Online Christmas Worship

We have three services online over the Christmas period all of which can be accessed from this post.

Christmas Eve

Dunmurry, Christmas Eve

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.

Christmas Day

Christmas Day

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

Inch Abbey

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.

…I stop the car,

turn down the narrow path

to the river…

With thanks to InkLightning

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope

Our service for the first Sunday in Advent comes from Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church. Advent begins this year with Northern Ireland once again back in lockdown, this time for two weeks. As before we are not allowed to have public worship in our churches, but as we have done throughout the pandemic we have an online service on our YouTube channel every Sunday.

The service for Advent can be seen here:

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shined.

Isaiah ch.9 v.2

Today’s reading is from Jeremiah ch.33 v.14-16 and is read by Haydn Howell. Church organist John Strain plays the hymns Come, thou long-expected Jesus (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 110) and How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 111). John also plays Promised Lord and Christ is he and Make way, make way.

The closing scenes of the video includes film of some Whooper Swans in a field in the shadow of the Mountains of Mourne. Newly arrived from Iceland they spend the winter here and currently share their field with some Greylag Geese:

We thank Thee for the stars wherewith Thou hast spangled the raiment of darkness, giving beauty to the world when the sun withdraws its light. All this magnificence is but a little sparklet that has fallen from Thy presence, Thou Central Fire and Radiant Light of all! These are but reflections of Thy wisdom, Thy power, and Thy glory!

A prayer by Theodore Parker (1810-1860)

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice

The quotation at the top of this page comes from Martin Luther King. It is in fact itself a distillation of a quotation from Theodore Parker, the nineteenth-century Unitarian theologian and abolitionist:

I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.

It is interesting to compare the two sayings; one a very powerful soundbite, the other, the older one – the first to make the case for this imagery – far less snappy but explaining the idea in a very clear way.

I use this saying in this week’s online service which looks back to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The impetus for this momentous event came from the churches, most notably in Leipzig where St Nicholas Church became the centre of resistance to a corrupt state in a society poisoned by secret police and corrupted by layers of informers and spies.

St Nicholas Church, Leipzig (Wikimedia Commons)

The minister of the main church in Leipzig, the Rev Christian Führer, led the people in mass prayer vigils which helped to bring the system to an end. His position was similar to that of László Tőkés in Romania, who I was privileged to meet a couple of years ago in Transylvania, and who distilled his experience in his book With God, for the People. But both men showed the necessity of observing the phrase in our reading today ‘choose this day whom you will serve’.

You can see the service in this week’s video:

Available from 9.45 am on Sunday, 15th November

This week’s service is filmed in Dunmurry. The reading is from Joshua ch.24 v.14-18 and is given for us by Emma McCrudden. Church organist Allen Yarr plays the hymns When I survey the Wondrous Cross and Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation.

Time for a Story: War Horse

With Armistice Day in mind this week’s Time for a Story, given by Sue Steers, tells the story of the work of horses in the First World War, an aspect of the story of that conflict which was long overlooked until the publication of Michael Morpurgo’s book War Horse. The video can be seen here:

Harvest Thanksgiving

The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches of Downpatrick, Ballee and Clough are marking the time of Harvest with an online service. The service features readings delivered by members, hymns played on the organs of the three churches by the church organists and film of farming activity across the locality provided by church members.

The service can be viewed here:

The service is led by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers with readings given by:

Elsie Nelson, Deuteronomy ch.26 v.1-4, 8-11

Robert Neill, Psalm 65 v.5-13

Sophia Cleland, Mark ch.4 v.26-34

The Church Organists are:

Laura Patterson, Downpatrick

Come ye thankful people come (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 454)

We plough the fields and scatter (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 456)

Alfie McClelland, Clough

Rejoice the Lord is King (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 62)

John Strain, Ballee

Holy is the seed time

The God of Harvest Praise (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 457)

and a Harvest Medley

In search of the Rev John Cameron (1725-1799)

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The ancient parish churchyard of Dunluce on the North Antrim coast

John Cameron is a name which I suspect is not widely known today. He was the minister of Dunluce Presbyterian Church for around 45 years but his career was quite richly textured. Born in Edinburgh and educated at the university there he came to Ulster as a missionary of the Reformed Presbytery but he was offered and accepted the ministry of the new Presbyterian Church at Dunluce in 1755. In time he was the moderator of the Synod of Ulster but he also became a Non-Subscriber, following the ideas on original sin of John Taylor of Norwich, becoming a correspondent of Joseph Priestley and opening up dialogue with the Presbytery of Antrim. His main theological work was published nearly thirty years after his death and edited by a Non-Subscribing Presbyterian minister. The history and connections of the Rev John Cameron are traced in today’s service.

