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church.
O love that wilt not let me go, played by John Strain.
Let saints on earth in concert sing, played by Allen Yarr.
Let me seek, then, the gift of silence, and poverty, and solitude, where everything I touch is turned into a prayer: where the sky is my prayer, the birds are my prayer, the wind in the trees is my prayer, for God is all in all. – Thomas Merton
To accompany our service of worship conducted from Oxford we have a few views of various parts of the university and its environs.
The service features readings, hymns and prayers as well as poems relating to Oxford. As part of the service we are very pleased to have Graham Murphy read Duns Scotus’s Oxford, by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Oxford, by C.S. Lewis.
Readings: Psalm 139 read by Rev Dr David Steers Duns Scotus’s Oxford by Gerard Manley Hopkins, read by Graham Murphy Oxford by C.S. Lewis, read by Graham Murphy Oxford (extract) by T. Lovatt Williams, read by Sue Steers
Hymns: ‘The King of Love my shepherd is’, Alfie McClelland (Clough) ‘From all that dwell below the skies’, Allen Yarr (Dunmurry) ‘Lord of all hopefulness’, John Strain (Ballee) ‘Be still for the presence of the Lord’, Laura Patterson (Downpatrick) ‘In Christ Alone’, John Strain (Ballee) ‘It is well with my soul’, Allen Yarr (Dunmurry)
In the service you will see: Radcliffe Camera, Brasenose College, River Thames (Isis), Harris Manchester College, Mansfield College, New College, Christ Church (Peckwater Quad, Tom Quad, Memorial Garden), Christ Church Meadow, Old English Longhorn Cattle, Divinity School, Bodleian Library, Sheldonian Theatre, Christ Church Cathedral, University Church, Martyrs Memorial.
Our service is filmed in Oxford and features some of the well-known as well as some lesser-known sights of Oxford. Sue Steers reads Psalm 96 and Jenny Narramore shares an important part of College life in Christ Church. We also have a short reading from ex-slave and abolitionist’s autobiography The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. Our organists play five hymns: Thine be the glory, John Strain, Ballee; Be still for the presence of the Lord, Laura Patterson Downpatrick; Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, Alfie McClelland, Clough; How deep the Father’s love, Allen Yarr, Dunmurry; Blest are the pure in heart, John Strain, Ballee.
As a visual experience Oxford never disappoints. As the seasons change, as the weather or the light changes even in a single day, so the buildings repay careful scrutiny, with the colours of the stone reflecting the sun, the rain, a glowering sky or the bright blue backdrop of recent sunny days. There are less tourists now. Even the lure of Harry Potter and Inspector Morse are no longer sufficient to cram the streets with eager faces, although the city is busy enough despite the pandemic.
But here are a few images I took recently over a couple of days.
They are digging up the streets of Liverpool city centre all over the place at the moment. This is very much the case on Lime Street where they seem to be widening the pavement at one point and presumably planning to lay a new road surface.
Lime Street is a key thoroughfare in the city’s history. It has undergone some ‘development’ in recent years most notably with the controversial demolition of the old Futurist Cinema which I photographed when efforts were being made to save it. I never posted those pictures at the time although I might do in the future. The Futurist dated back to 1912 and deserved to be preserved. Over the road is the art deco frontage of the former ABC Cinema which is in some sort of limbo but also deserves preservation. I have some interesting historic photographs of Lime Street in times gone by which I might post up at some point. But walking along Lime Street now you are coralled behind a large fence, beyond which a digger is removing the old setts which can be seen in part of the road.
It is interesting to see what once constituted the road surface in Lime Street. The digger is scooping up the setts, noisily shaking them about to remove all the excess debris, and then piling them high at the side of the road.
But the other thing this work seems to be exposing is some of the old tramlines on Lime Street. Disused for seventy years and probably unseen for almost as long the tramlines have been uncovered by the digging.
What will happen to the old tramlines? Presumably the old setts are going to be sold off or possibly reused somewhere by the Council. I don’t know what you do with old tramlines, but it is interesting to see them, and interesting to reflect on what lies below the surface of our streets.
Our worship today comes from Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church and is the first in a new series considering significant Non-Subscribers from history.
