Exposition of Presbyterian Church Order

 

A number of people asked me for a copy of the Exposition of Presbyterian Church Order given at the ordination and installation of the Rev Dr Heather Walker at Rademon this afternoon. Our best wishes go to Dr Walker and her congregation as they begin this new ministry. A number also spoke to me about John Henry Lorimer’s ‘The Ordination of Elders in a Scottish Kirk’ which I am pleased to reproduce here.

It is my responsibility today to deliver what is called the Exposition of Presbyterian Church Order. This part of the service is required by the Code of Discipline to be delivered at all services of ordination or installation of both elders as well, in fact, as ministers.

It is meant to describe and explain the system that governs our church life which we term Presbyterian. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church defines ‘Presbyterianism’ as ‘a form of ecclesiastical polity wherein the Church is governed by presbyters’.

So what is a presbyter? Basically this comes from the Greek word presbuteros, which generally means elder, a word found in the New Testament as describing those who were given positions of leadership in the early church. In Acts ch.14 v.20-23 we see Paul and the disciples appoint the first presbyters in the new churches they founded:

When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch,
strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.
And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they believed. 

The Greek word behind what is rendered here as elders is presbuteros a word also used by followers of the Jewish religion at the time who administered their synagogues through bodies of presbuteroi.

So this is the Biblical root for our system and our name. Of course, other ecclesiastical systems are also derived from the Bible, based on different understandings of different words and the different traditions that have grown up over the centuries. Presbyterianism really re-emerges after the Reformation when the reformers develop a system of church government that they presented as truest to the earliest formation of the church.

Presbyterianism begins in Geneva but spreads across Europe as the reformed church spreads. It can take different forms, in different places. In England historic Presbyterianism was based not round the presbytery but on what they termed the classis. English Presbyterianism was crucially important at one time, however else would we have got a document termed the Westminster Confession of Faith? But in the English-speaking world generally the Church of Scotland becomes the model and example of how a Presbyterian church is formed and governs itself.

One of the places we think of first when think of Presbyterianism is Scotland and particularly Edinburgh. The figure of John Knox played an important part in the development of Presbyterianism in these islands and Edinburgh was right at the heart of this development.

If you go to Edinburgh and visit the National Gallery of Scotland you can inspect many wonderful, beautiful and fascinating paintings, but one of my favourites there is entitled ‘The Ordination of Elders in a Scottish Kirk’ by John Henry Lorimer. This was painted in 1891 and shows a minister offering prayer over a group of newly ordained elders gathered before the pulpit in a plain church, maybe one not dissimilar from this meeting house. The minister and the elders stand in front of the pulpit situated at the centre of a long wall pretty much as in this building.

Ordination of Elders

‘The Ordination of Elders in a Scottish Kirk’, John Henry Lorimer. (National Gallery of Scotland).

To me it exhibits something of the best of the Presbyterian tradition at its widest. It captures the simple but sincere piety of the occasion. There is a great humanity about the expressions of the people captured in the painting and the down to earth setting frames what is an encounter with the divine, something holy, as the new elders bow their heads in prayer.

But it shows Presbyterianism in action. Of course, any system can be a success if it is operated by men and women of goodwill but this is the system that history has bequeathed to us. If we take our system seriously and endow it with proper respect – without treating it as an end in itself – then it will not be a burden or a restraint on us but rather an effective means for the expression of our faith.

In our tradition the presbyter – or the elder – takes two forms:

the ruling elder

and the teaching or preaching elder, who is more commonly styled the minister.

Both are chosen by members of the congregation and both are ordained in the same way by the representatives of the presbytery which is really all the local congregations acting together.

In our system each congregation is managed by a committee and a session both of which are elected by the members. For us the committees are elected each year and look after the financial and material and organisational side of church business. The membership of the session, which comprises the elders and the minister, is elected for life and they have charge of the spiritual side of the church. It is the role of the minister to chair the committee and session, to be the moderator of the session.

Originally the elders shared in the task of what was called discipline, that is to say the oversight of Christian morality. But we would see that in modern terms as pastoral care, having care for the well-being of all the members of the congregation. Tied in to this the elders also have a part to play in the administration of communion and in visiting. But in both pastoral care and the administration of the sacraments the minister clearly has the central and essential role.

The elders also have a role in providing representatives to the other courts of the church, namely the presbyteries and the synods. And this is a key fact that all our church bodies are made up of both ministers and lay representatives, and the elders, as the lay representatives, play an equal part in the work of these bodies. So each congregation has one representative elder who attends the various courts of the church alongside the minister.

The Presbyterian system is a representative system with each level being made up of representatives of the basic unit, the congregation. It is a democratic structure with congregations at the base. Above that a representative meeting of ministers and elders make the presbytery and above that congregational representatives and ministers within a group of presbyteries come together to form a synod. In larger denominations than ours a group of synods would form a general assembly.

But the basic building block for the system is the congregation. This congregation has a long and impressive history tracing its origins back to 1713 and being associated with the pioneering academy run by Rev Moses Neilson which educated boys of all religious backgrounds, many of whom entered the ministry or the priesthood. This illustrates very well the role freedom of thought and openness to inquiry has played in the formation of our denomination across the centuries.

