Roscoe Gardens – cause for concern

The congregational memorial in 2019

In July 2019 I published a post about Roscoe Gardens, Mount Pleasant in Liverpool, a little-known green space near Liverpool city centre. It is the site of the burial ground of Renshaw Street Chapel and the home of a memorial to the chapel and its members including such notable figures as William Roscoe and Joseph Blanco White. You can see the original post here. In the last year this has become one of the two most frequently visited posts on this blog, the other being Croft Unitarian Chapel to which I hope to return in the near future.

Memorial to William Roscoe

The reason for the frequency of views of the Roscoe Gardens post has been a developing abuse of the site that has seen scant disregard for for its importance to the city and its status as a burial ground and memorial.

Inscription on the memorial

On the evening of Friday, 30th April the Rev Phil Waldron went to Roscoe Gardens in his clerical robes to kneel in prayer at the congregational memorial to highlight this ongoing problem. In solidarity with his stand I am pleased to publish his press release below which explains all the issues. Let us all pray that this leads to some action by Liverpool City Council:

Rev Phil Waldron kneels in prayer in Roscoe Gardens, Friday, 30th April 2021

Statement from Rev Phil Waldron and the Unitarian community in Liverpool:

Since July 2020 Liverpool City Council has been complicit in the desecration of the graves of many of our city’s citizens and the gifting of an entire public park to a private business. Since July 2020 Roscoe Gardens has been locked off, and public access removed and denied, consistently by the business operating in the space.

Roscoe Gardens is not just a public park, but a Unitarian burial ground and needs to be treated with the basic levels of decency, dignity and respect that is not only presumed human moral basics but also obligations under the law of the local authority.

The council have allowed a marquee structure of such vast size, it should be subject to planning requirements, to be erected over and pegged into the graves of those interred on the site.

The Listed memorial of William Roscoe, one of the first abolitionists is currently in a state of disrepair, as is the green space of the park itself. Members of the Unitarian congregation are being denied their right to pay their respects to those interred at the site. Members of the local community, including the elderly and those less able of body, have been deprived of their nearest greenspace during a pandemic and lockdown.

The structure erected by the business is directly adjacent to, and outside of peoples homes. Families of children have had nothing short of months of misery, endured by the obscene and lurid content matter of the ‘entertainment’ blasted directly into their homes, let alone the anti-social behaviour of customers.

This is nothing short of an affront to those buried in the ground beneath them, including founders of the Temperance movement.

As B G Orchard once wrote, “… no group of men has so manifested far-sighted appreciation of great questions affecting social wellbeing of the town or worked with more dogged ardour to promote national education, public parks, free libraries and museums… at present Renshaw Street Chapel is probably the greatest political force in our midst.” –

we are shocked Liverpool City Council sees fit to allow the graves of these people who built the socialist foundations of our city, to be desecrated and ran into disrepair, in such a way.

Liverpool City Councillors and Officers, and even our local MP, have been made aware of ongoing complaints since August 2020 and failed to act. In fact, to this date, Liverpool City Council have ignored every reference to desecration to the graves made, and to this date, not one single Councillor or Officer has had the foresight to contact the Unitarian Church, not only to apologise, but to seek the permission they are obliged to, for use of the space, as set out under the Burial Act.

The business operator has shown no willingness to listen to the community and currently only allows access to the space if a petition is signed in support of their continued occupation of consecrated ground. The business has also consistently breached the terms of the Land Use Agreement they had with the council, and evidence has been provided, again consistently, to the responsible officers and no action has been taken.

Liverpool City Council has failed in its duty to protect this sacred, public space and abandoned its commitment and obligations to respecting culture, faith and our city’s history.

We have asked several times for answers to the simple questions overleaf, and still await a response from the council. We are now demanding the immediate restoration of the dignity of those interred at the site and unfettered public access to the public park resumed.

Tercentenary of Ballee

For three hundred years our congregation at Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church has been worshipping in its T-shaped meeting-house of 1721. It couldn’t be described as entirely unchanged since that year – originally the building would have been thatched and at some point later in the eighteenth century it had a new roof built of Memel pine, later still the old box pews were removed and used to fit out new rooms in the church. But still the walls are the same walls that have stood as silent witness to our faith for three hundred years.

