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'.
At first sight it might seem strange to select Collecting Ladles as the subject for letter ‘C’ in our alphabetical exploration of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church. But Collecting Ladles formed a fairly essential part of church life for Presbyterians in Ireland and Scotland for generations. In some places they are still in use today but often aren’t recognized by those outside the Scots-Irish Presbyterian community. The above picture perfectly illustrates their use in a church in Scotland. It is a delightful image, although the people in the pew being asked for their offering seem to display something of the modern concept of the ‘messy church’ more than anything else. But collecting ladles also lead us into questions of giving and the stewardship of resources.
Our service today is filmed in Downpatrick. Church organist Laura Patterson plays the hymns God has spoken to his people’ (Mission Praise 182) and How can I keep from singing (Hymns for Living 133/Mission Praise 1210). The reading is 2 Corinthians ch.9 v.6-8.
In this service we look at some Bibles that also give us a hint of the historical identity of Non-Subscribing Presbyterians.
All Souls’ Church, Belfast possesses a number of very interesting Bibles, including one printed by the printer James Blow in Belfast in the early eighteenth cnetury. We look at the Clough Bible of 1793 as well as Bibles that belonged to Rev Alexander Gordon and Rev James Martineau.
Clough’s old Bible was presented to the church by the first minister in the new meeting- house of 1837, some 44 years after it was printed in Edinburgh. The inscription, which is shown in today’s video, emphasises the Rev David Watson’s belief that the Non-Subscribing church represented contuity with the original congregation or, as he styled them, ‘the Members of the New Presbyterian House of Worship in Clough’.
We also look at a Bible that once belonged to the Rev Alexander Gordon. You can discover more about him in this video. But this Bible stands out because it is the Revised Version of 1881-1885 (the New Testament was brought out first in 1881) ‘Newly Edited by the American Revision Committee’ in 1901 and published in New York.
Another Bible is one that once belonged to Rev James Martineau when he was minister of Eustace Street in Dublin from 1828 to 1832. There is some information about James Martineau on this blog here. He left Eustace Street after only a short ministry but judging by the date of this Bible, 1818, and the fact that it was discovered in Ireland, it seems likely that it was one he used in this ministry in Dublin. All this and more can be found in today’s service.
Filmed in Ballee, Downpatrick and Clough Ballee organist John Strain plays the hymns I am not worthy Holy Lord (Irish Presbyterian Hymn Book 384) and Just as I am (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 268). The reading is from Acts ch.8 v.26-40. The service is conducted by Rev Dr David Steers.
The latest issue of Faith and Freedom (Spring and Summer 2021, Number 192) has just been published.
Our cover features a striking image that is a piece of ‘discovered art’. A picture by an unknown New Zealand artist which complements so well Wayne Facer’s book A Vision Splendid: The Influential Life of William Jellie, A British Unitarian in New Zealand, which has recently gone into its second edition. The picture also appears on the cover of that book. This publication is the subject of an extensive essay and review by Graham Murphy. In Unitarianism in New Zealand: Essay and Review he uncovers the origins of Unitarianism in New Zealand through the exertions of British and Irish expatriates, most notably Moneyreagh-born William Jellie, and their relationship with Maori culture and the development of the colony right up to the devastating impact of the First World War.
Colin Walker writes about The commemoration of three Ulster Unitarians who died at the Somme: Captain James Samuel Davidson, Lieutenant James Dermot Neill and Second Lieutenant Ernest George Boas. They were all the sons of prominent Ulster businessmen, all served in the 36th ‘Ulster’ Division and all were commemorated by plaques created by Ulster artist Rosamond Praeger who was herself a Unitarian and probably knew all three of them personally. All were caught up in the Home Rule Crisis immediately before the war and all of them signed the Ulster Covenant, including Ernest Boas who was Jewish by descent but brought up in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church. Dr Walker skilfully unpacks the connections between them and also Rosamond Praeger (who like Ernest Boas was also from an originally Jewish family) and reflects on their faith and their legacy.
