Tercentenary of Ballee

For three hundred years our congregation at Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church has been worshipping in its T-shaped meeting-house of 1721. It couldn’t be described as entirely unchanged since that year – originally the building would have been thatched and at some point later in the eighteenth century it had a new roof built of Memel pine, later still the old box pews were removed and used to fit out new rooms in the church. But still the walls are the same walls that have stood as silent witness to our faith for three hundred years.

To join the service click on the video after 9.45 am on Sunday, 18th April 2021

The service is conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers, and the reading is from John ch.4 v.31-38. The church’s organist, John Strain, plays the hymns Lord of all Hopefulness (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 257) and Sent forth by God’s blessing (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 443). At the start and end of the service John also plays Thine be the glory (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 288).

The video includes many of the special features of this historic church and explores the history of the congregation.

In the Ordnance Survey Memoir for this part of County Down in 1835 it notes that the Presbyterians:

have a house of worship at Ballee bridge, and at the late schism of the Synod of Ulster, the congregation departed from the body and joined the Remonstrants. The minister of the congregation receives 50 pounds a year stipend from his hearers and 75 pounds a year regium donum….

The regium donum was a government grant paid to ministers. But the Ordnance Survey also reports, under a section entitled Habits of the People:

A more intelligent or industrious population is rarely to be found, being punctually honest in their dealings and generally attached to the form of religious worship they profess without being intolerant.

On the Road to Emmaus

Two disciples walk along a dusty road towards Emmaus, a village about seven miles from Jerusalem. In their grief and confusion they are joined by a stranger who talks to them about what they have been through, yet at no point do they recognise him until later when they break bread together.

In today’s service we examine this story and its meaning where Jesus is only known in the breaking of the bread:

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.

Today’s service comes from Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church. It is conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers, with the reading from Luke ch.24 v.13-35 given by Robert Neill. Church organist Alfie McClelland plays Lord of all being, throned afar (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 2) and Come all who look to Christ today (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 236) as well as Praise to the Lord, the Almighty at the start and end of the service. Molly McCloy also sings the solo Bless the Lord, O my soul accompanied by Laura Patterson on the organ at Downpatrick.

Service from Clough, available from 9.45 am on Sunday, 11th April 2021

Click on the above video to join in our act of worship.

Easter 2021

This Sunday our Easter service comes from the First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Downpatrick. We are starting to move back to worship in our churches but are continuing with our online services on YouTube as well.

First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Downpatrick

Easter Service from Downpatrick

Click on the above video (after 9.45 am on Sunday, 4th April) for our Easter service

The service is conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers, and features church secretary Mary Stewart as reader (Matthew ch.28 v.1-10), Molly McCloy as soloist and Laura Patterson as organist. Gerard Manley Hopkins poem Easter is also read.

Good Friday Reflections

Good Friday Reflections 2nd April 2021

Sue Steers gives this reflection on Good Friday which combines an examination of a famous human story from 1912 with Jesus’s sense of destiny and self-sacrifice, looking also at images of Jesus, including this early Byzantine mosaic picturing Jesus without a beard. John Strain plays the organ at Ballee with the hymns My Faith Looks up to Thee (Irish Presbyterian Hymn Book 72), Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 288) and Thou Whose Almighty Word (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 173).

Palm Sunday 2021

Today’s service for Sunday, 28th March celebrates Palm Sunday.

The crowd spread their garments on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.
And the crowds that went before him and that followed him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
And when he entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?”
And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee.”

Matthew ch.21 v.8-11

Our service comes from Dunmurry where Dillon and Haydn read Philippians ch. 2 v.6-11 and John ch.12 v.12-16, the gospel reading complete with palm leaves. Church organist Allen Yarr plays the hymns: Ride on! Ride on in majesty! (Church Hymnary 92) and When I survey the wondrous cross (Church Hymnary 106). The opening and closing shots of the church show the glorious crop of daffodills in the church yard.

Palm Sunday Service, 28th March 2021

Click on the above video to join in the service (after 9.45 am on 28th March 2021)

Hosanna!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

Pilgrimage – in the steps of St Patrick

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.

A view of the Mountains of Mourne on St Patrick’s Day 2021

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:

Sunday Worship from Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, available from 9.45 am on Sunday, 21st March

Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church

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:

Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Reflections: St Patrick’s Day (click on the video above)

St Patrick’s grave (Photo: Sue Steers)

According to tradition St Patrick is buried with the remains of St Brigid and St Columba here in the grounds of Down Cathedral.

The History of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland – part three

Our worship this week comes from Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church and among other things it considers the next step in our history of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church. This year is also the tercentenary of Ballee NSP Church building, although the lockdown caused by the pandemic has so far prevented us from celebrating this milestone in the way we had intended.

Artwork at Ballee celebrating the church and its activities made as part of the Neighbours Project organized by Down Community Arts in 2001

Service for Sunday, 14th March 2021. Click on the above video for the service (after 9.45 am on Sunday, 14th March)

The reading is taken from Psalm 145 v.1-9. Church organist John Strain plays the hymns Come let us sing of a wonderful love (Junior Mission Praise 29) and Courage friend and do not stumble (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 329). As well as marking Mothers Day our service also considers the third part of the history of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland.

