Worshipping Together, Sunday, 7th June

 

“There is nothing in all the world so like God as stillness”

Meister Eckhart

Banbridge front

This Sunday’s service comes from Banbridge and a big thank you goes to Ruby Bushby of Banbridge, who did the reading (1 Kings ch.19 v.4-13), John Strain, who played the organ (at Ballee), and Robert and Laura Neill who played the duet ‘Work for the Night is Coming’ on the bagpipes, being filmed overlooking the dramatic coastline of Lecale.

The theme of the service is silence and includes the following quotation from James Martineau:

Silence is in truth the attribute of God; and those who seek him from that side invariably learn that meditation is not the dream but the reality of life; not its illusion but its truth; not its weakness but its strength. .. All great things are born of silence. .. all beneficent and creative power gathers itself together in silence, ere it issues out in might. .. Silence came before creation, and the heavens were spread without a word. Christ was born at dead of night; and though there has been no power like his, ‘He did not strive nor cry, neither was his voice heard in the streets.’ Nowhere can you find any beautiful work, any noble design, any durable endeavour, that was not matured in long and patient silence, ere it spake out in its accomplishment.

And in the Psalms we read:

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honour;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.

(Psalm 62 v.5-8.)

We uploaded two additional videos in the last week both of which deal with animals and the animal kingdom. The first one will definitely appeal to cat-lovers:

This is the story of Faith the Cat, a stray cat that found its way into a church in London during the Second World War. Faith survived a bomb that destroyed the church and rescued her kitten, later being awarded a silver medal. The story also includes two cat poems.

The second video, was uploaded on World Environment Day and features a prayer for the animal kingdom alongside a reading from Matthew ch.6 v.25-33 which accompany some of the marvellous wildlife photographs taken by Graham Bonham. Graham is a keen amateur photographer, some of his pictures have been used in Faith and Freedom Calendars, and these depict a wide variety of animals including a Great Crested Grebe (above), a red panda and a mouse in his conservatory.

Banbridge with Methodist church second

First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Banbridge. Next door is the Methodist Church.

Faith and Freedom, Spring and Summer 2020

The Spring and Summer issue 2020 of Faith and Freedom, (Volume 73, Part 1) issue 190 is now available.

Articles include:

Sacred Stories by MARGOT STEVENSON

In Sacred Stories Margot Stevenson explores the intersection between individual stories of the sacred and the canonical stories of religious traditions. Building on six real-life stories she examines how religious convictions, spiritual experiences cannot be reduced to formulas or dogmatic positions. Unpacking the story of Pentecost in the book of Acts she shows how rather than being a foundation story for a rigid hierarchical understanding of a monolithic church it has often been an inspiration for movements for individual freedom and social equality in widely different settings. Using this as a basis she argues for democratic model of spiritual engagement.

Civility in Public Life – can it be restored? by Rabbi Baroness JULIA NEUBERGER

Rabbi Julia Neuberger delivered the Vincent Strudwick lecture on Religion in Public Life in Oxford in November 2019, just before the British general election. In it she tackles the timely question – which dominated public life just a few short months ago – of whether civility in public life could be restored. With lockdown and the coronavirus this issue has slipped off the national radar for the time being but there is no doubt that once we return to some semblance of normality it will return to the fore. Rabbi Neuberger counters the coarsening of public debate and the frequent abuse and threat of violence that many in the public eye face with the Jewish tradition of Derech Eretz, ‘the way of the earth’, following ways of courtesy rooted in but not dependent on religious practice.

The Sovereignty of Good and the Kingdom of God – a view from the hospital waiting-room by FRANK WALKER

In the Sovereignty of Good and the Kingdom of God – a view from the hospital waiting-room the Rev Frank Walker gives a very personal and moving account of his response to his late wife’s cancer diagnosis and ties that in to the care given by John Bayley to his wife Iris Murdoch who wrote ‘The Sovereignty of Good’ and suffered severely with Alzheimer’s disease towards the end of her life. In such human responses to tragedy Frank finds ‘the Good’, something not far from the Kingdom of God.

