A blog about church history and related matters, particularly unitarian and non-subscribing history, as well as matters of faith, theology, liberal christianity, non-creedal religion and related topics. By the editor of 'Faith and Freedom' and the 'Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society'.
This week our service of worship comes from Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church. The service is conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers, and the reading, from Matthew ch.3 .v.4-17, is given by Carol Nixon. John Strain, church organist plays the hymns In Christ Alone and Take my life, and let it be.
Today we consider the baptism of Jesus and this encounter related in Matthew’s gospel between Jesus and John the Baptist on the banks of the River Jordan. A moment of revelation – not least for Jesus himself – but also a moment of change where we move from a prophet warning that His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire to Jesus’ vision of a kingdom where the least are greatest of all: Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.
You can also listen to our joint service between Ballee, Clough and Downpatrick Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Churches broadcast live from Downpatrick on BBC Radio Ulster on Sunday, 22nd May 2005 here:
This Sunday’s service comes from First Dunmurry NS Presbyterian Church and considers the question of finding wisdom. There are lots of distractions in life and plenty of goals to aim for, which may or may not actually be worthwhile, but we have to underpin all that we do with a wise appraisal of ourselves and the world we live in.
Today’s reading comes from Job ch.28 v.12-13, 23-28 and is given by Noelle Wilson. Church organist, Allen Yarr, plays the hymns When I survey the wondrous cross (Church Hymnary 106) and Ye holy angels bright (Church Hymnary 39). At the start of the service Allen plays the Air from Handel’s Water Music on the piano.
We are moving towards the Spring now as the pictures of snowdrops in the grounds of Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church testify at the top and bottom of this post.
My soul, bear thou thy part, triumph in God above, and with a well-tuned heart sing thou the songs of love; let all thy days till life shall end, whate’er he send, be filled with praise.
From Ye holy angels bright by Richard Baxter (1615-91)
You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are — no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
Matthew ch.5 v.5 ‘The Message’
This Sunday’s service comes from the First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Downpatrick and is conducted by the minister. Mary Stewart, the church secretary, gives the reading from Matthew ch.5 v.1-10 as we consider the idea of ‘the meek’ and humility. Church organist Laura Patterson plays the hymns How can I keep from singing (Hymns for Living 133/Mission Praise 1210) and Hide me now under Your wings (Mission Praise 1057) as well as Shall we gather at the river as an introduction to the service.
Click on the following video to see the service:
During the service we also quote the Rev Matthew Henry (you can see a picture of his chapel in Chester on this blog by clicking here) :
Portrait of Matthew Henry, half-length, in an oval surmounted by ribbons and laurels, slightly turned to the left, dressed in an academic gown with bands at his neck and a periwig on his head, illustration to the “Gospel Magazine” (1779) Engraving and etching
In Micah chapter 6 verse 8 we read the famous statement:
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
In our service today, from Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, we explore how you can summarize – in a few words or a sentence – the real meaning of faith.
On one occasion someone asked Rabbi Hillel to recite the whole of the Torah while standing on one leg. He said simply, ‘What is hateful to you, do not do to others. That is the whole of Torah, the rest is commentary on it.’
The service is conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers. Robert Neill gives the reading from Micah ch.6 v.6-8 and Alfie McClelland, the church organist, plays the hymns which are Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 22), Sun of my soul, thou Saviour dear (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 439) and Rejoice! the Lord is King (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 62). Click on the above video to see the service.
Our service for this Sunday comes from Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church which this year celebrates its tercentenary.
The service is conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers, and John Strain, the church organist, plays the hymns ‘O Love that wilt not let me go’ (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 276) and ‘Spirit of the living God’ (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 178) as well as ‘How deep the Father’s Love for us’ (Irish Church Hymnal 224) which is played at the beginning and end of the service. The reading is Psalm 139 v.1-12, 23-24.
The above quotation comes from Meister Eckhart and it seems a fitting thought to have in mind at the start of a new year, especially after all the difficulties of the year that has gone before.