International Women’s Day

Click on the above video to see Time for a Story: Four Inspirational Women

For this week’s ‘Time for a Story’ Sue Steers has put together this short film for the week of International Women’s Day. It looks at the lives of four women, from different eras, who made a difference to society and the world around them.

In part two of the history of the NSPCI mention was made of Rev Samuel Clarke, Rector of St James’s Piccadilly (or Westminster depending on which location you prefer) who published ‘The Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity’ in 1712. A radical and widely read Anglican theologian in the early eighteenth century, Ballee NSP Church (which has had its own library since the 1830s) actually has eight volumes of Samuel Clarke’s sermons.

But although these were published in 1743 they didn’t come to Ballee then. A signed dedication reveals that they were given by the Rev David Maginnis (who was born in Downpatrick and became minister of York Street in Belfast) to the Rev John Porter, born in Moneyreagh and, in 1850, about to commence his ministry in Ringwood, Hampshire where he stayed for ten years before coming to Ballee in 1860. An interesting indication of a friendship between two radically inclined Non-Subscribing ministers in the mid-nineteenth century, still valuing the works of an Anglican radical of one hundred years before.

It is interesting to note that the volumes originally belonged to an owner who had their own coat of arms which was reproduced in the books as a bookplate. But at some point the name or motto that appeared underneath the coat of arms has been scored out. So, unless an expert in heraldry can tell us who the arms belonged to, we don’t know who the original owner was.

In the Garden of Eden

The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is a powerfully potent one in the human imagination. Often seen as the source of sin in the world, in today’s service we examine this well-known story in the light of a view of the Bible that is less hidebound by fundamentalism and a literal approach and which relies instead on the use of human imagination and appreciates the importance of metaphor. A tradition that goes back at least to the writings of Origen.

The service comes from the First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Downpatrick and is conducted by the Rev David Steers. The reading is from Genesis ch.2 v.15 – ch.3 v.8. Church organist Laura Patterson plays You are my strength, When He cometh and For the beauty of the earth.

Evening in Lissagally (Photo: Paul Eliasberg) From the 2018 ‘Faith and Freedom’ Calendar

So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field.

(Genesis ch.2 v.19-20).

The History of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland – part two

In our service this morning, from Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, we continue to look at the early history of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian denomination and in this address ask questions about the meaning of ‘heresy and orthodoxy’ and look at the role of Thomas Emlyn in sparking the first subscription controversy when the Synod of Ulster introduced compulsory subscription to the Westminster Confession following his imprisonment in Dublin in 1703.

Click on the above video to see today’s service featuring the second part of the History of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland (available from 9.45 am on Sunday, 28th February 2021)

The service comes from Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church and is conducted by the minister. The reading is from Romans ch.14 v.1-9 and is read by Sue Steers. Church organist John Strain plays the hymns Who is on the Lord’s side (Thanks and Praise 164) and Wisdom Divine, bright shining, never fading (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 55) on the church’s Carnegie organ.

Also this week we have uploaded to the Downpatrick, Ballee & Clough NSP Churches YouTube channel a service that was originally broadcast from All Souls’ Church, Belfast on BBC Radio Ulster in 1995:

Click on the above video to see the service

Converted from a cassette tape to mp3 format the service was recorded live from the radio in October 1995. The service is conducted by the minister at the time, Rev David Steers. The readers are Barbara Moneypenny (Psalm 46) and Jim Jackson (Luke ch.6 v.12-31). Muriel Singleton leads the prayers. The church organist is Albert McCartney who plays on the church’s Compton organ the hymns Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation; Just as I am, thine own to be; Dear Lord and Father of mankind; Immortal, invisible, God only wise and leads the Church Choir in the singing of Lead me Lord (music S.S. Wesley, words Psalm 5) and Grant us Thy Peace (music Timothy Troman, words D. Bruce-Payne).

In the time of Lent

After almost twelve months of on and off lockdown as we have grappled with the challenges of the Coronavirus we have been effectively in our own period of perpetual Lent. Our service today reflects on Lent in the light of this situation.

Sunday Service, 21st February 2021 (available after 9.45 am on 21st February)

The service comes from Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church and is conducted by the minister. The reading is given by Robert Neill of Downpatrick and comes from Luke ch.4 v.1-15. Church organist, Alfie McClelland, plays the hymns ‘Walk in the light, so shalt thou know’ (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 334) and ‘Courage, friend, and do not stumble’ (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 329). Click on the video above to see the service.

The History of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland

A small but historically important liberal Christian denomination, the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church was born out of the interaction between faith and the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century. This act of worship includes this first part of a video series telling the history of the Church. In this film detailing the origins of the denomination in the Presbytery of Antrim in 1725, the work of John Abernethy, the Belfast Society, the influence of Glasgow University, and the Church’s place in a Europe-wide movement are all discussed.

The University of Glasgow in the late seventeenth century

The service is filmed at Downpatrick, a distinctive building of 1711, and one of the best examples in Ulster of a traditional T-shaped meeting house. The organist is Laura Patterson, who plays ‘Christ be our light’ and ‘The power of the Cross’. The reading is Isaiah ch.51 v.1-6.

You can see the service and the address on the history of the denomination in the following video:

Service of Worship from Downpatrick, including part one of the History of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland (available from 9.45 am on Sunday, 14th February)