This Sunday’s worship again reflects on the importance of the harvest in our lives, both spiritually and temporally. Our reading is given for us by Dillon Howell and the hymns and harvest music is played by John Strain on the organ at Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church.
The video both begins and ends with images from harvest services in our churches over recent years. They are always such uplifting occasions and a great deal of thought goes into making the churches look so attractive. It is nice to be reminded of some of the imaginative and creative displays that we always see in our churches. Click on the above video to see the service.
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)
This is the time of year for services of Harvest Thanksgiving, important occasions for all kinds of congregations in many different types of denomination. Our service today includes the Diary of a Church Mouse by John Betjeman and read by Sue Steers. In this famous poem the Mouse reveals that :
Christmas and Easter may be feasts For congregations and for priests, And so may Whitsun. All the same, They do not fill my meagre frame. For me the only feast at all Is Autumn’s Harvest Festival
Above all the Harvest underpins our understanding of God.
Christina Rossetti wrote:
Lord, purge our eyes to see within the seed a tree, Within the glowing egg a bird, Within the shroud a butterfly, Til, taught by such, we see beyond all creatures, thee.
The hymns are We plough the fields, and scatter (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 456) and Come ye thankful people come (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 454) and are played by John Strain on the church organ. You can see the service here:
Time for a Story: Reformation
The end of October sees Reformation Day and Time for a Story retells the story of Martin Luther and the 95 Theses, including the top selling model of Luther manufactured by Playmobil. The story is told by Sue Steers and can be seen here:
There was a good attendance at Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church for the annual service of Harvest Thanksgiving on Sunday, 20th October. The special guest preacher was the Rev Dr Will Patterson, such a good friend of the congregation, with special music being provided by the Flutes of Mourne, making their first visit to the Church. Flutes of Mourne played a beautiful selection of pieces during the service. The Church was wonderfully decorated throughout.
Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church held their annual service of Harvest Thanksgiving on Sunday, 13th October when they welcomed as guest preacher the Rev Brian Moodie of Dromore together with the highly regarded choir, the Lindsay Chorale, and their musical director Sheelagh Greer. It was a wonderful service which everyone appreciated. The church was beautifully decorated throughout with each window sill reflecting a different colour of creation, some of which are shown here.
The First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Stream Street, Downpatrick held their annual service of Harvest Thanksgiving on Sunday, 6th October. The special guest preacher was Sam Shaw, a missioner with an ecumenical order who delivered an inspiring address based on the story of the Good Samaritan.
Photo: Mary Stewart
Special music was provided by the choral group Counterpoint, with their conductor Dr Norman Richardson who has also had a long career working in peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.
Photo: Marion Moffett
Counterpoint are now in their 70th year and a sang a wonderful, varied and impressive programme. During the service we dedicated the church’s new loop system for the hard of hearing which had been made possible by a generous gift from the Baptist Church in Downpatrick which was given on its closure recently. Sam Shaw was an elder in that church and during the service we expressed our thanks for that generous act by the Baptists in Downpatrick. We were delighted to welcome Sam and his wife Silvana with their children Seán and Aislinn. The church organist was Laura Patterson. The church was beautifully decorated throughout with varied themes on the window ledges expressing different aspects of harvest and the challenges that we face in stewarding and protecting the world’s resources, accompanied also with appropriate prayers for creation.
The annual service of Harvest Thanksgiving was held at Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church on Sunday, 21st October at 3.00 pm. The visiting preacher was the Rev Dr Heather Walker, minister at Rademon, and special music was provided by the well-known choir, the Clare Chorale, under the musical direction of Sheelagh Greer. The choir sang six pieces which were a wonderful accompaniment to the beautifully decorated church.
The Clare Chorale in the hall after the service
(left to right) Sheelagh Greer, musical director of the Clare Chorale, Rev Dr Heather Walker, visiting preacher, and Rt Rev Colin Campbell, the father of Dr Walker and the current moderator of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church who was present at the service
The First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Stream Street, Downpatrick held their annual Service of Harvest Thanksgiving on Sunday, 7th October. The Church was beautifully decorated for the occasion at which the congregation welcomed the visiting preacher, Rev Roger McKee from Newtownards and Greyabbey NSP Churches, and the visiting choir, the Lindsay Chorale.
During the service Sunday School member Laura Neill presented a cheque for £450 which was raised by the children and young people of the congregation over the year for Air Ambulance NI. The cheque was received by Colleen Milligan the local Air Ambulance representative who spoke of the important work the charity is doing.
The theme of the decorations was ‘Traditional Harvest’ and the images here show some of the features included.