Spiritual modelling with the Findhorn Foundation by RALPH CATTS

Ralph Catts considers spirituality as the means of making meaning in life and providing the framework for social action and finds synergy within the practices of the Findhorn Foundation and Unitarian communities. Working from the experiences of groups of Unitarians who participated in the communal spiritual life of the Findhorn Foundation in 2018 he examines whether this has influenced their spirituality as part of Unitarian communities and finds that Findhorn Unitarian Experience Week allows for spiritual modelling within a permanent spiritual community while being enriched by input from a sympathetic although distinct spiritual tradition.

Images of Gertrude von Petzold by DAVID STEERS

The editor looks at images of the Rev Gertrude von Petzold, the first woman minister of an organised denomination in Britain who began her ministry in Leicester in 1904. Her entry into the ministry created an opportunity for photographers to do something that had never been done before – to photograph a woman minister. One particular photograph gained great fame and was widely used (see above) but other representations were also considered which are discussed in this short article, complete with illustrations, including the striking cover of this issue.

This article – complete with additional illustrations – can also be read online on this blog. Click here to read it.

 

Books reviewed:

Both Here, and Beyond

Stephen Lingwood, Seeking Paradise: A Unitarian Mission For Our Times, Lindsey Press, London 2020, pp 142, ISBN 978-085319-094-3. £10.00 pbk.

Reviewed by JIM CORRIGALL. [The full text of Jim’s article can be read on the Faith and Freedom website here]

‘THE MOST IMPORTANT BOOK OF UNITARIAN THEOLOGY IN BRITAIN FOR MORE THAN 50 YEARS’ – Jim Corrigall

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The fountain of sweet and bitter water

Ann Peart (ed.), Unitarian Women. A Legacy of Dissent, Lindsey Press, London, 2019, pp 241. ISBN number is: 978-0-85319-092-9. £10 pbk.

Reviewed by MÁRIA PAP.

Unitarian Women

 

‘A time when new life will break through’

Marjorie Dobson, Unravelling the Mysteries, Stainer & Bell, London, 2019, pp 165. ISBN 978-0-85249-959-7. £15.95 ppk.

Reviewed by STEPHANIE BISBY.

B959

 

The Dean of the Interfaith Movement

Helen Hobbin, Afternoon Tea with Mary and Marcus, Braybrooke Press, Abingdon, OX14 3EN,  2019, pp 154, ISBN 978-0-244-96888-5, £12.95.

Reviewed by PETER B. GODFREY.

Mary and Marcus cover

 

The Gospels, spirituality and photography

Peter Brain, The Knowable God, Circle Books, Alresford, 2019, pp 143. ISBN 978 1 78904 £12.99 pbk.

Reviewed by LENA COCKROFT.

N. Micklem, On the Lookout, Matador, Kibworth Beauchamp, 2019 (9, Priory Business Park, Wistow Road, Kibworth Beauchamp, Leicestershire LE8 0RX), pp.45. ISBN. 978 1789017 519. £7.99.

Reviewed by LENA COCKROFT.

Philip J. Richter, Spirituality in Photography, Darton, Longman and Todd, London, 2017, pp. 120. ISBN 978-0-232-53293-7. £9.99 pbk.

Reviewed by LENA COCKROFT.

 

Christianismi Restitutio

L. Goldstone, N. Goldstone, Out of the flames, Broadway Books, New York, 2002, pp 368. ISBN: 978–0-7679–0837–5. $24.95.

Reviewed by BARRIE NEEDHAM.

 

Interfaith worship and prayer

Christopher Lewis and Dan Cohn-Sherbok (eds.), Interfaith Worship and Prayer. We Must Pray Together. With a Foreword by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London and Philadelphia, 2019, pp.296. ISBN 978 1 78592 120 9. £19.99 pbk.

Reviewed by DAVID STEERS.

Interfaith

 

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Worship for Pentecost Sunday 2020

 

Mountains of Mourne from near Ballee

The mountains of Mourne from near Ballee

“What does this mean?”

Our service today comes from Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church and features music played by Laura Patterson and Alfie McClelland on the organ, a duet on bagpipes by Laura and Robert Neill and a reading by Adele Johnston (Acts ch. 2 v.1-21).