Alexander Gordon was born in Coventry on 9th June 1841 and died in Belfast on 21st February 1931. A self-styled Englishman by birth, Scotsman by education and an Irishman by inclination Alexander Gordon was the foremost historian of religious dissent in the British Isles whose influence is still recognized today.
I’ve mentioned before the above photograph of Alexander Gordon, (click here to see the original post) the last known picture of him, arriving at Dunmurry to take the service in 1931 and this and many other images are used in the video for today’s service.
The service is recorded in Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church and is conducted by the minister. The reader is Carol Nixon who reads Psalm 100 and the organist is John Strain who plays the hymns Spirit of God, unseen as the wind (Irish Presbyterian Hymn Book 478) and Fairest Lord Jesus (Irish Presbyterian Hymn Book 19). Also played at the beginning and end of the service are As the deer pants and Who is on the Lord’s side.
As well as the images connected with Alexander Gordon the film includes video of the eighteenth-century roof beams of Ballee Church constructed from Memel pine.
Over the course of a long career Gordon was minister of a number of congregations in England and Ireland and was Principal of the Unitarian College, Manchester and lecturer in Ecclesiastical History at the University of Manchester, in what was then the first free faculty of Theology in Britain. He was also a renowned historian who travelled all over Europe in the course of his work. He regularly travelled between England and Ireland, even throughout the First World War, and always travelled from wherever he was to Dunmurry in order to attend the twice yearly communion services there. He also travelled across Europe visiting record offices and archives – most notably in Poland, Hungary and Transylvania – at a time when such visits were rare and logistically difficult. This is referenced in the service. His researches, whose subject matter stretched over centuries and many areas of religious life, link us with the past and with his life. They set us in context and in time.
Time is the feather’d thing, And, whilst I praise The sparklings of thy looks and call them rays, Takes wing, Leaving behind him as he flies An unperceived dimness in thine eyes. His minutes, whilst they’re told, Do make us old; And every sand of his fleet glass, Increasing age as it doth pass, Insensibly sows wrinkles there Where flowers and roses do appear. Whilst we do speak, our fire Doth into ice expire, Flames turn to frost; And ere we can Know how our crow turns swan, Or how a silver snow Springs there where jet did grow, Our fading spring is in dull winter lost. Since then the Night hath hurl’d Darkness, Love’s shade, Over its enemy the Day, and made The world Just such a blind and shapeless thing As ’twas before light did from darkness spring, Let us employ its treasure And make shade pleasure: Let ‘s number out the hours by blisses, And count the minutes by our kisses; Let the heavens new motions feel And by our embraces wheel; And whilst we try the way By which Love doth convey Soul unto soul, And mingling so Makes them such raptures know As makes them entranced lie In mutual ecstasy, Let the harmonious spheres in music roll!
Starting today, and then on each subsequent day, I will be uploading to the new velvethummingbee YouTube channel, a section from John James Tayler’s 1868 ‘Narrative of a Visit to the Unitarian Churches of Transylvania’. Published in The Theological Review for January 1869.
The first instalment can be seen here:
John James Tayler (1797 – 1869) was born in Surrey, the son of a non-conformist minister. At the age of 17 he went to Manchester College, York to be trained for the ministry under the direction of the principal, Charles Wellbeloved.
John James Tayler (1797–1869). Portrait (1848) by George Patten. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain
Proving himself an able scholar he graduated from Glasgow University in 1819 and the following year took on the ministry of Mosley Street Chapel in Manchester. Heavily influenced by the romantic movement, and a friend of Wordsworth, Tayler became one of the leaders of Unitarianism in Britain. A close ally of James Martineau he imbibed much of the new theological thinking from German scholars, particularly after a year spent studying there, and, being fluent in German, corresponded with many German theologians. With Martineau and others he also began to propound a more spiritual and devotional approach to worship which was physically embodied in the building of Upper Brook Street Chapel, the new gothic church built for his congregation to the plans of no less an architect than Sir Charles Barry, the architect of the new houses of parliament.
For a number of years he combined his ministry in Manchester with the role of professor of ecclesiastical history at Manchester College when it had moved back to that city. However, in 1853 when the college moved to London he moved with it and became the principal.
