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:

Sunday Worship Downpatrick, 12th July

Today’s service is from Downpatrick and deals with the gospel story of Jesus – and Peter – walking on water. What is the meaning of this for faith in our day and age? After the feeding of the five thousand Jesus goes up a mountain to pray while the disciples go out on the lake in a boat. Threatened by a sudden storm Jesus comes out to save them, although at first they are more alarmed by this than anything else. We look at the way God interacted with humanity through water in the Old Testament. The hymns are played by Downpatrick organist Laura Patterson.

Time for a Story: Imagination deals with one of the most famous literary figures of the nineteenth century. Born in Cheshire in 1832 he spent his working life as a Mathematics don in Oxford. Generally known by his pseudonym his creations have a enjoyed a place in the popular imagination ever since.

 

 

Sunday Worship from Ballee 28th June

Roots hold me close; wings set me free

Today’s service comes from Ballee and features a reading sent in by Jonathan Chambers, now of Somerset, which reminds him of Ballee. It is by George Eliot from Daniel Deronda (1876):

A human life, I think, should be well rooted in some spot of a native land, where it may get the love of tender kinship for the face of the earth, for the labours men go forth to, for the sounds and accents that haunt it, for whatever will give that early home a familiar unmistakable difference amidst the future widening of knowledge: a spot where the definiteness of early memories may be inwrought with affection, and kindly acquaintance with all neighbours, even to the dogs and donkeys, may spread not by sentimental effort and reflection, but as a sweet habit of the blood. At five years old, mortals are not prepared to be citizens of the world, to be stimulated by abstract nouns, to soar above preference into impartiality; and that prejudice in favour of milk with which we blindly begin, is a type of the way body and soul must get nourished at least for a time. The best introduction to astronomy is to think of the nightly heavens as a little lot of stars belonging to one’s own homestead.

This links in with Psalm 8 (read for us by Rachel Neill):

When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is humankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honour.

and with our hymns played by John Strain which include:

He formed the stars, those heavenly flames,
He counts their numbers, calls their names;
His wisdom’s vast, and knows no bound,
A deep where all our thoughts are drowned.

But all this helps us reflect on our roots, where we come from, what we have achieved in the course of our lives, and our place in the vastness of the universe.

Also this week we uploaded Time for a Story: Saying Please, which has its own Somerset connection:

 

and my own thoughts on churches coming out of lockdown in Northern Ireland:

Children’s Service Sunday, 21st June

The Sunday School at Clough have this week put together a very special service. At this time of year we would usually be holding our Children’s Day Service where the children of the Sunday School would lead our worship and also receive their prizes for attendance and for work submitted to the denominational Sunday School Exhibition. Since none of that can happen this year the Sunday School at Clough decided to put together their own act of worship, all filmed at home under the current restrictions and together it forms a wonderful service which can be viewed through this link:

Very special thanks go to Leanne Straney whose Idea the service was and who did so much to make the service happen.

Taking part in the service are;

David Rooney – Welcome

Ethan Straney reads Mark 10: 13 – 16

Sophie Ramsey and William Rooney sing ‘My Lighthouse’

Olivia Rooney – Prayer

Ethan Perkins – Prayer of Thanks to God

Poppy Rooney reads 1 John ch.4 v.9.

Zak Straney reads the poem ‘Hold my hand, Lord’

Lexie Rooney – Prayer

Eva Rooney & Anna Rooney – Lord’s Prayer

Abi Straney sings ‘Who is the king of the Jungle?’

Sophie Ramsey sings ‘I believe, I believe’

Hannah Rooney reads John 3: 16 – 17

Sarah Rooney sings ‘For God so loved the world’

Abi Straney – Prayer, ‘Hold my Hand God’

Sunday, 21st June is also Fathers’ Day and in this week’s Time for a Story video Sue Steers gives an account of the history of Fathers’ day:

Clough Harvest 2019

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.