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Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church

Taking our cue from the onlookers at the first Pentecost, in the service today we ask what does Pentecost mean to us today? Can we reclaim Pentecost as part of our liberation? Can we find meaning for us today?

The hymns played are:

I, the Lord of sea and sky (Mission Praise 857)

and

Thy kingdom come – on bended knee (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 210)

Friday, 29th May saw the 67th anniversary of the climbing of Everest and in our Time for a Story this week Sue Steers reflects on the meaning of this famous event achieved by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in terms of co-operation and team work.

 

 

 

 

Sunday Service, 24th May

NonSubscribingChurch--36

Morning has broken
Like the first morning,
Blackbird has spoken
Like the first bird.
Praise for the singing!
Praise for the morning!
Praise for them, springing
Fresh from the Word!

Our service today comes from the First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Downpatrick. Our organist is Laura Patterson, the reading (from Ephesians chapter 3 verses 7-19) is provided by Robert Neill, and Jack Steers also plays the trumpet.

The hymns played are:

Morning has broken (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 433)

and

Amazing grace – such love profound  (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 337)

The service includes an exploration of the idea of ‘Thin Places’ and includes a quotation from a poem by the eighteenth-century Welsh poet and Calvinistic Methodist minister Thomas Jones (from The Mistle Thrush – in Celtic Christian Spirituality, edited by Mary C. Earle):

If our Lord is great, and great his praise
From just this one small part of earth,
Then what of the image of his greatness
Which comes from the whole of his fine work?
And through the image of the ascending steps
Of his gracious work, which he has made,
(Below and above the firmament,
Marvellously beyond number),
What of the greatness and pure loveliness
Of God himself?

 

We also uploaded in the week just gone a new Time for a Story video, in this case the story of the widow and the emperor, a marvellous tale about Hagia Sophia, the emperor Justinian, the widow Euphrasia and some hungry donkeys.

 

Visit to Transylvania in 1868

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.

Portrait JJTayler

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.

 

Upper_Brook_Street_Chapel_2017_006

Upper Brook Street Chapel during its recent restoration as student flats [Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net)]

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.

Paget_János

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.

Old tower at Klausenberg

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.

gyulafehervar 02

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:

Edict of Torda

Gyulaféhervár

Inscriptions in Kolozsvár

Anniversary of the Edict of Torda

Diet of Torda 450 forint stamp

 

Worship Sunday, 17th May: Dunmurry

Dunmurry window

This week our service is recorded at the First Presbyterian NS Church, Dunmurry and Allen Yarr, the church organist, has very kindly provided music on piano for two hymns plus some additional music for the opening and closing of the service. The hymns are:

‘The Church Hymnary’ No. 704 ‘Yield not to temptation’

‘The Church Hymnary’ No.532 ‘Stand up! Stand up for Jesus’

The reading is from John ch. 2 v.13-2 and the address contains some reflection of Philip Larkin’s poem Church Going.

It pleases me to stand in silence here;

 

A serious house on serious earth it is,

In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,

Are recognized, and robed as destinies.

And that much never can be obsolete

In the end though our spiritual relationship with the divine is about something more than any building.

 

Over this last week we also uploaded another video, one which tells the little-known story of Henry Croft. His life-size, but diminutive, statue is hidden underneath Trafalgar Square in London. As such it is the complete antithesis of the giant statue of Lord Nelson that sits high in the sky, almost touching the clouds. You can hear all about the life of Henry Croft on this Time for a Story video above.

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View looking across Trafalgar Square from Charing Cross, towards the National Gallery and Nelson’s Column, St Martin’s Church on the far right, in the foreground to the left is the equestrian statue of Charles I, the surrounding streets busy with pedestrians, riders, coaches and carriages. 1852 Colour lithograph. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Worship: Sunday, 10th May

Ballee int Sept 2017

This week’s service is recorded at Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, county Down. We are pleased again to have the services of John Strain, our Ballee organist, who plays some music at the start and end of the service as well as the two hymns:

‘Through all the changing scenes of life’ (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 48)

‘Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father’ (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 54)

Readings:

Lamentations ch.3 v.21-26

Don’t Quit by John Greenleaf Whittier (with special thanks to Emma McConnell)

Don’t Quit

When things go wrong as they sometimes will,

When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,

When the funds are low but the debts are high,

And you want to smile, but you have to sigh.