This new year is also the 300th anniversary of the building of the Ballee meeting-house and both the new year and this tercentenary feature in our service for Sunday, 3rd January. The date is close too, to the feast of the Epiphany and a reflection on the story and meaning of the Magi features in our worship.
Christmas Crib at Ballee from a couple of years ago
With music played by John Strain on the organ at Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, Jack Steers on the trumpet and Laura Neill on the bagpipes. The reading comes from Matthew ch.2 v.1-12.
Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church traces its origins back to the middle of the seventeenth century but the present meeting-house was built in 1721, after the previous one blew down in a storm. For three hundred years the congregation have worshipped in this important example of an early eighteenth-century T-shaped meeting-house. We have a number of special events planned to celebrate this significant milestone.
We have three services online over the Christmas period all of which can be accessed from this post.
Our service for Christmas Eve on Thursday 24th December is filmed in First Dunmurry (NS) Presbyterian Church and conducted by Rev Dr David Steers. The readings include A Visit from St Nicholas, read by Sue Steers, The Oxen by Thomas Hardy and It is a good thing to observe Christmas day by Henry van Dyke. Church organist Allen Yarr plays the carols O Come all ye faithful, O Little Town of Bethlehem and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. Ballee organist John Strain plays It came upon the midnight clear and Laura Neill plays Jingle Bells on the bagpipes. Special thanks to InkLightning for the Father Christmas artwork.
Our Christmas Day service is filmed in Clough, Ballee and Downpatrick churches. Conducted by Rev Dr David Steers the readings are given by Sophia Cleland (Luke ch.2 v.8-20) and Eve Lightbody (Matthew ch.2 v.1-12). Music includes God rest ye merry gentlemen played on keyboards and sung by Dillon and Haydn Howell; Silent Night played by Laura Neill on the bagpipes and Laura Patterson on the organ of the First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Downpatrick; Mary’s Boy Child; Joy to the World; The First Nowell; Jingle Bells/Christ is born today; When a child is born, all played by John Strain on the organ of Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church.
Sunday, 27th December
Filmed at Inch Abbey in county Down and conducted by Rev Dr David Steers our service for the last Sunday in 2020 includes as readings Llananno by R.S. Thomas and an extract from My Cathedral: A Vision of Friendship by Alexander Irvine. Jack Steers plays It came upon the midnight clear on the trumpet, Downpatrick organist Laura Patterson plays In the bleak mid-winter, and John Strain plays While shepherds watched their flocks by night and O little town of Bethlehem on the organ at Ballee.
If you can’t get to church on Sunday amidst all the current restrictions or, indeed, if you have been to church but would like to join in another Christmas service, you can click on our video and join in our Service of Carols and Readings.
Filmed partly in Downpatrick it features music played on the organs at Ballee and Downpatrick plus music on the trumpet and bagpipes as well as readers from different churches who re-tell the Christmas story.
Click on the video to see the service:
Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church
First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Downpatrick
Christmas Carol Service
Sunday, 20th December 2020
O Come, O come, Emmanuel (played by Jack on the trumpet)
Opening Words Rev Dr David Steers
1st Reading Isaiah ch.9 v.2, 6-7 Nigel
1st Carol O Come, all ye faithful (played by Laura on the bagpipes)
1st Carol O Come, all ye faithful (played by John on the organ at Ballee)
2nd Reading Isaiah ch.11 v.1-9 Margaret
2nd Carol O little town of Bethlehem (John)
3rd Reading Isaiah ch.40 v.1-5 Rosemary
3rd Carol Once in Royal David’s City (John)
4th Reading Luke ch.1 v.26-35 Adele
4th Carol The first Nowell (played by Laura on the organ at Downpatrick))
5th Reading Matthew ch.1 v.18-25 Emma
5th Carol Mary’s Boy Child (Laura)
6th Reading Luke ch.2 v.1-7 Emma
6th Carol Silent night! (John)
7th Reading Luke ch.2 v.8-20 Noelle
7th Carol See amid the winter snow (Laura)
8th Reading Matthew ch.2 v.1-12 Mary
8th Carol Hark! The Herald Angels sing (John)
9th Reading John ch.1 v.1-14 Robert
