Search me, O God, and know my heart

Our service for this Sunday comes from Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church which this year celebrates its tercentenary.

The service is conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers, and John Strain, the church organist, plays the hymns ‘O Love that wilt not let me go’ (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 276) and ‘Spirit of the living God’ (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 178) as well as ‘How deep the Father’s Love for us’ (Irish Church Hymnal 224) which is played at the beginning and end of the service. The reading is Psalm 139 v.1-12, 23-24.

Click on the video to join in our service
Ballee NSP Church, built 1721

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

Christmas Service of Carols and Readings

If you can’t get to church on Sunday amidst all the current restrictions or, indeed, if you have been to church but would like to join in another Christmas service, you can click on our video and join in our Service of Carols and Readings.

Filmed partly in Downpatrick it features music played on the organs at Ballee and Downpatrick plus music on the trumpet and bagpipes as well as readers from different churches who re-tell the Christmas story.

Click on the video to see the service:

Service of Christmas Carols and Readings, Downpatrick

Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church

First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Downpatrick

Christmas Carol Service

Sunday, 20th December 2020

  1. O Come, O come, Emmanuel (played by Jack on the trumpet)
  2. Opening Words Rev Dr David Steers
  3. 1st Reading Isaiah ch.9 v.2, 6-7 Nigel
  4. 1st Carol O Come, all ye faithful (played by Laura on the bagpipes)
  5. 1st Carol O Come, all ye faithful (played by John on the organ at Ballee)
  6. 2nd Reading Isaiah ch.11 v.1-9 Margaret
  7. 2nd Carol O little town of Bethlehem (John)
  8. 3rd Reading Isaiah ch.40 v.1-5 Rosemary
  9. 3rd Carol Once in Royal David’s City (John)
  10. 4th Reading Luke ch.1 v.26-35 Adele
  11. 4th Carol The first Nowell (played by Laura on the organ at Downpatrick))
  12. 5th Reading Matthew ch.1 v.18-25 Emma
  13. 5th Carol Mary’s Boy Child (Laura)
  14. 6th Reading Luke ch.2 v.1-7 Emma
  15. 6th Carol Silent night! (John)
  16. 7th Reading Luke ch.2 v.8-20 Noelle
  17. 7th Carol See amid the winter snow (Laura)
  18. 8th Reading Matthew ch.2 v.1-12 Mary
  19. 8th Carol Hark! The Herald Angels sing (John)
  20. 9th Reading John ch.1 v.1-14 Robert
  21. Prayer
  22. 9th Carol Joy to the world (Laura)
  23. Benediction
  24. A Great and Mighty Wonder (John)

O thou eternal Wisdom, whom we partly know and partly do not know;

O thou eternal Justice, whom we partly acknowledge, but never wholly obey;

O thou eternal Love, whom we love a little, but fear to love too much:

Open our minds, that we may understand;

Work in our wills, that we may obey;

Kindle our hearts, that we may love thee.

Amen

We are all the work of thy hand

Yet, O Lord, thou art our Father;
    we are the clay, and thou art our potter;
    we are all the work of thy hand.

Isaiah ch.64 v.8

Our service for the Second Sunday in Advent comes from First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Downpatrick and has as its reading Isaiah ch.64 v.1-9. In that passage God is likened to a potter and through interaction with our Creator we can be remade. This image of the potter at work at the wheel is a very powerful one in the Bible, it is suggestive of the ongoing process of creation of which we are a part.

The video can be seen here:

The organist is John Strain, playing the organ at Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, who plays Lo! He comes with clouds descending (Mission Praise 424) and Hark the glad sound! The saviour comes (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 107).

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:

Remembrance Sunday 2020

In so many places tomorrow Remembrance Services have either been curtailed or cancelled because of the pandemic. This is one of the many inevitable consequences of the situation around the coronavirus. Nevertheless, many churches will hold a service of Remembrance on Sunday morning, at least they will in Northern Ireland although obviously not in other places such as England where a lockdown has again closed the churches. I will be leading two Remembrance services tomorrow and we also have an online Remembrance Service which can be viewed here:

Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Remembrance Service, Sunday, 8th November 2020

Our service comes from Downpatrick and features the two memorials which we have in the church. One is the First World War memorial which includes the names of all the members of the congregation who served in the war as well as three who are listed as having died in the war. When I researched the details for the Roll of Honour of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland in 2018 I discovered that many church war memorials, although often cast in bronze or carved in marble, sometimes didn’t quite match the records as we know them today. So in the case of the Downpatrick memorial one of the members who is listed as having served actually died in 1920 from wounds he received at Ypres and his grave is recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. So four members of the congregation were killed through fighting in the First World War.

