The A to Z of Non-Subscribing Presbyterianism: N to Q

We have covered the letters N to Q in our alphabetical look at Non-Subscribing Presbyterianism. These letters cover, in turn; ‘New Light’, ‘Organs’, ‘Pews’ and ‘Quires and Places where they sing’.

New Light

The A to Z of Non-Subscribing Presbyterianism: New Light

Filmed at Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church and conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers, the reading is from Matthew ch.5 v.13-16 and is given by Robert Neill. The organist is Alfie McClelland who plays the hymns Take my life and let it be (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 283) and The wise may bring their learning’ (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 247) as well as Lord of all hopefulness.

N stands for New Light and that is what we look at in the service, a term first coined by the Rev John Malcome in 1720 but indicative of the theological position of the Non-Subscribers ever since.

Organ

The A to Z of Non-Subscribing Presbyterianism: Organ

Non-Subscribing Presbyterians were pioneers in the use of organs and this video looks at their use in the denomination beginning with the building of the first organ in the Second Congregation of Belfast in 1806 and once played by the famous Edward Bunting. Our worship is filmed at Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church and conducted by the minister. Our reader is Robert Neill who reads Psalm 150. John Strain plays the hymns: In Christ there is no East or West (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 235) and Go work in my vineyard (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 294) as well as Here O my Lord I see Thee face to face at the start of the service.

Edward Bunting

Edward Bunting

Perhaps the most famous historical organist in our denomination, the recorder of the music of the 1792 Harpers’ Festival in Belfast and organist at Belfast’s Second Congregation which installed the first organ in a dissenting church in Ulster in 1806.

Pews

The A to Z of Non-Subscribing Presbyterianism: Pews

Filmed at the First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Downpatrick and conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers, the reading is Psalm 122. The organist is Laura Patterson who plays the hymns: To God be the glory! Great things He hath done, I, the Lord of sea and sky, and Amazing Grace. Having reached the letter P, in the service we look at those essential items of church furniture: Pews.

Box pews at Downpatrick

Quires and Places where they sing

The A to Z of Non-Subscribing Presbyterianism: Quires and Places where they sing (available after 9.45 am on Sunday, 31st October 2021)

Filmed in Clough, Ballee and Dunmurry churches the reading comes from Psalm 92 v.1-5. Ballee organist: John Strain plays the hymns Immortal, invisible, God only wise (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 30), Make me a channel of your peace’(Hymns of Faith and Freedom 338) and also plays I am not worthy holy Lord.

Having reached the letter Q we look at Quires, an archaic spelling of Choirs which comes from an 1862 prayer book, partly edited by James Martineau, which re-used the original phrasing of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. To find out more click on the video above.

John Strain at the organ at Ballee

Very special thanks goes to John Strain, organist at Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, who has now recorded over 100 pieces for our online services during the period of the pandemic over the last 18 months. This is a significant contribution which has been a tremendous part of our online worship. Thank you John.

All Souls’ Church, Belfast built 1896

All Souls’ Church, Belfast exterior is modelled on Croyland Abbey in Lincolnshire. Built by the architect Walter Planck and opened for worship in 1896 it is the only church designed by that architect in Ireland. But it is interesting to note how closely the interior resembles the interiors of a number of fifteenth-century English parish churches. The arches, pillars, chancel, east window, clerestory windows all are reminiscent of a number of such places. I realised this when I saw a picture of the interior of the Church of St Mary in North Petherton. An Edwardian postcard of this interior  looks almost identical to All Souls’. Even the pews in All Souls’ underline this effect, the pews were brought in from the old meeting house on Rosemary Street when that church was vacated. These originally dated from the 1870s and a lot of Victorian parish churches would have installed new, modern pews at that time. The choice of this kind of architecture was quite deliberate by the minister, the Rev Edgar Innes Fripp in 1896. He was reaching back to medieval England to establish the kind of devotion he thought was most truly authentic. But architecturally it is a marvel. John McLachlan (in The Unitarian Heritage) says it is “unique in Irish Non-Subscribing church architecture”. But there is nothing like it in English Unitarian church architecture either which has a lot of remarkable gothic buildings.