The full elegy can be heard in the service but the Rev George Hill wrote ‘Lines written at the grave of Cameron’ in 1837 of which this is an extract:

Peace to the gentle but undaunted spirit

That shrunk not from the side of simple truth,

When multitudes were leagued to quench her life,

And Priests betrayed, or traded with her name!

In this lone region, ‘mid surrounding gloom,

One “shining light” arose, one voice was heard

Re-echoing the words which Jesus spake,

Asserting the grand doctrine which all time

and nature, and religion have averred –

One God the Father, merciful and just,

One God in all, through all the universe

Dunluce crop

Dunluce Presbyterian Church today

The service can be seen in the above video which is filmed in Ballee, Dunmurry and Dunluce. The organist is John Strain who plays the hymns Be still for the presence of the Lord and There’s a wideness in God’s mercy on the organ at Ballee.

 

Time for a Story: Slow and Steady

This week’s Time for a Story tells the story from Aesop’s Fables of the Tortoise and the Hare. With animation by InkLightning, special music and illustrations you can see the story, told by Sue Steers, by clicking on the above link.

 

Bewick

Fable of The Hare and the Tortoise; hare at left, facing a tortoise in a field, a fox standing by; in an oval, within rectangle; illustration to the ‘The Fables of Æsop, and Others’ (Newcastle upon Tyne, 1818, p.221); after Thomas Bewick; proof, this state probably 1823.Wood-engraving, printed on light tawny India paper. © The Trustees of the British Museum

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.

Online Sunday Worship

Our Sunday service today comes from the First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Stream Street, Downpatrick.

 

Sunday Worship, 29th March 2020

First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Downpatrick

Service conducted by the minister, the Rev Dr David Steers

Organist: John Strain (playing the organ at Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church)

Reading: Philippians ch.4 v.1-9

The hymns played are:

Hymn No. 22 Hymns of Faith and Freedom

Tune: Lobe den Herren

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation;
O my soul, praise him, for he is thy health and salvation:
All ye who hear, Now to his temple draw near,
Joining in glad adoration.

Praise to the Lord, who o’er all things so wondrously reigneth,
Shelters thee under his wings, yea, so gently sustaineth:
Hast thou not seen, How thy entreaties have been
Granted in what he ordaineth?

Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee;
Surely his goodness and mercy shall daily attend thee:
Ponder anew, What the Almighty can do,
Who with his love doth befriend thee.

Praise to the Lord! O let all that is in me adore him!
All that hath life and breath come now with praises before him!
Let the Amen, Sound from His people again:
Gladly for aye we adore him!

 

Hymn No.283 Hymns of Faith and Freedom

Tune: Nottingham

Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to thee;
Take my moments and my days;
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.

Take my hands, and let them move
With the impulse of thy love;
Take my feet, and let them be
Swift and beautiful for thee.

Take my voice, and let me sing
Always, only, for my King;
Take my lips, and let them be
Filled with messages from thee.

Take my will and make it thine;
It shall be no longer mine;
Take my heart, it is thine own,
It shall be thy royal throne.

Take my love; my Lord, I pour
At thy feet its treasure-store;
Take myself, and I will be
Ever, only, all for thee.

 

Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Reflections

Today is St Patrick’s Day (17th March) but it comes in the midst of our growing awareness of the threat of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Among other things it looks like this virus is going to put the normal operation of churches out of action. Earlier today the Church of England announced the suspension of its Sunday services and a number of other denominations in Britain and Ireland have since followed suit. In their letter the Archbishops of Canterbury and York talk of putting less emphasis on weekly worship and more emphasis on giving daily prayers and support to those around us. I am sure this is a model that others will take up and although we face a lot of difficulties there are ways we can develop new forms of ministry that reach out to people and provide meaningful support in these testing times.

I uploaded a video to our new You Tube channel reflecting on this situation:

 

Over the weekend before St Patrick’s Day, in our Downpatrick Church, we had to take down the venerable old horse chestnut that stood at the back of the church. Sadly it was rotten in many places and was becoming a danger. Its age has been estimated at 300 years, so it is probably as old as the church itself. You can see the growth rings in the side view of the trunk telling us of the changing patterns of growth in each different year. It had surveyed the world through rebellion, industrial revolution, famine, two world wars and all the countless human experiences that have gone on in the church, as well as provide generations of children with conkers. We will now have to consider planting new trees to replace it.

Tree 02

Tree 01

Christmas Events at Downpatrick, Ballee and Clough

In December we had a number of successful special events beginning with the Downpatrick Table Quiz at the Lakeside Inn on Saturday, 7th December. There were 80 – 90 people present and £781.50 was raised for church funds.

