The grounds of the First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Dunmurry look particularly impressive at this time of year as the various plants come into bloom. At the moment the azaleas look especially attractive, most notably the well established orange one flowering at the front of the church.
It struck me as something worth catching on video with perhaps an appropriate reading or two. So as well as some lines from Wordsworth I read part of the ‘Litany of Faith’ found in Orders of Worship.
Orders of Worship was published back in 1932 and is possibly mostly forgotten these days. But it has many virtues whether updated into contemporary language or read in the traditional form in which it was written, which still give it value today. ‘A Litany of Faith’ is part of the Fifth Service and can be found on pages 56-57.
The music is provided by Allen Yarr, our church organist.
As we prepare to mark the Coronation of King Charles III on Saturday, 6th May 2023 I thought I would have a look at some of the ways Non-Subscribing Presbyterians have celebrated previous Coronations over the last 120 years.
Looking through the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine for 1911 (the journal began publication in 1907) I could find little direct reference to congregational celebration. There was plenty going on in the churches in June 1911 but in terms of special services or special events there is not much record of specific events.
However, there certainly was a lot of interest and this video explains some of it:
Filmed at First Dunmurry (NS) Church the video includes music played on the piano by Allen Yarr, the church organist, including Handel’s Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks.
In 1911 the magazine gives a hopeful editorial about the new reign as well as an account of the meaning of the Crown. It also describes the Royal visit to Ireland just a few weeks after the Coronation in July 1911. This was to be the last visit to Dublin by a reigning monarch until the visit of Queen Elizabeth II in 2011. While he was in Dublin a loyal address was presented to the King on behalf of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland.
The main focus of the video though is the contribution of the Rev J.H. Bibby, minister at Ballee from 1884 to 1935. Originally from Warrington he was a member of a family connected to the ceramics business which no doubt helped in his gifting to the Sunday School and members of his church of commemorative mugs:
The Rev Joseph Henry Bibby was educated at the Unitarian Home Missionary College from 1880 to 1884 and spent the whole of his long ministry in Ballee, where he was closely involved in local life. He was a generous benefactor to the church and on his death left many of his books to the Unitarian College as well as his collection of ceramics and glass to Warrington Museum. Some of what he donated to the Museum can be seen in the video above.
What makes his gifts of the Coronation mugs stand out is that they are lithophanes, that is they contain an image impressed in the porcelain which can only be see when held to the light. Here’s the image of Edward VII as seen in the 1902 mug:
Many subsequent students at the Unitarian College, Manchester also had reason to thank J.H. Bibby because he bequeathed a sum of money to establish a prize for New Testament Greek. For those who could master the intricacies of Greek there was at least the reward of a small prize at the end of the course if you could prove your proficiency, and we have Joseph Henry Bibby to thank for that.
On Friday, 21st April we had a wonderful congregational visit to Clifton House. Reputedly one of the oldest buildings in Belfast, having been built in 1774, it is actually only five years older than our own church in Dunmurry. But it is a very impressive building featuring its unusual spire which must have towered over Belfast when it was first built and certainly angered the Earl of Donegall who gave the land not expecting a building that would dominate the skyline and overshadow St Anne’s parish church.
Right from the start it was a much more enlightened institution than its usual name of ‘Poor House’ would indicate. Even the ‘punishment room’ was equipped with a bed, something ordinary inmates of institutions such as the workhouse might not expect in the nineteenth century. Curiously the mostly Presbyterian founders had no hesitation in employing a lottery to set up Clifton House but through that scheme were able to build a Poor House and an infirmary.
I hadn’t realised either that the Belfast Charitable Society (to give it its full name) was set up by Act of Parliament and also had responsibility for the provision of water in Belfast as well as street lighting.
Examples of the English Elm which were used as water pipes were on show and such was the importance of this function the Water Commissioners had to make an annual payment of £800 in perpetuity to the Belfast Charitable Society. This still continues to this day with NI Water having taken the place of the Water Commissioners and still being obliged to pay £800 per annum to the Charitable Society.