Pulpit and communion table
Some of the window displays
Laura Neill makes the presentation to Colleen Milligan of Air Ambulance NI. (Photo: Mary Stewart)
The Lindsay Chorale at Downpatrick, including John Dallas, conductor (extreme left), Sheelagh Greer, accompanist (second left), Rev David Steers, minister (extreme right), Rev Roger McKee, visiting preacher (second right). (Photo: Mary Stewart)
The Services of Harvest Thanksgiving in October 2017 were all successful and enjoyable events in Downpatrick, Ballee and Clough churches. The first took place at Downpatrick where the guest preacher was the Rev Ernie Boggs, Minister Emeritus of Downpatrick Presbyterian Church, and special music was provided by the Lindsay Chorale with their conductor John Dallas. The congregational hymns were accompanied by church organist Laura Patterson. Over the year the Sunday School and young people of the church raised £400 for the work of Daisy Lodge and during the service Laura Neill presented a cheque to Aisling Gibson, the South Down regional fundraiser for Daisy Lodge, a purpose-built therapeutic centre located in Newcastle for families affected by cancer.
Presentation to Aisling Gibson of Daisy Lodge.
At Ballee the service was held on Sunday, 8th October at 3.00 pm when the guest preacher was the Rev Adrian Dorrian, minister of Ballee Parish, Church of Ireland and special music was provided by the Quoile Area WI Choir conducted by Isabel Keenan and accompanied by Kathleen Gill. Congregational hymns were accompanied by John Strain, the church organist.
Quoile Area WI Choir including also Rev Adrian Dorrian
Clough held their annual service of harvest thanksgiving on Sunday, 15th October at 3.00 pm. There was a large congregation present to hear the visiting preacher, the Rev Paul Reid, of the Old Presbyterian Church, Larne and special music provided by local choir Harmonic Progression, the Seaforde based Community Choir for Women under the direction of Carolyn Ross. It was also pleasing to see that the painting of the exterior of the church had been completed in time for the harvest.
Harmonic Progression including Rev Paul Reid (Old Presbyterian Church, Larne)
On 30th September Ballee also acted as a key staging post for Christian Aid’s Strangford Sportive, a cycle event covering up 120 km around this part of county Down which raised over £6,500 for the charity.
Pictures of Harvest Festivals are amongst the most frequent early survivors of photographs of church or chapel interiors. The modern Harvest Festival, as it is known in churches today, was really invented by the Rev Robert Hawker, vicar of Morwenstow in Cornwall, in the 1840s. He was as colourful and eccentric as they come but devised the notion of a service in which the produce of the fields was brought into the church and used as decoration as an act of thanksgiving. The idea of the service quickly caught on and became a big part of the year for most churches, whether urban or rural. Harvest Festivals became and remain very popular with Unitarians, it would be interesting to study when and how they began to be incorporated into the cycle of services.
I don’t have any information to hand as to how harvest services spread and became popular but I see that in 1881, for instance, Alexander Gordon introduced the first Harvest Festival service to the First Presbyterian, Rosemary Street congregation in Belfast. This must be quite late, I would imagine. Was that something he had previously done over the preceding twenty years at Norwich, Hope Street, Liverpool, or Aberdeen? It would be an interesting avenue to pursue.
With the gradual development of photography as a medium, pictures were taken of churches and chapels. However, the difficulty – for all except the most skilled photographers – of taking good interior shots, and also, perhaps, a reluctance to take a picture of a scene that was so familiar as to be seen as hardly worth recording means that early shots of interiors of chapels and meetings houses are not that common. This seems to change when it comes to Harvest Festivals and a number of pictures that I have of now closed churches were taken to show off the harvest decoration that had been thoughtfully and faithfully put there by some parishioners.
In the recent posts about Nantwich Unitarian Chapel I asked if anyone had any photographs of the interior. Andrew Lamberton has again found a fascinating image. He has sent me this picture of the area around the organ decorated for harvest. There is no date on the picture and it is very difficult to be at all precise although I would guess it was taken probably in the first decade of the twentieth century.
I gather the organ was installed in the 1870s so the picture shows a decorated scene around the organ sometime after that date. As I have mentioned in previous posts the chapel of 1725-26 was rebuilt and ‘turned’ in 1846-49 and this picture would appear to show the area on the plan between the windows and marked as ‘former site of Pulpit’ in Christopher Stell’s Nonconformist Chapels and Meeting-houses in the North of England:
It’s hard to make out too much detail in the photograph but it confirms the description also found in Nonconformist Chapels and Meeting-houses in the North of England (page 28) that the pews which incorporated original features from the 1720s were laid out in tiers:
“Seating: against E and W walls, two tiers of pews, partly reconstructed, include much early 18th-century fielded panelling, fronts renewed. The centre pews also incorporate original material.”
It is not an easy thing to take a picture of what is a dark wood-panelled interior while including the main source of light from two large windows. The light floods in through the window and the dark areas remain dark. But for all its limitations we have in this print a rare and useful image of a long forgotten building.