Sunday Service, 24th May

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Morning has broken
Like the first morning,
Blackbird has spoken
Like the first bird.
Praise for the singing!
Praise for the morning!
Praise for them, springing
Fresh from the Word!

Our service today comes from the First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Downpatrick. Our organist is Laura Patterson, the reading (from Ephesians chapter 3 verses 7-19) is provided by Robert Neill, and Jack Steers also plays the trumpet.

The hymns played are:

Morning has broken (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 433)

and

Amazing grace – such love profound  (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 337)

The service includes an exploration of the idea of ‘Thin Places’ and includes a quotation from a poem by the eighteenth-century Welsh poet and Calvinistic Methodist minister Thomas Jones (from The Mistle Thrush – in Celtic Christian Spirituality, edited by Mary C. Earle):

If our Lord is great, and great his praise
From just this one small part of earth,
Then what of the image of his greatness
Which comes from the whole of his fine work?
And through the image of the ascending steps
Of his gracious work, which he has made,
(Below and above the firmament,
Marvellously beyond number),
What of the greatness and pure loveliness
Of God himself?

 

We also uploaded in the week just gone a new Time for a Story video, in this case the story of the widow and the emperor, a marvellous tale about Hagia Sophia, the emperor Justinian, the widow Euphrasia and some hungry donkeys.

 

Worship Sunday, 17th May: Dunmurry

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This week our service is recorded at the First Presbyterian NS Church, Dunmurry and Allen Yarr, the church organist, has very kindly provided music on piano for two hymns plus some additional music for the opening and closing of the service. The hymns are:

‘The Church Hymnary’ No. 704 ‘Yield not to temptation’

‘The Church Hymnary’ No.532 ‘Stand up! Stand up for Jesus’

The reading is from John ch. 2 v.13-2 and the address contains some reflection of Philip Larkin’s poem Church Going.

It pleases me to stand in silence here;

 

A serious house on serious earth it is,

In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,

Are recognized, and robed as destinies.

And that much never can be obsolete

In the end though our spiritual relationship with the divine is about something more than any building.

 

Over this last week we also uploaded another video, one which tells the little-known story of Henry Croft. His life-size, but diminutive, statue is hidden underneath Trafalgar Square in London. As such it is the complete antithesis of the giant statue of Lord Nelson that sits high in the sky, almost touching the clouds. You can hear all about the life of Henry Croft on this Time for a Story video above.

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View looking across Trafalgar Square from Charing Cross, towards the National Gallery and Nelson’s Column, St Martin’s Church on the far right, in the foreground to the left is the equestrian statue of Charles I, the surrounding streets busy with pedestrians, riders, coaches and carriages. 1852 Colour lithograph. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Remembering Tom Banham

On Saturday, 30th November I was honoured to be asked to lead the service and give the address at the Memorial Service for the Rev Tom Banham at First Presbyterian Church, Rosemary Street, Belfast. Tom was the minister of First Church from 1975 until his retirement in 1993 and was senior minister from then until his death in August 2019.

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With Rev Simon Henning and Rev Robert McKee (Photo: Mark Adair)

It was a very impressive service indeed with contributions from Rev Simon Henning, Dr Pamela Topping, the church secretary, who read So Many Different Lengths of Time by Brian Patten, and Mark Adair who spoke warmly of his memories of Tom and read Praise of a Man by Norman McCaig.

Memorial Service

The service was particularly notable for its musical contributions under the leadership of the church’s Director of Music, Richard Yarr. Tanya Houghton, the newly appointed Musician in Residence, played two pieces on the harp and the eight Banham Scholars gave their first ever public performance. The organist was Nigel McClintock.

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Tanya Houghton with the Banham Scholars and Richard Yarr (Photo: Mark Adair)

Before he died Tom endowed the church to enable them to establish a choral scholarship scheme for the church. As a result a group of choral scholars have been formed who, it is planned, will sing once a month at Rosemary Street, as well as on special occasions, and will undertake outreach projects on the church’s behalf. The congregation has named them the Banham Scholars in Tom’s memory.

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The Banham Scholars and Richard Yarr (Photo: Mark Adair)

The musical programme in the service comprised pieces which reflected Tom’s own musical interests and some of his favourite pieces:

Church Choir & Banham Scholars: Beethoven – Creation’s Hymn

Tanya Houghton (harp), Musician in Residence, First Church –

Puccini: O Mio Babbino Caro, from Gianni Schicchi (with soprano Mary McCabe)

Mascagni: Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana

Banham Scholars –

Rutter: The Lord Bless You And Keep You

Handel: Hallelujah Chorus, from Messiah

The Banham Scholars are eight professional singers: two Sopranos: Mary McCabe and Katie Lyons; two Altos: Dawn Burns and Sarah Richmond; two Tenors: Owen Lucas and Mark Tilley; and two Basses: James Cooper and Adam Reaney.

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The Church Choir and the Banham Scholars (Photo: Mark Adair)

The hymns were Love divine, all loves excelling, The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended and Guide me, O thou great Jehovah.

The whole occasion was such a fitting tribute to someone who was a major figure in his denomination for so long and who made such a great contribution to society through his ministry and leadership.