The Society played its part in the development of cotton spinning and weaving in Belfast when machinery was established in the basement of the building for children to work on.
It is an impressive and dignified building, beautifully restored in recent decades and still fulfilling its original function of caring for those in need.
At the heart of the building is the boardroom, a room which also has a key place in so many aspects of the history of Belfast:
The extensive tour also took us round the Clifton Street graveyard. Another repository of Belfast history.
Sadly the graveyard suffered greatly from vandalism at the start of the Troubles, although its existence was threatened fairly dramatically in its early days when it was frequently targeted by grave robbers and we were told many tales of their nefarious activities over the years.
But there is still a great deal there that connects us with Belfast’s past, many of the people buried there being Non-Subscribers. Indeed throughout the tour many of the names we heard who had been associated with Clifton House were members of our denomination.
But in the graveyard we saw the graves of such notables as Dr William Drennan (poet, doctor, educationalist, United Irishman), John Ritchie (who established ship building in Belfast), and Thomas McCabe (who successfully opposed the establishment of a Belfast slave ship company) who were all Non-Subscribers, as indeed was Waddell Cunningham who it was who proposed establishing a slave ship company in Belfast (but who isn’t buried in Clifton Street).
It was a fascinating tour and we are grateful to our guides for such an interesting and illuminating morning.
Killyleagh, county Down is a town remarkable for its history, much of this related to the Non-Subscribing tradition in Irish Presbyterianism. In this video we look at some of this history, including Sir Hans Sloane and local rector Rev Edward Hincks, Egyptologist and son of Rev Thomas Dix Hincks who is buried in the parsh graveyard.
Thomas Dix Hincks was born in Dublin and educated at Trinity College, Dublin and the dissenting academy of Hackney New College, London. He became minister of the Old Presbyterian Church, Princes Street, Cork in 1790 and the following year married Anne Boult. In Cork he kept a school and helped to establish the Royal Cork Institution. He later moved to Fermoy where he ran the Fermoy Academy before coming to Belfast as Professor of Oriental Languages at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution which was then also a training college for ministers as well as a school. A pioneering educationalist and teacher he published widely over the years, he was awarded the degree of LLD in 1834 by Glasgow University and was a Member of the Royal Irish Academy.
He and his wife are buried in Killyleagh alongside their eldest son but together they established a significant Unitarian/Non-Subscribing dynasty which was influential in England, Ireland and Canada.
They had seven children, two girls and five boys:
Hannah Hincks (d.c1873)
Anne Hincks (d.1877)
Rev Edward Hincks (1792-1866)
Rev William Hincks c.1793-1871
Rev Thomas Hincks (1796-1882)
Rev John Hincks (1804-1831)
Sir Francis Hincks (1807-1885)
Two of the brothers became ministers of Renshaw Street Chapel in Liverpool, amongst other things.
To hear the full story and hear more about Killyleagh click on the video at the top of the page.
A previous video explores something of the life of Rev Thoms Hincks (1818-1899) the son of Rev William Hincks (c.1793-1871). It can be seen here:
Easter Reflections for 2023 from First Dunmurry (NS) Presbyterian Church with the minister Rev Dr David Steers and the organist Allen Yarr who plays ‘Ride on, ride on, in majesty’, ‘Jesus Christ is risen today’, and ‘The Day of Resurrection’ on the piano.
There was a lot of snow this week, suddenly the world didn’t look so Spring-like and we had to postpone a meeting with the RSPB as we plan to help re-introduce swifts to our locality.
But the weather led me to reflect on Lent and Spring and this short video contains a few readings from Psalm 148, Walter Brueggemann and Melissa Jeter, as well as music played by Allen Yarr, the church organist.