So for us each individual congregation belongs to a presbytery. This could be the Presbytery of Antrim which was formed in 1725 when the first Non-Subscribers – those who objected to the imposition of the Westminster Confession – were placed together in the same presbytery.

It could be the Presbytery of Bangor of which this congregation is a member, founded following the second subscription controversy again by those who objected to the Westminster Confession on principle. They took the view that the Bible alone was the rule of faith and practice. No secondary document was necessary because it would either be repeating what was already in the Bible and therefore superfluous, or it was introducing something new, which could be, they said, pernicious.

Or a congregation could be a member of the Synod of Munster which has the standing of both presbytery and synod within our system and is the third element in our basic structure.

The Presbytery of Antrim and the Presbytery of Bangor when they meet together – or when their composite ministers and representative elders assemble for a stated meeting – do so as the Remonstrant Synod of Ulster.

And when the Remonstrant Synod of Ulster representatives and the Synod of Munster ministers and elders gather together then they do so as the General Synod of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland, the highest court of our church body.

This, very briefly, is the outline of the Presbyterian system as it has come to us. It is derived from the course of our history, it is rooted in the Bible and it symbolises – at its best – a system that is democratic and inclusive.

With this in mind we should thank God for our system which in the end exists solely to help us build his kingdom. As we gather under its auspices today we pray for God’s blessing on our assembly and the work we do in his name, on this congregation, and on the minister who this day we ordain.

 

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Diet of Torda 450 forint stamp

 

On sale in Hungary since 2nd May is this stamp depicting this famous painting of the Diet of Torda. The painting has been very widely reproduced over the last one hundred years, there was, I remember, a print of it in the Unitarian College, Manchester when I was there and I have a Unitarian magic lantern slide of it dating from before the First World War. Needless to say it is not a contemporary image but painted by Hungarian art nouveau painter Aladár Körösfői-Kriesch and first exhibited as part of the Hungarian millennium celebrations in Budapest in 1896. It was part of that flowering of Hungarian culture that turned Budapest into a great modern city at the time of its 1,000th anniversary.

Torda stamp image

It depicts Francis David in the centre of the picture with King John II Sigismund on the left in red, Giorgio Biandrata stands behind him and other key figures in Transylvania. By tradition the meeting of the diet took place in the Catholic Church – which became Unitarian following the event. The picture now hangs in what is today the museum in Torda which was actually a royal residence in the town in the sixteenth century and may well have been the actual location for the diet to meet. S.A. Steinthal, when he visited Torda in 1859, was not led to believe the church was the venue:

“The house in which the diet met at which this remarkable enactment was made was pointed out to me, and that plain edifice will always remain impressed upon my memory as a spot consecrated by the true spirit of Christianity, manifested long before the world at large was ready to receive its genial spirit of enlightened love.”

There is a very good account in English of the making of the stamp on the Magyar Posta website (https://www.posta.hu/stamps/stamps/new-stamps/the-diet-of-torda-was-held-450-years-ago) which includes the following:

‘Magyar Posta is issuing a commemorative stamp in honour of the 450th anniversary of the proclamation of the Act on Religious Freedom adopted by the Diet of Torda in 1568. Two hundred thousand copies of the commemorative stamp designed by the graphic artist Attila André Elekes were produced by the banknote printing company Pénzjegynyomda…

The Hungarian Unitarian Church dates its establishment as an institution from the proclamation of the Act on Religious Freedom adopted by the Diet of Torda in 1568. The Transylvanian Diet held in Torda (today Turda, Romania) between 6 and 13 January was the first to commit itself to religious diversity, due to which the different branches of Reformation could evolve freely and peaceably into independent churches, making it possible for the four established denominations (Catholic, Reformed, Evangelical-Lutheran and Unitarian) to develop their sectarian system. The Hungarian Unitarian Church declared 2018 as the year of religious freedom and on its initiative the Hungarian Parliament passed Act I of 2018 on the importance of the 1568 Act on Religious Freedom of Torda and the Day of Religious Freedom and made 13 January, the day on which the 1568 religious law was proclaimed, the Day of Religious Freedom.

The celebratory 2018 law is a worthy tribute to the religious law adopted at Torda, which was the first in the world to proclaim one of the fundamental merits of modern democracy, the right to exercise religious freedom. According to the celebratory law’s justification “… The notion of the Torda Act, the religious self-determination of the community, can also be considered as paving the way for modern democracy, which gained universal acknowledgement in western civilisation over the course of history and can deservedly be regarded as one of the basic values of Christian Europe.”

The stamp features a reproduction of an oil painting by Aladár Körösfői-Kriesch, Ferenc Dávid’s Address to the 1568 Diet of Torda. On the occasion of the millennium of the foundation of the Hungarian state, several counties, towns and communities were preparing to erect a memorial of artistic value of local historic figures or outstanding events for posterity. The town of Torda made a community decision to commission a painting that recorded the historic moment of the 1568 Diet, the proclamation of religious tolerance and freedom. The commission to make the artwork was awarded to the painter Aladár Körösfői-Kriesch.’