 

CloughFlutes01

 

Clough entrance 03 2019

Clough vestibule 01 2019

Clough vestibule 02 2019

Clough window 06 2019

Clough window 05 2019

Clough window 04 2019

Clough window 03 2019

Clough window 02b 2019

Clough organ 2019

Clough Table close 2019

 

All Souls’ Church, Belfast built 1896

All Souls’ Church, Belfast exterior is modelled on Croyland Abbey in Lincolnshire. Built by the architect Walter Planck and opened for worship in 1896 it is the only church designed by that architect in Ireland. But it is interesting to note how closely the interior resembles the interiors of a number of fifteenth-century English parish churches. The arches, pillars, chancel, east window, clerestory windows all are reminiscent of a number of such places. I realised this when I saw a picture of the interior of the Church of St Mary in North Petherton. An Edwardian postcard of this interior  looks almost identical to All Souls’. Even the pews in All Souls’ underline this effect, the pews were brought in from the old meeting house on Rosemary Street when that church was vacated. These originally dated from the 1870s and a lot of Victorian parish churches would have installed new, modern pews at that time. The choice of this kind of architecture was quite deliberate by the minister, the Rev Edgar Innes Fripp in 1896. He was reaching back to medieval England to establish the kind of devotion he thought was most truly authentic. But architecturally it is a marvel. John McLachlan (in The Unitarian Heritage) says it is “unique in Irish Non-Subscribing church architecture”. But there is nothing like it in English Unitarian church architecture either which has a lot of remarkable gothic buildings.

All Souls ext construction 02

Simon Walker (Historic Ulster Churches) says “it would be as fitting in a rural English setting as in Belfast’s busy University area”. Richard Oram (Expressions of Faith Ulster’s Church Heritage) notes that “It is a unique and beautiful, little building”. Paul Larmour (Belfast: an illustrated architectural guide) calls it “a gem of Victorian architecture”.

All Souls int construction 01

The pictures on this page show the church under construction and soon after it was built, plus a view of the chancel taken before the NSPCI Sunday School service held there on 7th June 2019.

All Souls ext completed 01

All Souls June 2019

Postcard from Downpatrick. Then and Now

In the last post I included a scan of a newly acquired postcard of Newry Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church. It is one of only a handful of Edwardian postcards featuring Non-Subscribing Presbyterian (NSP) churches. In this post I include a scan of a postcard which I purchased a few years ago but which is one of the rarest to feature NSP churches:

Downpatrick Postcard

I have never seen another example of this postcard of the First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Downpatrick. It has not been posted but was published by Lawrence Publisher of Dublin, probably c.1905. It is a colourised image, although it is not badly done, but that does suggest that there may also be ‘Real Photographic’ copies of the same postcard. The same publisher also produced postcards of the Cathedral and St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Downpatrick. Not surprisingly the various views of the Cathedral are very common, it being a popular tourist destination because it houses St Patrick’s grave. The postcard featuring St Patrick’s Catholic Church is far less common but not as rare as the picture of the nearby Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church.

The archive of the publisher of this postcard is held in the National Library of Ireland (NLI) in Dublin. There they hold 40,000 glass plate negatives made by the Lawrence studio between 1870 and 1914 of places all over Ireland. Over 19,000 images in the Lawrence Collection have been digitised and can be viewed online. The Collection includes six images that are labelled as depicting Unitarian churches. This is how most of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches would have been known at the time but although this list includes Downpatrick, Newry (a different, wider view than the one in the previous post by an unknown publisher), Comber and Dromore, it also includes pictures of what the catalogue claims to be the Unitarian churches of Kilkeel and Portadown, indeed Unitarian is written on the photographic plate of the Kilkeel image. However, since there has never been a Unitarian/Non-Subscribing church in either place this is clearly an error. In fact the Kilkeel church has a visible date stone of 1832 which also names it as The Church of the United Brethren. However, in addition to the four correctly identified churches there is also a fifth example of an NSP church in what the catalogue calls the Presbyterian Hall, Larne but which is labelled on the plate as the ‘Old Presbyterian House, Larne’.