9th Carol Joy to the world (Laura)
A Great and Mighty Wonder (John)
O thou eternal Wisdom, whom we partly know and partly do not know;
O thou eternal Justice, whom we partly acknowledge, but never wholly obey;
O thou eternal Love, whom we love a little, but fear to love too much:
The service for the Third Sunday in Advent is led by the members of the Sunday School at Clough who do a wonderful job of leading our worship in a very special Christmas service. Big thanks goes to Leanne Straney for organising the recordings and making the whole thing possible, and to all the children who have put together such a brilliant service. Thanks also goes to Laura Patterson who accompanies the service on the organ at Downpatrick and plays the hymns Come and join the celebration and Hark! the Herald Angels Sing. You can view the video here:
Installation at Banbridge
On Friday, 11th December – the same day as the latest lockdown in Northern Ireland ended – the Presbytery of Antrim installed the Rev Brian Moodie as the new minister of Banbridge Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church. In the present circumstances the occasion was much more scaled down than usual with no visitors or guests allowed to be present, no hymns, no speeches and no refreshments, but nevertheless it was a considerable achievement on the part of the Presbytery of Antrim and the congregation to arrange for all the necessary steps leading to an installation – candidature, taking the mind of the meeting as well as a full installation service – during a pandemic. We wish the Rev Brian Moodie and the congregation every blessing for the future.
An additional special issue of the Transactions is now on its way to subscribers (new subscribers are also very welcome, if you would like to join go to the Unitarian Historical Society website here).
This issue features:
WILLIAM HAZLITT, JOSEPH PRIESTLEY AND THE ORIGINS OF UNITARIANISM IN AMERICA by STEPHEN BURLEY
Dr Stephen Burley’s paper is a radical reassessment of the role of William Hazlitt in the development of Unitarianism in the United States. A difficult man, Hazlitt was a fervent propagandist for Unitarianism whose contribution has frequently been overlooked or downplayed. This article adds a great deal to our understanding of him.
‘STEADFAST THROUGH TROUBLES’: MOUNTPOTTINGER AND THE LAWRENCES by SANDRA GILPIN
Sandra Gilpin tells a story that weaves together Unitarian life in London, Wales and Belfast in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries through the lens of the Lawrence family. Its main focus is Ellen Mary Lawrence who was born in London and who married the Rev William Jenkin Davies. She died at a tragically young age and her memorial forms part of Mountpottinger NSP Church in east Belfast.
HELEN K. WATTS – A UNITARIAN SUFFRAGETTE by ALAN RUSTON
Alan Ruston brings together two sides of the life of Helen K. Watts. A ‘stalwart’ Unitarian, well-known in London and Sussex up until her death in 1972. She was also an active suffragette between 1907 to 1911 who was arrested for her campaigning and threatened with force feeding. This remarkable aspect of her life seems to have been forgotten in Unitarian circles and Alan paints a full picture of her life and achievements.
In our Record Section Derek McAuley has used the Freedom of Information Act to uncover hitherto unknown aspects of the life of the Rev Gábor Kereki (1914-1995) who fled Hungary for Britain at the start of the Cold War in 1947. Throughout the rest of his life he made a great contribution to the Unitarian ministry in Britain and this will continue thanks to a substantial legacy left by his wife in 2016. She has established the ‘Gábor Kereki Trust’ to benefit ministers and students of the Hungarian Unitarian Church and enable them to study in the UK.
In our Reviews Derek McAuley begins what must be a long-overdue examination of the role Unitarians played in slavery prior to its abolition in 1833 with his review of Kate Donnington’s brand new book on the Hibbert family. Alan Ruston reviews the important Lindsey Press book Unitarian Women A Legacy of Dissent, edited by Ann Peart, and Andrew Hill reviews a new publication of the diaries of James Losh, a Newcastle Unitarian who observed and recorded detailed changes in nature, the environment and weather in his local area between 1803 and 1833.
Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society
Volume 27 Number 3 December 2020 Edited by David Steers