To join the service click on the video after 9.45 am on Sunday, 18th April 2021

The service is conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers, and the reading is from John ch.4 v.31-38. The church’s organist, John Strain, plays the hymns Lord of all Hopefulness (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 257) and Sent forth by God’s blessing (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 443). At the start and end of the service John also plays Thine be the glory (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 288).

The video includes many of the special features of this historic church and explores the history of the congregation.

In the Ordnance Survey Memoir for this part of County Down in 1835 it notes that the Presbyterians:

have a house of worship at Ballee bridge, and at the late schism of the Synod of Ulster, the congregation departed from the body and joined the Remonstrants. The minister of the congregation receives 50 pounds a year stipend from his hearers and 75 pounds a year regium donum….

The regium donum was a government grant paid to ministers. But the Ordnance Survey also reports, under a section entitled Habits of the People:

A more intelligent or industrious population is rarely to be found, being punctually honest in their dealings and generally attached to the form of religious worship they profess without being intolerant.

On the Road to Emmaus

Two disciples walk along a dusty road towards Emmaus, a village about seven miles from Jerusalem. In their grief and confusion they are joined by a stranger who talks to them about what they have been through, yet at no point do they recognise him until later when they break bread together.

In today’s service we examine this story and its meaning where Jesus is only known in the breaking of the bread:

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.

Today’s service comes from Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church. It is conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers, with the reading from Luke ch.24 v.13-35 given by Robert Neill. Church organist Alfie McClelland plays Lord of all being, throned afar (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 2) and Come all who look to Christ today (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 236) as well as Praise to the Lord, the Almighty at the start and end of the service. Molly McCloy also sings the solo Bless the Lord, O my soul accompanied by Laura Patterson on the organ at Downpatrick.

Service from Clough, available from 9.45 am on Sunday, 11th April 2021

Click on the above video to join in our act of worship.

Palm Sunday 2021

Today’s service for Sunday, 28th March celebrates Palm Sunday.

The crowd spread their garments on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.
And the crowds that went before him and that followed him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
And when he entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?”
And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee.”

Matthew ch.21 v.8-11

Our service comes from Dunmurry where Dillon and Haydn read Philippians ch. 2 v.6-11 and John ch.12 v.12-16, the gospel reading complete with palm leaves. Church organist Allen Yarr plays the hymns: Ride on! Ride on in majesty! (Church Hymnary 92) and When I survey the wondrous cross (Church Hymnary 106). The opening and closing shots of the church show the glorious crop of daffodills in the church yard.

Palm Sunday Service, 28th March 2021

Click on the above video to join in the service (after 9.45 am on 28th March 2021)

Hosanna!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

Pilgrimage – in the steps of St Patrick

Our online Sunday worship today comes from Clough and has, as its starting point, Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From whence does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.

A view of the Mountains of Mourne on St Patrick’s Day 2021

Psalm 121 is associated with travelling and with pilgrimage, neither of which are particularly possible at the moment, but the reading is given a vivid backdrop by the sight of the mountains of Mourne.

In the service Clough church organist Alfie McClelland plays the hymns: Seek ye first the kingdom of God, Once to every soul and nation and Through all the changing scenes of life.

Click on the video below to see the service:

Sunday Worship from Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, available from 9.45 am on Sunday, 21st March

Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church

By tradition St Patrick is buried in Downpatrick but this year the town was inevitably much quieter and more subdued than usual, although a brief ceremony was held at his grave. But I recorded a few reflections on St Patrick’s Day which can be seen in the following video:

Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Reflections: St Patrick’s Day (click on the video above)

St Patrick’s grave (Photo: Sue Steers)

According to tradition St Patrick is buried with the remains of St Brigid and St Columba here in the grounds of Down Cathedral.

In the Garden of Eden

The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is a powerfully potent one in the human imagination. Often seen as the source of sin in the world, in today’s service we examine this well-known story in the light of a view of the Bible that is less hidebound by fundamentalism and a literal approach and which relies instead on the use of human imagination and appreciates the importance of metaphor. A tradition that goes back at least to the writings of Origen.