All Souls ext construction 02

Simon Walker (Historic Ulster Churches) says “it would be as fitting in a rural English setting as in Belfast’s busy University area”. Richard Oram (Expressions of Faith Ulster’s Church Heritage) notes that “It is a unique and beautiful, little building”. Paul Larmour (Belfast: an illustrated architectural guide) calls it “a gem of Victorian architecture”.

All Souls int construction 01

The pictures on this page show the church under construction and soon after it was built, plus a view of the chancel taken before the NSPCI Sunday School service held there on 7th June 2019.

All Souls ext completed 01

All Souls June 2019

Edgar Innes Fripp and William Shakespeare

The current celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare prompt me to think about the Rev Edgar Innes Fripp. His is not a name widely remembered today but I was very aware of him when I was minister of All Souls’ Church in Belfast as a very distinguished predecessor in that pulpit, indeed the minister under whose leadership that church was built in 1896.

 

E.I. Fripp didn’t really get the attention he deserved in the congregation, although I wrote and spoke about him on a number of occasions. If the congregation looked to anyone as an historical exemplar it was A.L. Agnew whose own particular heroic story in the course of a 54 year ministry was partly based on an undoing of the achievements of his predecessor Fripp. He did away with the ‘Fripperies’ that remained from early in the century even to the extent – or so I was told – of having a bonfire of old service books along with assorted hassocks, communion table cloths and pulpit hangings. Fripp had introduced an edited version of the prayer book to the church, a robed choir and a much more devotional style of worship than had been the case before. More than that he had built the church, a little medieval English parish church in suburban Belfast. It was his vision in achieving this that had enabled the church to survive. Without this move it would have been unlikely to have lasted in Rosemary Street, and although there may have been a falling off in attendances between the wars it suited the narrative of the later arrival of Dr Agnew and the York Street congregation following the blitz of 1941, to write off everything that had gone before. In fact the destruction of the York Street building made an eventual union of the two congregations inevitable but without the intervention of the German Luftwaffe even that probably would not have taken place.

 

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All Souls’ in 1900

 

By the time I was minister at All Souls’ a large majority of the congregation had belonged to York Street or were descendants of that congregation. The Second Congregation families, the original All Souls’ people, were a minority yet there were a few who remembered Edgar Innes Fripp. This wasn’t because they were extraordinarily old, because although he had built the church in 1896 and left in 1900 he had returned at the start of the 1920s for a few years. In the 1990s there were some people who had childhood memories of Fripp and what they remembered in particular was his interest in Shakespeare. He was much given to quoting him and increasingly found inspiration in his writings for his sermons.

 

ShakespearesStratford

The title page of Shakespeare’s Stratford

 

In Belfast he had been innovative, imaginative and creative. He was a genuine scholar, he had been a Hibbert Scholar in Germany before entering the ministry, and was a caring and effective pastor. All this can be seen in his Kalendar, the first monthly magazine to be distributed within a church of the Non-Subscribing tradition in Ireland. Before he had arrived the Second Congregation had left the presbyterian structures to pursue their own course although they were rooted in the Free Christian theological traditions exemplified by James Martineau.

 

Early in his ministry he had produced an account of the composition of the book of Genesis, by the end of his ministry he was completely absorbed in Shakespearean studies. He published a number of works on Shakespeare, and his life and times, and became a trustee of Shakespeare’s birthplace. Indeed it is interesting to see that today the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has a short video examining E.I. Fripp’s analysis of Iago:

http://findingshakespeare.co.uk/shakespeares-villains-iago

 

At the end of his life Fripp’s funeral took place in Shakespeare’s church and he was buried in Stratford on Avon. But he produced a large amount of work on Shakespeare and I have often been tempted to seek out a contemporary Shakespearean scholar to give an assessment of how these works are regarded today for Faith and Freedom. There is and has long been a vast industry around Shakespeare and each age finds a different set of interpretations that reflect its own circumstances. It would be nice to know from the point of view of an English literature specialist what endures from Fripp’s writings. But if nothing else he had an enduring impact on the topography of South Belfast, something that continues to this day.

 

AllSouls02

The view of All Souls’ today from the Belfast City Hospital