The Very Rev William McMillan has many strings to his bow. He is not just a distinguished and much loved pastoral minister, he is also a highly regarded historian who shares his knowledge readily with all enquirers. In both these areas – and others – he is highly respected but the area in which he is most pre-eminent is undoubtedly that of floral art. His fame in this role is world-wide and a few years ago he was appointed world champion no less. The Rev Mac regularly travels the world as a floral artist and over the decades must have helped to raise thousands of pounds for various charities through his artistic efforts. His latest exhibition is at Holywood Non-Subscribing Presbyterian church which not only utilises a wonderful space but also incorporates his historical knowledge and feel for the theological traditions that have contributed to the development of the church.

Rev Colin Campbell (left) and Rev Bill McMIllan in front of the portrait of Rev C.J. McAlester, in the vestibule of the church
Rev Colin Campbell (left) and Rev Bill McMillan in front of the portrait of Rev C.J. McAlester, in the vestibule of the church

Holywood N.S. Presbyterian church is a substantial classical fronted church dating from the mid-nineteenth century (and designed by Sir Charles Lanyon) but the congregation dates back over 400 years and this exhibition is part of the celebration of the continuation of all branches of Presbyterian witness in the town over that long period. Mac uses the Benedicite, the Song of Creation, as the theme for the exhibition and incorporates references to the rich history of the congregation including the Praeger and Bruce families.

Sophia Rosamond Praeger was, in the words of the exhibition brochure, an “acclaimed sculptor, poet and artist” and as a member of the congregation there are numerous examples of her work housed in the church. Most notable of these is the First World War memorial which she designed to include two children carrying baskets of flowers representing hope; they kneel on either side of the names of those who were killed, including one of her own brothers. Her other brother, Robert Lloyd Praeger, was a world famous botanist who became librarian of the National Library of Ireland.

Rev Michael Bruce was one of the first members of the Presbytery of Antrim and introduced the principles of non-subscription to the congregation in the 1720s. Supposedly a direct descendant of Robert the Bruce his family produced generations of Presbyterian ministers in Ireland.

The exhibition contains material that is both traditional and strikingly modern. The line O ye Seas and Floods, bless ye the Lord takes as its cue the fact (quite new to me) that the first two buildings used by the congregation are now both submerged by the sea, and marine plants, shells and liquid are used in the design.

O ye Seas and Floods, bless ye the Lord
O ye Seas and Floods, bless ye the Lord

O ye Servants of the Lord, bless ye the Lord pays tributes to the Bruces and incorporates the colours of the Bruce tartan.

O ye Servants of the Lord, bless ye the Lord
O ye Servants of the Lord, bless ye the Lord

O ye Children of men, bless ye the Lord is inspired by the logo of Sullivan Upper School as a tribute to the Rev C.J. McAlester, nineteenth-century minister of the church and a scholar and a teacher. He was involved in the foundation of this school and also ran an “underground academy” in the basement of his church.

O ye Children of men, bless ye the Lord
O ye Children of men, bless ye the Lord

Panels on the front of the gallery were inspired by a sketch by Rosamond Praeger entitled “County Donegal” as well as Robert Lloyd Praeger’s most famous book The Way that I Went.

The Burning Bush symbol of the two varieties of Presbyterianism found in the town are both represented by sculptures in dried plant material and the communion table has a suitable decoration. My photographs probably don’t do the whole exhibition justice but it is nice to record at least some of what is on show in Holywood.

Burning Bush H2

Festival of Floral Art, First Holywood (NS) Presbyterian Church 23-26 April 2015, to celebrate 400 years of Presbyterian witness in Holywood.

Inside the church
Inside the church
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