The image of Downpatrick which is now held in the National Library of Ireland was reproduced in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine of July 1909 where it was attributed to Baird of Belfast:

Downpatrick July 1909

Inevitably, because it is taken from a magazine, this image is a lot less clearer than the image held in Dublin but it is an identical picture, even including the same title and identification code of ‘1697 W.L.’ which is cropped from the printed postcard. It also has an addition in the bottom right hand corner where the words ‘Baird, Belfast’ have been added.

The online digital image which can be seen on the NLI site is mostly very sharp (there is some blurring of the foliage) but you can clearly see the eighteenth-century foot scraper on the main steps into the church. However, in the colourised postcard and the magazine image this kind of detail is lost. But still the original is not a bad image. It is strange though the degree to which the ivy was allowed to run riot on such an ancient building. All of this was removed a long time ago. It is amazing how much cleaner the meeting-house looks without ivy creeping around it and these following photos, taken in 2008 (above) and 2017 (below), give a good contrast to the Edwardian postcard and show details such as the foot scraper and some of the other changes that have taken place around the building in recent years.

Downpatrick ext 2008

The Church in 2008

Downpatrick26Nov2017 02

The Church in 2017

 

Downpatrick Postcard crop

Detail from the postcard c.1905

Downpatrick entrance gates September 1909

The view from the gates to the church. From the ‘Non-Subscribing Presbyterian’ magazine, September 1909

 

Ballee Harvest 2018

Ballee Harvest 04

Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church held their annual service of Harvest Thanksgiving on Sunday, 14th October at 3.00 pm. The church was beautifully decorated by church members with the theme ‘World Harvest’, with special displays depicting harvest from the five continents. The special preacher was the Rev Dr Will Patterson, who led the worship, with special music contributed by local singing group Harmony. It was a wonderful occasion and following the service all the non-perishable produce was distributed to the Downpatrick Foodbank.

Ballee Harvest 05

Ballee Harvest 03

Ballee Harvest Organ

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Window display showing the Harvest of the World by continent

Ballee Harvest

Members of Harmony with the visiting preacher, Rev Dr Will Patterson, outside the church after the service

NSP Lives of the First World War 04: The Harrison family of Newtownards

 

One of the features of the new Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Roll of Honour is how often we see groups of brothers join after the outbreak of war. In many churches there are sets of brothers, sometimes two, sometimes three, sometimes four who respond to the appeal for volunteers. From contemporary newspaper reports we can imagine the effect this had on the families and friends who were left at home.

Newtownards 1909

The First Presbyterian Church, Newtownards in 1909

At the start of the First World War the secretary of the Newtownards congregation was Samuel Harrison, a man widely respected in the town and in the church. Three of the sons of Samuel and Grace Harrison (all members of Newtownards) joined up after war broke out, as well as two of their grandsons. In the July 1916 issue of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian it was announced that his younger son, Thomas James Harrison, had been awarded the Military Medal for bravery. In the Newtownards news of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian it was reported that “What the special act of bravery was that earned him this distinction has not been officially disclosed as yet, but we understand it was connected with acts of great bravery in rescuing wounded comrades. As a Church, we are proud of the fact that one of our number has earned this coveted distinction, and also that he is the first one in the town to receive this medal.”

In fact, as will be seen from the Roll of Honour, Thomas Harrison was himself killed before he could be presented with this medal. He died, along with so many others, on 1st July 1916, the first day of the battle of the Somme.

I am grateful to Jeffrey Martin and Nigel Henderson for providing me with this picture of him which appeared in the Newtownards Chronicle at the time:

Rifleman Thomas James Harrison

From the ‘Newtownards Chronicle’

Credit: Nigel Henderson (Great War Belfast Clippings)

The extent of the casualties on the first day of the Somme must have had a devastating effect back home. At the time of Thomas’ death Samuel was nearly 72 years old and himself died little over a year later. It was perhaps a measure of how highly he was thought of that quite an unusually full obituary of him appeared on the pages of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian. It detailed his education at the National School at Ballycullen, an education cut short by the need to go out to work as a farm boy, but supplemented by a return to night class “after a hard days’ work begun at daylight”.

He was a man of fine, high principle, and greatly valued by his employer the obituary said. When promoted to the post of land steward he was the youngest man in that capacity in the county, eventually becoming the foreman of the road labourers for the local council. The obituary speaks highly of his ability to get on with all classes of people. The Newtownards Chronicle itself said “there is no individual in this county who is more highly respected by all classes and creeds than everybody’s good friend, Sam Harrison.” The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian detailed the local respect shown to him at his funeral:

Had he been one of the leading citizens or a wealthy manufacturer, the tribute would not have been so very remarkable; but as he died as he had lived – a plain working man – this tribute was the more noteworthy.

He had been a member of the church committee since 1875 and the secretary since 1898, the obituary emphasised his faith commitment:

A staunch Non-Subscriber and liberal Christian, his attachment to his Church was shown in the unselfish devotion of his mind and energies to its welfare.

Samuel Harrison 03

Picture from the ‘Non-Subscribing Presbyterian’

All this is part of the background to the experience of those who served in the trenches. In the words of his obituary Samuel Harrison left behind a fine record of faithfulness and a memory that should be an inspiration to those that follow him. For those left at home life continued as normal, at least outwardly. But it must have been hard to express in words the shared sense of loss felt by so many after 1st July 1916.

 

NSP Lives of the Great War: 02 Thomas Cooke

Researching the names of those who will appear on the Roll of Honour is a poignant and often melancholy experience. Many of the stories of those who served are stories of loss – loss of young life, loss of a son, a husband, a father. When I was working through the list of names on the Larne War Memorial (see above) and comparing the list of those who gave their lives with the Roll of Honour published in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian between December 1914 and January 1916 and with the written Roll of Honour maintained by the Larne congregation I noticed a discrepancy. In the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian one name featured throughout, that of Thomas Cooke (actually spelt Cook) who was listed as ‘missing’. The Larne written Roll (which must date from 1918) also named him but included him as someone who had served rather than having lost his life.

I didn’t see his name on the Larne Memorial at first, it wasn’t where I expected it to be. In fact it clearly is there but also quite clearly was added to the list at the end. The Rev Dr John Nelson tells me that the order of service for the Larne unveiling has a picture of the memorial but Thomas Cooke’s name has been added by hand. This is confirmed by the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian for November 1921 which lists the names on the memorial but does not include that of Thomas Cooke. I don’t know when Thomas Cooke’s name was added.

Thomas Cooke was born in Larne, c.1891, the son of Thomas and Martha Cooke of Browndodd, Larne. He was married to Agnes. His exact date of birth is not known. The census shows that his father was 44 in 1911 and his mother 38, they had been married for 20 years. It also reveals that they had had 14 children, of whom eight were still alive. Seven daughters were listed as living at home with them in that year.

At the outbreak of war he was on the reserve and so was called up almost immediately, consequently he arrived in France on 19th September 1914 serving with the 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, just a few weeks after the outbreak of the war. He was killed in action just over a month later on 27th October 1914. Nearly a month after that, on 21st November, he was officially listed as ‘missing’ and it is not clear when exactly he was officially declared to have been killed.

First World War researcher Jeffrey Martin of Dromore has been of considerable help to me and has helped confirm the identity of Thomas Cooke. He has also provided a photograph of Thomas Cooke from the Ballymena Weekly Times in 1915 which he was given from Nigel Henderson’s extensive archive.

Cooke, Thomas, Private, Royal Irish Rifles, Browndodd

Credit: Nigel Henderson (Great War Belfast Clippings)

We can imagine the anxiety felt by his family and it may be that this anxiety continued for some years after the war. Perhaps definite confirmation of his death did not come until after the Larne Church War Memorial had been erected? Perhaps even by 1921 they still hoped he might one day return? But he died on 27th October 1914 and has no known grave. He is commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial, Pas de Calais, France.

LarneWM02

War Memorial, Old Presbyterian Church of Larne and Kilwaughter