In Incarnation: the Supernaturalist Story and the Humanitarian Story, a sermon originally preached in Cambridge, Frank Walker assesses the way the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation can be understood in the light of humanity’s repeated cruelty and excesses, seen most notably in the Holocaust. Despite the obvious problems he finds reason to be optimistic: ‘Incarnation is a continuing reality. Creative energy is forever expressing itself in all the glorious and stupendous variety of life on earth and in the whole universe. And life, which often seems so fragile and vulnerable, subject to catastrophes and extinctions, is so tenacious and adaptable, and is constantly renewing itself’.
A Chautauqua performance is ‘a uniquely American dramatic format’ in which is portrayed an individual historic figure, ‘as if returning to life to address the audience’. Back in the Spring and Summer issue of Faith and Freedom in 2019 Kevin Murphy provided us with a Chautauqua performance concerning Francis David. In this issue he does the same for one of the most prominent American Unitarian theologians in history. An Appearance of William Ellery Channing: A Chautauqua Performance is a wonderfully insightful exploration of the theology that Channing came to espouse in the context of the circumstances of his life.
Martin Camroux (foreword by David R. Peel), Keeping Alive the Rumor of God: When Most People are Looking the Other Way, WIPF & Stock, Eugene, Oregon, 2020, pp 204, ISBN 978-1-7252-6241-6, £20 pbk.
Accessing a reliable grounding in wonder
Reviewed by BOB JANIS DILLON
Bert Clough, Dancing with Mortality: Reflections of a Lapsed Atheist, Bert Clough, Newbury, England, 2020, pp 111, ISBN 978-1-8381695- 0-3, £10 pbk.
Finding truth through the lives of ‘great souls’
Reviewed by JIM CORRIGALL
Marcus Braybrooke, Meeting Jewish Friends and Neighbours, Marcus Braybrooke, 17 Courtiers Green, Abingdon, OX14 3EN, firstname.lastname@example.org, 2020, pp 225, ISBN 9798564270243, £12.50 post free.
A comprehensive analysis of Jewish faith and life
Reviewed by PETER GODFREY
Wayne Facer, Prophet at the Gate. Norman Murray Bell and the Quest for Peace, Blackstone Editions, Toronto, 2021, ISBN 9781775355656, $25 NZD pbk.
Norman Murray Bell – Pacifist and anti-war campaigner in New Zealand
Reviewed by GRAHAM MURPHY
Catherine Robinson (ed.), Fragments of Holiness, The Lindsey Press, London, 2019, pp 205, ISBN 978-0-85319-091-2, £9 pbk.
An anthology for daily use
Reviewed by LENA COCKROFT
Cliff Reed. Beyond Darkness Words for Reflection, Lindsey Press, London, pp 134, ISBN 978-0-85319-095-0, £9 pbk.
Waking up to the Divine within you
Reviewed by DAVID STEERS
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This week we begin a new series of videos. The A to Z of Non-Subscribing Presbyterianism will be an alphabetical exploration of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland, looking at its identity and ethos through items and ideas possessed by its churches.
I say at the start that this will not be a succession of biographical accounts of outstanding individuals – and I will stick to that. However, that is exactly where I have to start with John Abernethy (1680-1740). It is hard to avoid him and would be a mistake to do so, he is such a remarkable and crucial figure. Among other things he was minister at Antrim (see picture at the top of this page).
The service is filmed in Ballee where John Strain plays the church’s Carnegie organ and features the hymns When morning gilds the skies (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 26) and When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 158). The reading is Romans ch.14 v.5-9 which is the passage that inspired Abernethy’s famous sermon of 1719 on Religious Obedience Founded on Personal Persuasion.
This week’s service comes from Clough and makes use of the Bible presented to the Church in 1837 by the Rev David Watson. Published in Edinburgh in 1793 it is a symbol of the continuity of the congregation going back to before the split that took place into subscribing and non-subscribing congregations in the period 1829 – 1837.
We focus on the 23rd Psalm, that ancient hymn that means so much to so many people. Probably the best known portion of the Scriptures in every age. During the service church organist Alfie McClelland plays The Lord’s my Shepherd (Crimond) and The Lord my pasture shall prepare.
Today’s worship, from Ballee, incorporates the second in our series that looks at significant Non-Subscribing Presbyterians in history. Today’s subject is William Hamilton Drummond who was born in Larne in 1778 and died in Dublin in 1865.