 

When care is pressing you down a bit, rest if you must but don’t you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns as every one of us sometimes learns.

And many a failure turns about when he might have won if he stuck it out.

Don’t give up though the pace seems slow, you may succeed with another blow.

 

Success is failure turned inside out, the silver tint of the clouds of doubt.

And you never can tell how close you are, it may be near when it seems so far.

So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit, it’s when things seem worse that you must not quit.

 

Recent videos on the churches’ channel also include a reflection on Time which includes consideration of J.R.R. Tolkien:

‘All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’

(J.R.R. Tolkien)

And a prayer for VE Day also by Sue Steers which includes an account of the life of George Cross who took part in the D Day landings and returned to Normandy at the age of 100:

 

 

 

 

Communion Sunday, 3rd May 2020

This week’s service is a Communion Service recorded at Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church

Sunday, 3rd May 2020

Service conducted by the minister the Rev Dr David Steers

Organist: John Strain

Reading: Matthew ch.14 v.13-21

The hymns played are:

‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ No. 326

Guide me, O thou great Jehovah

‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ No. 61

Now thank we all our God

The full words of the hymns can be found in the description under the video on YouTube.

For most congregations in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland May is the month in which one of the two communion services of the year are held.

We also uploaded to YouTube, earlier in the week, another video which set out to explain something of the background to the celebration of Communion within the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland. Recorded at Downpatrick it can be seen here:

Worship: Sunday, 26th April

Downpatrick 1 Oct 2016

Our service this morning comes from the First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Downpatrick and again features the Mountains of Mourne which can be viewed in the distance while a bagpipe duet plays courtesy of Robert and Laura Neill. When the music stops it is replaced with the music of birdsong. We are pleased to again have John Strain playing the organ at Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, providing us with the music for the hymns:

All things bright and beautiful (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 245)

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty! (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 19)

Reading: Genesis ch.1 v.20-31.

The sermon takes as its starting point some words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks:

We are each, regardless of class, colour or culture, in the image and likeness of God. This is the most important statement in Western culture of the non-negotiable dignity of the human person.

Worship in a Church of the Polish Brethren

Kolosy date 02

There are a number of previous posts on this blog about the Minor Reformed Church/Polish Brethren and my visit to Poland in the summer of 2019. They can be seen here:

The Polish Brethren

Fausto Sozzini, the Polish Brethren and Kraków

The Dominican Church of the Holy Trinity and the Unitarian history of Kraków

Raków

The grave of Fausto Sozzini

But I have now uploaded to YouTube a video of the short act of worship we held on Sunday, 28th July 2019 in the former Polish Brethren church at Kolosy.

To be honest there is a lot wrong with this video – sound, picture, continuity, all are faulty in one way or another. It was recorded on a device that was seriously unreliable, indeed the picture cuts out altogether towards the end although the sound continues for a little bit longer. However, the end of the film now contains a number of still images of the former church at Kolosy, both exterior and interior shots, and closes with the text of the Lord’s Prayer in Polish which we tried, but did not succeed, in saying together in that language.

It is reproduced here because it represents a rare if not quite unique event – an act of worship in a church of the Polish Brethren/Minor Reformed Church, a church which was suppressed during the counter-reformation in 1658, just four years after this little church was built.

The service is led by myself, the Rev Dr Sándor Kovács (Unitarian, Kolozsvár, Transylvania), and the Rev Dr Roger Jones (UU, Sacramento, California). We were part of an organised tour of sites connected with the Polish Brethren in July and August 2019. Although a service was planned for this day this was essentially an impromptu act of worship because the Rev Dr Jay Atkinson, who was to have led the service, was unfortunately taken ill on the way to the building and had to go to hospital. So it fell to the three other clergy present to devise a service on the way. This is the service which is presented in the video, albeit in rather imperfect form. The chapel was built in 1654 and closed in 1658 but somehow has survived to the present day, perhaps being used as a store for many years. But it is still immediately recognisable as a place of worship.