Over the years Manchester New College had an increasing connection with the Unitarian church in Transylvania which traced its history back to the reformation but which had had very little direct contact with groups in Britain until the mid-nineteenth century. Ministerial students from Transylvania travelled to the College as part of their education so by the time of the celebration of the 300th anniversary in 1868 there was a cohort of English-trained ministers in the country. Another connection came through the person of John Paget, a Leicestershire Unitarian partly educated at Manchester College, York, who met and married a Transylvanian countess, Baroness Polyxena Wesselényi, and went to live at Gyéres in Transylvania.
John Paget, Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.
Paget was a noted commentator on Hungarian politics, agriculture and education and turned his estates into a model of modern agriculture. His two volume account of his travels and experiences in the country, Hungary and Transylvania; with Remarks on their Condition, Social, Political, Economical (1839), illustrated by George Hering, became essential reading across Europe and remains an important text today. He was known to Tayler who also made use of Paget’s book in his account of his journey. Paget’s home, estates and vineyards had been ransacked in 1849-50 following the Hungarian war of independence and he and his family were forced to flee to England for a number of years. By 1869 he had been back in Transylvania for about fourteen years and Tayler and his daughter were able to visit him and his wife on their way to Torda.
Illustration by George Hering from John Paget’s ‘Hungary and Transylvania’
Every day I am going to read an extract from Tayler’s ‘Narrative’ as we follow him through his journey through Transylvania to join in the celebrations of the 300th anniversary of the Edict of Torda and will upload the readings on my personal YouTube channel.
To be certain of receiving an update for each new video click on the subscribe button at the end of the video.
David Steers (at the time Moderator of the Presbytery of Antrim); György Jakubinyi, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Gyulafehérvár; Ferenc Bálint Benczédi, Bishop of the Hungarian Unitarian Church, at the cathedral, Gyulafehérvár in January 2018. The view at the top of the page is also the cathedral at Gyulafehérvár.
I was very honoured to be asked to attend the 450th anniversary celebrations of the anniversary of the Edict of Torda in 2018 and I will include some pictures from that time with the ‘Narrative’ along with a few other illustrations by George Hering from John Paget’s book and from other sources.
There is further information to read concerning my experiences in Transylvania on this blog in the following posts:
Along with my friends and colleagues in the ministerial covenant group I had a great time at our meeting at Gladstone’s Library, Hawarden, Flintshire, in February. A unique institution, there is no other Prime Ministerial library in Britain and nothing else like it that hosts all manner of literary and theological courses and meetings.
But I was particularly struck by the words on this postcard on sale at the library:
The back of the card states: Source W.E. Gladstone, from a letter to Samuel Dukenfield (sic) Darbishire of 2nd January, 1895, quoted in John Morley, Life of Gladstone (1903). Samuel Dukinfield Darbishire and his family were all prominent Manchester Unitarians, members of Cross Street Chapel, so I was interested to see that this quote was in a letter written to him. It makes me want to follow up the 1903 biography and also Roy Jenkins’ biography of W.E. Gladstone, copies of which were available in the library.
But it is a remarkable place. No other Prime Minister has ever been motivated to leave their library to the nation. An impressive legacy and a marvellous resource.
Once again the annual Faith and Freedom Calendar has been sent out to all individual subscribers to the journal. Additional hard copies can be ordered (while stocks last) from Nigel Clarke, the business manager (email: firstname.lastname@example.org) in return for a donation which will go to the Send a Child to Hucklow Fund.
The Calendar can also be viewed and downloaded for free via the following link:
I was pleased to lead members of Reclaim the Enlightenment on a tour of no less than seven Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Churches on Saturday, 26th October. We were fortunate to enjoy a beautiful bright day and although we couldn’t see everything or hear the full story in each place we did cover a lot of ground and saw a great deal. We visited, in turn, All Souls’, Belfast; Dunmurry (where the ladies kindly provided very welcome sustenance in the form of tea and scones); Rademon; Clough; Downpatrick; Ballee and Killinchy. As we went around the congregations we were welcomed by clergy and church members and I gave a talk about each church in each place except in Rademon where Jim Ferris gave a wonderful talk about his church. Below are some images from the day. You can read about Reclaim the Enlightenment here.
Refreshments at Dunmurry
Members of Reclaim the Enlightenment at Downpatrick