Drummond had a long and multi-faceted career. As a young man he supported the 1798 Rebellion and as a student at Glasgow University first turned his hand to verse, producing poems that supported the aims of the United Irishman. Leaving Glasgow without a degree he nevertheless progressed towards the ministry and was called to Belfast’s Second Congregation (see picture above) in 1800. In Belfast, as a minister, he was at the heart of the city’s educational, commercial, cultural and religious life. He produced a number of epic poems. Many of these now extolled the virtues of the Union of 1801 with Great Britain whilst the most famous of all was The Giant’s Causeway, published in 1811.
In 1815 he was a candidate for the Chair of Logic and Belles Lettres at the Belfast Academical Institution. When he was unsuccessful, because so many of the electors were members of his own congregation who did not wish to see him leave, he left Belfast for Dublin instead, where he commenced a ministry of fifty years in which he achieved further notability as a theological controversialist, a biographer and a supporter of the rights of animals.
The service comes from Ballee. The reading is from Psalm 8 and is given by Mary Stewart at Downpatrick. Church organist John Strain plays the hymns Come sing praises to the Lord (Irish Presbyterian Hymnbook 113), Lord the light of your love is shining (Irish Presbyterian Hymnbook 621). Also played is Father I place into your hands.
Flow, LAGAN flow – though close thy banks of green,
Though in the picture of the world unseen…
Flow on fair stream – thy gathering waves expand,
And greet with joy the Athens of the land;
Through groves of masts thick crowding o’er thy tide,
Churches in County Down are replete with interesting ancient mausolea and tombs and this is especially true in the area around Lecale, most particularly amongst the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches, and the churchyard at Downpatrick, for instance, alone has eight or nine large tombs of different designs.
But the most celebrated Mausoleum of all is at Clough.
The Murland Mausoleum was built in about 1860 by a family who were closely connected to the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian congregation at Clough for generations. The Murland family were wealthy local mill owners, they lived at Ardnabannon and it is thought that the architect who designed their house also designed the family mausoleum. This was Thomas Turner, a Dublin-born architect who began his career as an assistant to Charles Lanyon in Belfast and who had a long and productive career designing buildings all over Ireland including Stormont Castle and Coleraine Town Hall.
But it is very clear when you look at the Murland Mausoleum that this was the work of someone steeped in the designs of classical architecture and particularly ancient funerary architecture. The inverted torch is used in Christian iconography to represent the resurrection and the eternal life of the soul. But it actually goes back to ancient Greece where it represented Thanatos the Greek god of death.
It is a very rich design.
Professor James Stevens Curl describes it as
something one might expect to find in the cemetery of Père-Lachaise or in one of the great American cemeteries, rather than in a small rural churchyard in the shadow of the Mountains of Mourne.
The Ulster Architectural Heritage Society list describes the mausoleum as ‘the phenomenal Murland vault of about 1860, furnished with all the pompe funebre of the classical manner, with trimmings.’
For local schoolchildren it is a place well-known for decades as somewhere where the bravest of them could stand near the open grill and peer in at the coffins resting in the dusty gloom.
As such an old structure the building was gradually becoming in need of restoration and to see this done the church was able to partner with the experience and expertise of the Follies Trust, a body set up in 2006 to help, in their own words, with ‘the conservation, preservation, restoration and protection, in their original setting, of mausolea and monuments; follies; grottoes; garden buildings and other structures of particular beauty or historic, environmental, architectural or industrial significance.’
At the church we were very pleased to welcome local expert Dr Finbar McCormick of Queen’s University, Belfast who gave a fascinating talk on the history and development of memorials to the dead in Ireland and beyond, looking at the influence of the Reformation and classical ideas.
This was a prelude to the work being done on the mausoleum. A number of specialists have looked at the building, and the job of restoring the structure was given to Noel Killen, noted for his work in restoring the nearby Mill at Ballydugan.
Generally, considering its great age, the building was in good shape but there was lots to be done to make the structure fully watertight and secure again for the future. Stonework that had crumbled had to be replaced. The iron work in the grills and the heavy door had to be conserved. They were also repainted in the original colour, which had largely long faded from view.