The service comes from the First Presbyterian (NS) Church, Downpatrick and is conducted by the Rev David Steers. The reading is from Genesis ch.2 v.15 – ch.3 v.8. Church organist Laura Patterson plays You are my strength, When He cometh and For the beauty of the earth.

Evening in Lissagally (Photo: Paul Eliasberg) From the 2018 ‘Faith and Freedom’ Calendar

So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field.

(Genesis ch.2 v.19-20).

The History of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland – part two

In our service this morning, from Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, we continue to look at the early history of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian denomination and in this address ask questions about the meaning of ‘heresy and orthodoxy’ and look at the role of Thomas Emlyn in sparking the first subscription controversy when the Synod of Ulster introduced compulsory subscription to the Westminster Confession following his imprisonment in Dublin in 1703.

Click on the above video to see today’s service featuring the second part of the History of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland (available from 9.45 am on Sunday, 28th February 2021)

The service comes from Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church and is conducted by the minister. The reading is from Romans ch.14 v.1-9 and is read by Sue Steers. Church organist John Strain plays the hymns Who is on the Lord’s side (Thanks and Praise 164) and Wisdom Divine, bright shining, never fading (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 55) on the church’s Carnegie organ.

Also this week we have uploaded to the Downpatrick, Ballee & Clough NSP Churches YouTube channel a service that was originally broadcast from All Souls’ Church, Belfast on BBC Radio Ulster in 1995:

Click on the above video to see the service

Converted from a cassette tape to mp3 format the service was recorded live from the radio in October 1995. The service is conducted by the minister at the time, Rev David Steers. The readers are Barbara Moneypenny (Psalm 46) and Jim Jackson (Luke ch.6 v.12-31). Muriel Singleton leads the prayers. The church organist is Albert McCartney who plays on the church’s Compton organ the hymns Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation; Just as I am, thine own to be; Dear Lord and Father of mankind; Immortal, invisible, God only wise and leads the Church Choir in the singing of Lead me Lord (music S.S. Wesley, words Psalm 5) and Grant us Thy Peace (music Timothy Troman, words D. Bruce-Payne).

In the time of Lent

After almost twelve months of on and off lockdown as we have grappled with the challenges of the Coronavirus we have been effectively in our own period of perpetual Lent. Our service today reflects on Lent in the light of this situation.

Sunday Service, 21st February 2021 (available after 9.45 am on 21st February)

The service comes from Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church and is conducted by the minister. The reading is given by Robert Neill of Downpatrick and comes from Luke ch.4 v.1-15. Church organist, Alfie McClelland, plays the hymns ‘Walk in the light, so shalt thou know’ (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 334) and ‘Courage, friend, and do not stumble’ (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 329). Click on the video above to see the service.

The History of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland

A small but historically important liberal Christian denomination, the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church was born out of the interaction between faith and the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century. This act of worship includes this first part of a video series telling the history of the Church. In this film detailing the origins of the denomination in the Presbytery of Antrim in 1725, the work of John Abernethy, the Belfast Society, the influence of Glasgow University, and the Church’s place in a Europe-wide movement are all discussed.

The University of Glasgow in the late seventeenth century

The service is filmed at Downpatrick, a distinctive building of 1711, and one of the best examples in Ulster of a traditional T-shaped meeting house. The organist is Laura Patterson, who plays ‘Christ be our light’ and ‘The power of the Cross’. The reading is Isaiah ch.51 v.1-6.

You can see the service and the address on the history of the denomination in the following video:

Service of Worship from Downpatrick, including part one of the History of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland (available from 9.45 am on Sunday, 14th February)

What does the Lord require of you?

In Micah chapter 6 verse 8 we read the famous statement:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

In our service today, from Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, we explore how you can summarize – in a few words or a sentence – the real meaning of faith.

On one occasion someone asked Rabbi Hillel to recite the whole of the Torah while standing on one leg. He said simply, ‘What is hateful to you, do not do to others. That is the whole of Torah, the rest is commentary on it.’

Sunday Service, 17th January 2021

The service is conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers. Robert Neill gives the reading from Micah ch.6 v.6-8 and Alfie McClelland, the church organist, plays the hymns which are Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 22), Sun of my soul, thou Saviour dear (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 439) and Rejoice! the Lord is King (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 62). Click on the above video to see the service.