Rev Tom Banham 1971

Rev Tom Banham 1929 – 2019

Lieutenant Commander, Royal Navy

Minister, Ballycarry and Raloo 1971 – 1975

Minister, First Presbyterian Church, Belfast 1975 – 1993, senior minister 1993 – 2019

(Picture taken in 1971)

 

Faith and Freedom 183

 

‘God as mask-wearer’ and the ‘stylish Tillich’

The Autumn and Winter 2016 issue of Faith and Freedom (Volume 69 part 2, Number 183) is now available, featuring a picture of a fourteenth-century carved figure of a pilgrim in Chester Cathedral on its cover. In it leading expert on Welsh poet-priest R.S. Thomas, Professor John McEllhenney, discusses the poet’s annotations of Paul Tillich’s Systematic Theology and Theology of Culture. Interpretation of Tillich also features in Plínio de Góes’ examination of the theology of ‘fashionable rebel pastor’ Jay Bakker and his Revolution Church. Jay Bakker is the son of the notorious TV evangelists Jim and Tammy Bakker but rejected their kind of style and developed a different type of church identified as ‘hipster Christianity’. We also carry the full text of Tehmina Kazi’s keynote address to the 2016 Unitarian GA, she is the former Director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy and now works for the Cork Equal and Sustainable Communities Alliance. Yvonne Craig, a retired social worker and former JP, gives some careful thought to the question to false accusations of sexual abuse in ‘Blaming, Naming, Shaming and Biblical Justice’. Katharine Parsons discusses ‘God and the Problem of Language’ and Barrie Needham unpacks the novels of Marilynne Robinson. There are also accounts from Alan Ruston and David Wykes of the events marking the 300th anniversary of the death of Dr Daniel Williams

Faith and Freedom is always very strong in its reviews and this issue has Bob Janis-Dillon on refugees and asylum, Maud Robinson on Quaker views of assisted dying, Ernest Baker on Benjamin Franklin in London, Andrew Hill on Bryan Tully’s humanist anthology, and Rosemary Arthur on Bishop John Shelby Spong as well as reviews of Marsilio Ficino, Sue Woolley’s new book, Jennifer Kavanagh’s Simplicity Made Easy and Alan Ruston’s new collection of historical biographies.

Subscribers to this issue in the UK and Ireland also receive a free copy of the published papers given at the Unitarian Theology Conference held at Cross Street Chapel, Manchester in May of this year.

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An annual subscription to Faith and Freedom costs only £15 per annum (for two issues) and is available online at  http://www.faithandfreedom.org.uk/subs.htm

 

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The Warrington Academy

 

On a recent visit to Warrington I realised that I had been in the town many times but had never knowingly seen the famous Academy, or what remains of it. Famously the Academy was physically moved on rollers to preserve it after road widening in the early 1980s. I hadn’t realised, however, that this careful and no doubt expensive feat of engineering had not prevented it being demolished and rebuilt with hardly any original features in the 1990s.

 

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Two plaques still stand on either side of the entrance of what is left of the Academy. One commemorates the Academy, and another which is difficult, if not impossible, to read, was deciphered for me by Luke who tells me it recalls Arthur Bennett. The wording of the plaque is recorded on the Open Plaques site (http://openplaques.org/)  as being:

A poet who had dreams and to his dreams gave life. Arthur Bennett 1862-1931 Honorary Freeman and Alderman of the Borough of Warrington Mayor 1925-1927 A founder and president of the Warrington Society, the members of which erected this tablet in recognition of his services to the town he loved.

Clearly very proud of his Warrington heritage Arthur Bennett’s poem on eighteenth-century prison reformer, humanitarian and Warrington citizen ‘John Howard’ concludes with a stanza on his friendship with Dr John Aikin, son of one the founding tutors of the Academy and brother of Anna Laetitia Barbauld:

Then to “the Doctor’s, whom he loved so well,
Past the still halls with Memory’s laurels wreathed,
The sacred “seats where Science loved to dwell
Where liberty her ardent spirit breathed”.
The day’s work tested, he would journey home
To take his simple cup of tea and creep
Up the quaint old stairs in the familiar gloom,
Content to catch four fleeting hours of sleep.

I am sure Anna Laetitia’s poems relating to the Academy are better known today, one of her earliest poems discussed its educational role:

 

The Muses here have fixed their sacred seats.

Mark where its simple front yon mansion rears,

The nursery of men for future years!

Here callow chiefs and embryo statesmen lie,

And unfledged poets short excursions try….

Here Nature opens all her secret springs,

And heaven-born Science plumes her eagle-wings.

 

The Open Plaques site also tells me there is a plaque for Joseph Priestley in Warrington which I didn’t realise. He was perhaps the most eminent of all the staff of the Warrington Academy and another subject that inspired Anna Laetitia to poetry, writing to tease Priestley after she found a mouse caught in a trap which was destined to be a part of his experiments on air. She wrote:

 

O hear a pensive prisoner’s prayer,

For liberty that sighs;

And never let thine heart be shut

Against the wretch’s cries!

 

For here forlorn and sad I sit,

Within the wiry grate;

And tremble at the approaching morn,

Which brings impending fate.

 

If e’er thy breast with freedom glowed,

And spurned a tyrant’s chain,

Let not thy strong oppressive force

A free-born mouse detain!

 

The cheerful light, the vital air,

Are blessings widely given;

Let Nature’s commoners enjoy

The common gifts of Heaven.

 

One of the things you notice when you visit Warrington is that even if the original building of the Academy has not been preserved its story is still valued in the town. An advertising hoarding promoting the town outside the Golden Square shopping centre makes use of the image of the first Academy:

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I am not sure what the date 1775 is meant to commemorate. It may be an error for the date of foundation in 1757.

The most notable feature of the modern Academy building is a large statue of Oliver Cromwell. This was put up in 1899 although I am not sure if this was the original site.

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