We also have a second memorial which includes a poppy from the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation which was on show in the Tower of London in 2014 and which was given in memory of Rifleman John Hayes. Click on the following link to read about this:

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red poppy dedicated at Downpatrick

In today’s video I have also included an image of every Non-Subscribing Presbyterian twentieth-century war memorial of which I am aware.

Detail from the illuminated Roll of Honour of the First Presbyterian Church, Rosemary Street, Belfast

Time for a Story

On 4th November 1922 Howard Carter finally discovered the entrance to the tomb of Tutankhamun. In this week’s Time for a Story Sue Steers tells this fascinating tale. The video can be seen here:

Time for a Story: Tutankhamun

Interpreting the Bible

The Bible or Shakespeare

Many of the most vivid phrases that have passed into everyday use in the English language originate in either the Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible or in Shakespeare. That is the starting point for our service today. The Bible requires translation for it to be intelligible and it requires interpretation to achieve any relevance for its hearers. For the best part of three centuries one version – the Authorized Version of 1611 – held sway in the English-speaking world. From the end of the nineteenth century onwards this has changed as a plethora of translations have emerged reflecting changes in language and Biblical understanding.

“Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asks the Ethiopian in Acts ch.8 v.27-40. “How can I, unless some one guides me?” he replies (RSV), or “How can I, unless someone explains it to me?” as the NIV says.

Click on the video above to see today’s service

Today’s service comes from Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church. The reading (2 Timothy ch.3 v.14-ch.4 v.8) is given by Robert Neill (Downpatrick) and Alfie McClelland plays the hymns Through all the changing scenes of life and Jesus the very thought of Thee.

Celebrating Harvest

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.

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is gracious,

for his steadfast love endures for ever.

Psalm 107.1

For the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life

Last week we were considering the legacy of Rev Henry Montgomery and using the story in Mark’s gospel of Jesus and the disciples walking through the grainfields and plucking the ears of corn to eat on the Sabbath. In its own way this was a template for being prepared to radically reform religious practice whenever it is deemed essential.

No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; if he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made.
And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but new wine is for fresh skins.

Mark ch.2 v.21-22.

Today’s service continues with this theme. Filmed in the First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Downpatrick the reading is from 2 Corinthians ch.3 v.1-6 and is given by church secretary Mary Stewart. Laura Patterson plays the hymns How deep the Father’s love for us and Great is thy faithfulness. Click on the following link to join in the service:

If you look closely at the film outside the Church in Downpatrick at the start and during the hymns you will catch glimpses of the Swifts flying about the church yard.

The legacy of the Rev Henry Montgomery (1788-1865)

Our worship today comes from Dunmurry and considers the theological legacy of the Rev Henry Montgomery, nineteenth-century minister of the church and leader amongst the Non-Subscribing Presbyterians.

Henry Montgomery, portrait in Dunmurry Church

That the imposition of human tests and confessions of faith, and the vain efforts of men to produce an unattainable uniformity of belief, have not only tended to encourage hypocrisy, but also to restrict the sacred right of private judgment – to lessen the authority of the Scriptures – to create unrighteous divisions amongst Christians – to sanction the most barbarous persecutions – to trench on the natural and civil rights of men – to place undue power in the hands of the few – to throw a shield over the time-serving – to expose the honest to injuries and persecutions – to perpetuate errors in almost all churches – and to prevent that free inquiry and discussion which are essential to the extension of religious knowledge.

(From the principles expounded by Henry Montgomery in 1830)

Morning Worship, Sunday, 20th September 2020

Service from the First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Dunmurry. Conducted by the Rev Dr David Steers. Today’s reading is given by Noelle Wilson from Mark ch.2 v.18-28 and Allen Yarr plays the hymns Just as I am, Thine own to be (‘Church Hymnary’, 497) and Thy Kingdom come, O God (‘Church Hymnary’, 152) on the church organ. Click on the above link to see the service.

Apple Tree, Ballee

And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.

After the flood, while the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.

Genesis (ch1 v.31 & ch.8 v.22)

All our churches are now returning to Sunday worship although not on every Sunday just yet during the current crisis. For the time being we will also be continuing with our online acts of worship every Sunday on our YouTube Channel: Downpatrick, Ballee & Clough NSP Churches.

The first service back at Dunmurry after lockdown was also live streamed on Facebook on Sunday, 13th September at 11.30 am. The full service can be seen in the following video: