We continue our journey through an alphabet of Non-Subscribing Presbyterian ideas, thoughts and objects and have now covered the letters H to J.
Hymns and Hymnbooks
Filmed at Ballee and Downpatrick, in this film we look at some historic hymnbooks and hymns within the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland, where there is a tradition of writing hymns and producing hymnbooks which can be traced right back to the early nineteenth century. Conducted by the minister, the reading comes from Colossians ch.3 v.12-17 and is given by Elsie Nelson. Ballee organist John Strain plays the hymns: May the mind of Christ my Saviour (Irish Presbyterian Hymn Book 512) and Thine be the glory (Irish Church Hymnal 288).
Faith should be open and inquiring, we should have a faith that asks questions and is not simply content to be told what to believe. The ninth service in our series is filmed at Clough (with a bit of extra filming at Downpatrick). Conducted by the minister, the reader is Annabel Cleland who reads from John ch.20 v.24-29. Clough organist Alfie McClelland plays the hymns Thou whose almighty word (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 173) and Lord in the fullness of my might (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 269).
In this video we look at Non-Subscribing Presbyterian understandings of Jesus. How do we see him? How do we understand him? Filmed in Dunmurry with a reading from Luke ch.6 v.46-49 given by Noelle Wilson the service is conducted by the minister in charge. Dunmurry organist Allen Yarr plays the hymns Stand up! Stand up for Jesus (Church Hymnary 532), From all that dwell below the skies (Church Hymnary 228) and Let saints on earth in concert sing (Church Hymnary 227) on the piano.
Our service is filmed in Oxford and features some of the well-known as well as some lesser-known sights of Oxford. Sue Steers reads Psalm 96 and Jenny Narramore shares an important part of College life in Christ Church. We also have a short reading from ex-slave and abolitionist’s autobiography The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. Our organists play five hymns: Thine be the glory, John Strain, Ballee; Be still for the presence of the Lord, Laura Patterson Downpatrick; Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, Alfie McClelland, Clough; How deep the Father’s love, Allen Yarr, Dunmurry; Blest are the pure in heart, John Strain, Ballee.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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: