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.
At the time of writing the coffin of Her Majesty the Queen is lying in state in Westminster Hall and many thousands of people are queuing in order to be able to pay their last respects. Special services have been held all over the country in the last week and at First Dunmurry (NS) Presbyterian Church we held a short service of prayer and reflection on Friday, 9th December. An edited audio recording of the service can be heard by clicking on the video above. Allen Yarr is the organist.
Below are some images from the lying in state in Westminster Hall.
Earlier in the week, on Monday, 12th September a very moving service of thanksgiving for the life of the Queen was held in St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh. Below are some images from that occasion.
Services of thanksgiving for the life of the Queen were also held in Belfast and Cardiff.
I shall not die, but live, and shall the works of God discover. The Lord hath me chastised sore, but not to death giv’n over. O set ye open unto me the gates of righteousness; Then will I enter into them, and I the Lord will bless. This is the gate of God, by it the just shall enter in. Thee will I praise, for thou me heard’st and hast my safety been.
Translation of Psalm 118 v.17-21 which was sung in Scots Gaelic by Karen Matheson at the service in St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh.
These opening lines from God’s Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins supply us with the opening words and the theme of this week’s online service. Filmed at various locations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland places visited include the Hawarden estate, Flintshire, North Wales; the sand dunes at Formby near Liverpool; the Derbyshire Peak district; the River Thames (Isis) at Oxford; Norton Priory, Cheshire; Sefton Park, Liverpool; Rathmullan, county Down; and Dunmurry, county Antrim. As we look at these varied landscapes we explore the meaning of this idea of the divine presence in the natural world alongside readings from Gerard Manley Hopkins, Thomas Merton and Ernesto Cardenal.
In the service Graham Murphy reads two poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins – Binsey Poplars and Pied Beauty, both recorded at Gladstone’s Library, Hawarden, Flintshire. In addition Robert Neill and Emma McCrudden read extracts from the works of Thomas Merton and Ernesto Cardenal.
Music played includes:
For the beauty of the earth, played by Allen Yarr, organist of First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Dunmurry.
Come let us sing of a wonderful love, played by John Strain, organist of Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church.
O love that wilt not let me go, played by John Strain.
Let saints on earth in concert sing, played by Allen Yarr.
Let me seek, then, the gift of silence, and poverty, and solitude, where everything I touch is turned into a prayer: where the sky is my prayer, the birds are my prayer, the wind in the trees is my prayer, for God is all in all. – Thomas Merton
Volume 75, Part 1, Spring and Summer 2022, Number 194
The latest issue is now ready.
Our lead article is Howard Oliver’s examination of the remarkable career of John Tyndall and his influence on the relationship between science and religion. An outstanding physicist and an excellent lecturer he was also a glaciologist and an experienced mountaineer. Howard Oliver shows that by the 1840s he was a religious freethinker who had explored the role of faith in society in some depth. In 1847 his address in Belfast as President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science caused a furore and opened up the debate about the relationship between religion and science, especially in the light of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Our cover picture depicts his portrait from the cover of Vanity Fair in 1872.
We are delighted too to be able include articles by:
Paul Richards, on the spiritual dimension of the works of Richard Wagner which looks at Wagner and anti-Semitism, myth and religious symbolism, Tristran & Isolde, the Ring Cycle, and Parsifal.
Ann Peart, on the response of Unitarians to ministering during the pandemic, an examination of the imaginative and creative ways in which Unitarian ministers have developed new forms of worship and activity during the Covid-19 crisis.
Feargus O’Connor, on the Unitarian contribution to Animal Welfare, by a well-known advocate for human rights who leads the only annual interfaith celebration of animals in the UK.
And Robert Oulton, on the theology and works of Cynthia Bourgeault, an intriguing Episcopalian theologian and priest who is also an expert in mysticism.
We continue to carry some fine reviews including:
Religious Experience – its nature, validity, forms and problems by Principal J. Ernest Davey MA DD, with a Foreword by John, Lord Alderdice
Author and playwright Philip Orr on a new book of writings by Principal J. Ernest Davey (the leading Irish Presbyterian scholar of the twentieth century, Principal of the main Irish Presbyterian theological college, who was accused of heresy) edited by Lord Alderdice, now Senior Research Fellow at Harris Manchester College.
Mona Siddiqui, Human Struggle: Christian and Muslim Perspectives
Rev Dr Marcus Braybrooke, one of the leaders of the inter-faith movement in Britain, on Human Struggle: Christian and Muslim Perspectives, the 2016 Gifford Lectures by Mona Siddiqui published last year.
Steven Pinker, Rationality: what it is, why it seems scarce, why it matters
Professor David Williams on the place of rationality in human life according to Steven Pinker’s new book.
Daniel Costley, Life’s Journey Creating Unitarian Rites of Passage
The editor’s discussion of Daniel Costley’s Lindsey Press book on constructing special services.
An annual subscription for each volume (two issues) costs £16.00 (postage included) in the United Kingdom. Single copies can be ordered at a cost of £8.00 each (postage included). Cheques should be made out to Faith and Freedom and sent to the business manager:
Nigel Clarke, Business Manager, Faith and Freedom, 16 Fairfields, Kirton in Lindsey, Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. DN21 4GA.
On Saturday, 11th June members of Dunmurry along with members of First Belfast and All Souls’ Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches enjoyed a great visit to to Dublin. We were made very welcome by the Unitarian congregation on St Stephen’s Green and treated to an excellent tour of sites connected with the roots of Protestant Dissent in Dublin by Rory Delany.
Rory has a fund of knowledge about the history of Dublin and of the different strands of Dissent in the city, which largely date back to the period of Oliver Cromwell. We were taken on a fascinating walk around some of both the familiar and not so familiar parts of Dublin and all of us gained a deep insight into the way Dissent – Independency – Presbyterianism – Unitarianism – developed in the city and the contribution made by members of the Dissenting churches to the history of the city.
Rory gave us an outline of the plan before we set off. The Unitarian Church was built in 1863 by the congregation of Strand Street and four years later it was joined by the congregation of Eustace Street. These two congregations contained many of the leading merchants in the city, families which had played an important part in civic life for decades, and were groups which were rooted in at least four churches which had maintained a continuity of existence from Cromwellian and Puritan times onwards.
Perhaps the most direct stream of religious life which fed in to the modern church on St Stephen’s Green was that of Wood Street. The first minister connected with this congregation is usually said to be John Owen, a leading Puritan divine who came to Dublin as chaplain to Oliver Cromwell and later became dean of Christ Church, Oxford during the Commonwealth. The congregation may date back to Elizabethan times but the first minister in Wood Street itself is thought to be Stephen Charnock who came to Dublin as chaplain to Henry Cromwell in 1655. A fellow of Trinity College, Dublin he was a ‘lecturer’ at St Werburgh’s and returned to England following the Restoration in 1660.
Wood Street was the scene of the ministry of Daniel Williams for approximately 20 years. Welsh-born he moved to London in 1687 and became the leading figure in English Dissent, establishing the library that bears his name to this day. Other distinguished and sometimes controversial ministers to serve this congregation include Joseph Boyse, Thomas Emlyn, John Abernethy and James Duchal (click on the links where shown for more information on this blog) . The congregation moved to Strand Street in 1764.
Samuel Winter, a key figure in Cromwellian Ireland and Provost of Trinity College, was also preacher at St Nicholas’ Church from 1650 and had as colleague from 1656 Samuel Mather, the son of Richard Mather (for more on his family and their connection with Toxteth click here) a leading Puritan in England, New England and Ireland. Samuel Mather was a lecturer at Christ Church and a Fellow of Trinity College. He died in 1671 and was buried in St Nicholas’ Church. He was later succeeded in the ministry by his brother Nathaniel, by which time the congregation had built their own meeting house on New Row.
Eventually New Row moved to Eustace Street in 1728. Nearby was a Quaker meeting-house and Rory told us that one of the Quakers said of the Eustace Street meeting-house that ‘When there is so much vanity without, there won’t be much religion within’. But it is actually a very well-proportioned and elegant building, although eighteenth-century Quakers had their own view of such things. Having said that what survives of Eustace Street today is only the facade and that is not shown off to best effect by the banners hung outside by the Ark Theatre group that use the new building.
Eustace Street was also the location of the first ministry of James Martineau (click here to read more about James Martineau on this blog).
We had a brief look at the City Hall, built originally as the Royal Exchange in 1779 by the precursor of the Chamber of Commerce. The merchants who made up the membership of the Chamber of Commerce included a disproportionate number of Protestant Dissenters, and of these a large proportion were members of one of the three Presbyterian (Unitarian) congregations in Dublin. Indeed, Rory told us, a majority of the Presidents of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce between 1785 and 1870 were trustees or members of the congregations which went on to form the St Stephens Green congregation.
It was a wonderful day full of interest and we are all indebted to Rory for sharing his considerable knowledge with us.
In an overgrown corner of Belfast’s City Cemetery stands a bold and intricately carved Celtic cross which marks the grave of the Rev John Scott Porter.
Son of a prominent Presbyterian minister and brother to two more he was part of a significant dynasty. This week’s Reflection looks at the life and work of John Scott Porter.
Educated at the Belfast Academical Institution he commenced his ministry at Carter Lane Chapel, London (which became Unity Chapel, Islington), where he became a prominent proponent of the Arian group within English Presbyterianism, editing the Christian Moderator. He returned to Belfast, to the First Presbyterian Church, in 1831.
In the video we reflect on his career as a theologian, controversialist, Biblical scholar and Unitarian. Other members of his family are buried with him including his brother William, one time attorney general at the Cape Colony, who brought in a franchise that was inclusive of all races.
What can we learn from reflecting on the impressive Celtic cross that marks his grave? An eloquent Victorian statement of piety and memory, for decades long forgotten, yet still making a statement about his beliefs and his ministry.
On Wednesday, 4th May 2022 the long delayed final stage of the restoration of the Murland Mausoleum by the Follies Trust at Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church took place. There was a good attendance of people gathered at the event, originally scheduled to take place in March 2020 but inevitably cancelled at the start of the lockdown. The meeting included a short service of thanksgiving for the work of the Follies Trust and the singing of the hymn Praise my soul the King of Heaven, accompanied by Melanie Campbell on the organ. Rev Dr David Steers welcomed everyone and spoke about the history of the Church, and introduced Dr Finbar McCormick who gave a fascinating talk on the restoration of the Murland Vault and the history and place of mausolea as places of burial in Ireland. Primrose Wilson, chair of the Follies Trust, thanked everyone involved, especially Noel Killen who had carried out the restoration of the monument, and invited everyone to Ballydugan Mill where the launch of the Trust’s new book Fifteen Years of the Follies Trust took place.
Recorded for the Sunday after Easter including reflection on the dawn service held on the village green by Dunmurry Churches Together. With Jack Steers on the trumpet playing Easter Hymn (Jesus Christ is risen today). With a reading from Luke ch.4 v.13-35. Click on the video above to see this reflection.
Lord of the Emmaus Road…walk with us Lord, listen to our story, and let us hear your story, straight from the empty tomb.
A couple of short acts of worship to mark Holy Week, 2022:
Some music for Palm Sunday. Four pieces plus an introduction played by the organists of Dunmurry and Ballee for a Palm Sunday service:
Hymns played by Allen Yarr (Dunmurry) and John Strain (Ballee).
How deep the Father’s love, introduction played by Allen Yarr. King of glory, King of Peace, played by John Strain. Ride on, ride on, in majesty, played by Allen Yarr. When I survey the wondrous Cross, played by Allen Yarr. Now thank we all our God, played by John Strain. Filmed at First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Dunmurry and Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church.
Image: ‘The Entry of Christ into Jerusalem’ (1320) by Pietro Lorenzetti. A fresco in the south transept of the Lower Church, San Francesco, Assisi. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.
A short prayer and meditation for Good Friday:
Rev Dr David Steers, First Dunmurry (NS) Presbyterian Church. (Source: John Pritchard ‘The Second Intercessions Handbook’. Images the crypt and a side altar (also at the top of this page) at the Metropolitan Cathedral, Liverpool).