Downpatrick Table Quiz

Picking the prizes for the draw 

On Wednesday, 11th December we held our joint Candlelight Carol Service this year at Ballee. John Strain was the organist and once again we were delighted to welcome the Laganvale Ensemble under the direction of Gareth Downey to play for us. Equal numbers of readers from all three churches took part and were: Robert Neill, Eleanor Baha, Thomas Rooney, Elsie Nelson, Sarah Rooney, Mary Stewart, Sophia Cleland, Eve Lightbody, and Donna Lightbody.

Ballee Candlelight Carol Service 2019 band 01

Laganvale Ensemble preparing for the Candlelight Carol Service at Ballee

Ballee Candlelight Carol Service 2019 readers

The readers at the Candlelight Carol Service

Clough Church held their Christmas Carol Service on Sunday, 15th December when the service was led by the children of the Sunday School who provided readings, poems, songs and solos to retell the Christmas story.

Clough Carol Service 01

Clough children at the Carol Service

The Sunday School led the Ballee Carol Service on Sunday, 22nd December at the end of which everyone was delighted to receive a surprise visit from Santa Claus.

Ballee Carol Service

Santa comes to Ballee

At the Downpatrick Carol Service on 22nd December the Sunday School made a presentation to Bertie Taylor of £1,000 raised for the life-changing operation needed by nine year old Ben Taylor. Bertie gave the congregation an update on Ben’s progress since his operation and thanked everyone for their support.

Downpatrick Carol Service 2019

Participants in the Downpatrick Carol Service together with members of the Taylor family (Photo: Mary Stewart)

Mausolea in Downpatrick, Ballee and Clough

The three Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches of Downpatrick, Ballee and Clough each possess interesting graveyards housing the last resting places of centuries of church members, including many notable figures. The graveyards are remarkable too for the wide variety of tombs, stones and other memorials. Of especial note are the mausolea mostly dating from the late eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries.

Downpatrick has a large number of what Professor James Stevens Curl describes (in Mausolea in Ulster, Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 1978) as being of ‘the barrel-vaulted variety, rather like a Nissen-hut’. These type of tombs appear to be local to the Downpatrick area, there are other examples in the locality but the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church on Stream Street has the largest number of examples of them, tombs built by local merchants including the Potter, Morrison, Quail, Rowan and Gordon families. The Quail tomb is dated 1800. The Morrison family tomb is located in the graveyard exactly opposite the house on Stream Street where the family then lived, so every day they gazed out of the window at a rather stark reminder of their own mortality.

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Downpatrick tomb, possibly that of the Potter family

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Quail family tomb

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Gordon family tomb

Dpk M 07

Morrison family tomb opposite their residence

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Downpatrick tomb, inscription not legible

There is another example of such a tomb at Ballee.

Ballee across graveyard 2004 04

Side view of the tomb at Ballee

Of particular interest to architectural historians are the two tombs at Downpatrick described by Professor Curl as consisting:

of square bases, with panelled sides, surmounted by pyramids having concave sides derived from early mausolea in the Kedron Valley, Jerusalem.

The link with the Kedron Valley is particularly intriguing.

Dpk M 08

Dpk M 09

The two concave tombs at Downpatrick ‘derived from early mausolea in the Kedron Valley, Jerusalem’

But by far the grandest tomb is to be found at Clough. Professor Curl describes it as:

A work of Victorial funerary architecture in full bloom…The grand ‘Order’ of consoles instead of pilasters or columns; the massive vermiculated rustication of the entrance; the shrouded urns; and the remnants of neoclassical form give an indication of the ‘fat atmosphere’ of funerals so typical of opulent burial in the nineteenth century…The funeral pomp of the Murland mausoleum at Clough is 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 Murland family were local mill owners and members of the church at Clough. The Memorial at Clough is now in need of conservation and the Follies Trust is hoping to tackle this in forthcoming months. On Wednesday, 13th March 2019 there will be a public lecture at Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church at 7.30 pm by Dr Finbar McCormick on the topic of ‘Mausolea & Memorials to the dead in Ireland’. Everyone is welcome and the talk will be followed by refreshments.

Dr McCormick is a senior lecturer in the School of the Natural and Built Environment at Queen’s University, Belfast and former Chair of the Discovery Programme. The Follies Trust writes:

The talk will look at the history and development of memorials to the dead in Ireland and beyond. It will show how the Reformation changed people’s attitude to commemorating the dead and will demonstrate how Presbyterianism in Scotland played such an important role in the development of the modern mausoleum. Dr McCormick will also show how classical ideas had such an influence on mausoleum design as can be seen in the magnificent Murland mausoleum at Clough. 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.’ It was designed by Thomas Turner and is a fine example of the genre.

The Follies Trust leaflet contains illustrations of the tomb and information on how to make a donation to the project if you wish. It can be downloaded from this link:

Follies Mausoleum Flyer