It can be seen here:
We also made another short video that makes full use of the snow, with thanks to InkLightning for the special animation:
I am not sure how many Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Churches had postcards produced featuring the meeting-house in Edwardian days. Not all of them I would guess but I have a good few examples and have blogged about a few of them including Downpatrick, Newry, Banbridge, All Souls’ Belfast (including one that quite clearly is not All Souls’), and Crumlin. There are others such as Clough and Dromore which I have seen but not acquired, but recently I was pleased to pick up a picture of Dunmurry.
Labelled First Presbyterian (R[emonstrant] S[ynod]) Church, Dunmurry, (Dr Montgomery’s Old Church) I have seen this card offered for sale before but I am pleased to at last track one down. Published by F.W. Harding of Lisburn this card was posted on 12th November 1906 to Miss Browne in Aghalee, ‘M.B.’ writes to ‘Maggie’ telling they her they are still waiting for a letter from her but hope to see her soon.
We can compare it with a modern view, taken from more or less the same position last week and see that, of course, although some of the graves, the trees and planting around the church have changed the view is essentially unchanged.
Dunmurry January 2023
In January we filmed some short reflections in the church featuring Allen Yarr on the piano. The video can be seen here:
Reflections for the month of January with the Rev Dr David Steers, minister, and Allen Yarr, church organist. Music: ‘When I survey’, ‘Music for the Royal Fireworks’
Over the period of Advent in the run up to Christmas at Dunmurry we have uploaded three videos generally reflecting on Advent and Christmas carols, their origin and use, as well as the Christmas story itself. You can see them all by clicking on the videos below.
Christmas Reflections The Christmas Story
First Dunmurry (NS) Presbyterian Church
Told by Sue Steers FRSA Organ: Allen Yarr Trumpet: Jack Steers
Carols: Hark! the herald angels sing O Little town of Bethlehem O Come, all ye faithful It came upon the midnight clear
Click on the video above to see the Christmas Reflections
Two Christmas Carols
Click on the link above to see this short exploration of two well-known carols: Deck the hall with boughs of holly (first published 1784) Ding, dong merrily on high (first published in 1924)
Filmed at First Dunmurry (NS) Presbyterian Church and at the Continental Market, Belfast
Trumpet played by Jack Steers
A Short Reflection for Advent
Hark the glad sound! the Saviour comes writtten by Rev Philip Doddridge DD (1702-1751)
The Rev Philip Doddridge DD (1702-1751) was one of the most significant dissenting ministers in the first half of the eighteenth century. Among other things he was the author of the Advent carol ‘Hark the glad sound! The Saviour comes’. This short reflection by Rev Dr David Steers, minister of the First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Dunmurry, looks at Philip Doddridge and his hymn in the context of Advent. Jack Steers plays the hymn on the trumpet.
To accompany our service of worship conducted from Oxford we have a few views of various parts of the university and its environs.
The service features readings, hymns and prayers as well as poems relating to Oxford. As part of the service we are very pleased to have Graham Murphy read Duns Scotus’s Oxford, by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Oxford, by C.S. Lewis.
Readings: Psalm 139 read by Rev Dr David Steers Duns Scotus’s Oxford by Gerard Manley Hopkins, read by Graham Murphy Oxford by C.S. Lewis, read by Graham Murphy Oxford (extract) by T. Lovatt Williams, read by Sue Steers
Hymns: ‘The King of Love my shepherd is’, Alfie McClelland (Clough) ‘From all that dwell below the skies’, Allen Yarr (Dunmurry) ‘Lord of all hopefulness’, John Strain (Ballee) ‘Be still for the presence of the Lord’, Laura Patterson (Downpatrick) ‘In Christ Alone’, John Strain (Ballee) ‘It is well with my soul’, Allen Yarr (Dunmurry)
In the service you will see: Radcliffe Camera, Brasenose College, River Thames (Isis), Harris Manchester College, Mansfield College, New College, Christ Church (Peckwater Quad, Tom Quad, Memorial Garden), Christ Church Meadow, Old English Longhorn Cattle, Divinity School, Bodleian Library, Sheldonian Theatre, Christ Church Cathedral, University Church, Martyrs Memorial.