Work commenced in August 2019 and was completed within a few months. To mark the completion of this work and the collaboration that was involved we planned a special service of celebration with representatives of the Follies Trust and others, but this wasn’t to be. Like so many other plans it fell foul of the pandemic and couldn’t be held. But the important thing is that this striking and unique structure is now restored and fit to last for another 160 years.
This week our service comes from Dunmurry. We reflect on Psalm 96, recast by J.S.B. Monsell into the famous hymn O Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; Let the sea roar, and all its fullness;
Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice before the Lord.
Psalm 96 v.11-12
The service is conducted by the minister in charge, Rev Dr David Steers. The reading from Psalm 96 is given by Lorraine Donaldson. Church organist Allen Yarr plays the hymns Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (Church Hymnary 22) and O Worship the Lord in the beauty of Holiness (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 18) as well as an excerpt from Music for the Royal Fireworks by G.F. Handel, all on the piano.
This Sunday our service comes from Clough and explores some ideas connected with prophecy. Following on from Pentecost and the account of the Apostles given in the second chapter of Acts we look at this topic.
The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit. (John ch.3 v.8)
We also look at the famous prophecy of Ezekiel and Cliff Reed’s new book of poems, reflections and prayers for worship entitled Beyond Darkness.
Click on the video above to join the service (after 9.45 am on Sunday, 30th May). The service comes from Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church. The reading is Ezekiel ch.37 v.1-10 and is given by Noelle Wilson at Dunmurry. The hymns are played by church organist Alfie McClelland and include At the name of Jesus (Mission Praise 41) and Lord forgive me, day by day (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 370). Also played at the start of the service is When morning gilds the skies.
The latest issue of the Transactions, including a special Supplement, is now ready. 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.
The new issue contains the following articles:
The History of the Kolozsvár English Conversation Club
Sándor Kovács relates the hitherto unresearched story of the Kolozsvár English Conversation Club. A major source for illuminating the relationship between Unitarians in Transylvania and Hungary and in the UK and USA. The Club was founded in 1876 by János Kovács and gave local people the opportunity to learn English. It became the main point of contact for visiting Unitarians throughout the rest of the century, over the period of the celebration of the Hungarian Millennium in 1896 and on into the twentieth century.
Received with Thanks. Unitarian Hymns sung by Mainstream Churches
Nigel Lemon investigates hymns penned by Unitarian writers which have found favour in mainstream hymnbooks. He looks at around 50 Unitarian hymns which are found in a selection of mainstream books published in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and focusses on thirteen Unitarian authors.
Thomas Aikenhead: An Historiographical Introduction
Thomas Aikenhead was an Edinburgh student who stood trial for blasphemy in December 1696, and was put to death in the following January. Said to be the last person to be executed for blasphemy in Britain he is often also claimed as a Unitarian martyr. Rob Whiteman examines the way his trial and execution has been understood across the centuries.
Tercentenary of a Unique Donation: Glasgow University and Chowbent Chapel
Universities are not known for their generosity to outside bodies but in 1721 the University of Glasgow (see image at the top of this page which shows Glasgow College at the end of the seventeenth century) made a donation to Chowbent Chapel whilst it was being built. The congregation had just been dispossessed from their old chapel by a new landlord. This short article explains how and why Glasgow University supported the building of the new chapel (pictured above).
Protestant Dissent and Philanthropy 1660-1914, edited by Clyde Binfield, G.M. Ditchfield and David L. Wykes, The Boydell Press, 2020, hardback, 264 pages, ISBN 978-1-78327-451-2. Studies in Modern British History Vol 39. Price £65. Reviewed by Alan Ruston Subscribers to the Transactions will be pleased to know that they are able to purchase this book with a special 35% discount using the code given in the issue.
A Radical Religious Heritage, by John Maindonald, second edition, 2020, paperback, 68 pages ISBN 978-0-473-52784-6. Price $NZ 25.00 Reviewed by Graham Murphy
Obituaries of Ministers of Unitarian Congregations Index and synopsis of references New entries, and Additions and Corrections extended from 1 February 2014 to 31 January 2021 Compiled by ALAN RUSTON
This issue comes with Alan’s latest Supplement which brings over twenty years of research by Alan on Unitarian obituaries right up to date. It also makes use of the late Professor R.K. Webb’s index cards based on a wide variety of sources for biographical details of Unitarian ministers from circa 1780 to the early 1990s.