It is not often that anything representative of Unitarian history is reproduced on a stamp so it is nice to see this image going around the world. I am very grateful to Phil Waldron who kindly gave me this stamp.

Water Street, Liverpool c.1902

I recently purchased three photographs on eBay. They weren’t very expensive and aren’t particularly outstanding examples of the photographers’ art but they are very interesting and quite intriguing. They are quite small (about 4 inches by 3 inches) and at some point have been unceremoniously torn from an album or scrap book. This is a pity because not only has this caused a fair amount of damage it has also separated them from their provenance.

But there is no mistaking that one of them is definitely taken in Liverpool. This makes it likely that the other two are also taken in the same city. Of the other two one has a location that is virtually impossible to identify and the other one might be possible to identify but would take a lot of work.

The print that is easily identified is a view of Water Street in Liverpool. It is instantly recognisable and the vague outline of the entrance to the Town Hall at the top of the hill confirms the location. But in fact most of the buildings that can be seen have been replaced although the character of the street has hardly changed. Apart from the Town Hall possibly the only other building in the view that still survives is Oriel Chambers. Built in 1864 with extensive use of plate glass in its façade it was then and remains today a startlingly modern building. But it can hardly be made out in this print, situated at the end of the second block of buildings on the left.

1900 Water Street Liverpool b

What is clear from the image is that the street is decorated with bunting, suggestive of a high profile occasion being celebrated. In this era this would often mean a royal event which could be a royal visit or (judging by the costume, transport etc) the coronation of Edward VII which took place on 9th August 1902 after an earlier postponement. I would guess this to be the most likely occasion.

What’s interesting about this photograph is that it is so casually composed, it is clearly not professionally taken and is a typical snap probably captured on a box Brownie. These were introduced at the start of the century and made photography both instant and available to all.

1900 Water Street Liverpool b cropped 01

Detail from the photo

So this photographer stood upstairs on the back of a tram and, holding the camera at waist height, looked down into the viewfinder and took a picture looking up the hill as the tram trundled down towards the Strand. It is a moment in time and a moment of time.

The view reminded me of the recent BBC television series The City and The City starring David Morrissey. Water Street was one of the locations used to illustrate the two cities of ‘Beszel’ and ‘Ul Qoma’ which exist in the same overlapping space but enjoy quite separate existences. It was possible to pass from one city to the other but fraught with difficulties. Water Street provided the set for one of the places where it was possible to see across the border. Other parts of Liverpool provided many of the locations for one city or the other. It was an entertaining series based on a book by China Miéville which was certainly new to me. David Morrissey explains the story like this:

The concept is strange, it is a detective story told in this city, which is actually two cities that share the same footprint, but there are very strict regulations about the fact that one city cannot see the other city’s populace, they can’t look there, they can’t acknowledge them or interact with them and that creates all sorts of strange rules. Inside there is a secret police force called Breach and they are there to make sure that nobody breaks those laws of interacting between the cities.

Here is a screen grab from the programme showing Water Street:

TheCityandtheCity

Oriel Chambers is on the left

A stylish and imaginatively created set. But our unknown photographer, standing on the upper deck of a briefly stopped tram, succeeded in creating an atmospheric picture of his own at some point in the early years of the twentieth century.

1900 Water Street Liverpool b cropped 02

I will return to the other two photographs in another post.

No pictures or text may be reproduced from this site without the express permission of the author.

 

Slaves of Fashion New Works by the Singh Twins

I first met the Singh Twins many years ago when I was studying at the University of Manchester and took a course entitled ‘Religion and the Arts’. Amongst the participants were the Singh Twins and it was clear then that they were destined for higher things. It was an excellent inter-disciplinary course that engaged very directly with art in religious contexts and covered such areas as Christian and Islamic architecture, Greek Art, Buddhist Gandhara sculpture, Russian Orthodox icons and much more. It was wide ranging and took the students out of the lecture room and into religious buildings and other places. It had a great influence on me and I suspect it must have had an influence on the Singh Twins who are now such established artists.

ST Ancient Roots cropped

Ancient Roots: The Wonder that was India

 

Details from Ancient Roots

 

I was glad, by chance, to get the chance to see this exhibition which is both beautiful and challenging at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. It is a very impressive exhibition. The painterly skills of the twins are well displayed in these new works and the display of eleven of the major pieces on digital lightboxes enhances the effect tremendously. Even these photographs snapped on my camera phone help to show something of the power of their art. Each of these works depicts an historical figure (ten of them women) who wear a different textile. Around the central figure are depicted aspects of the process of production and trade of that fabric.

ST Chintz cropped

Chintz: The Price of Luxury. Depicting Queen Catherine of Braganza who married Charles II in 1662 bringing Bombay (Mumbai) as part of her dowry

 

The exhibition explores the history of Indian textiles in the context of empire, enslavement and exploitation and the way high fashion has always been intimately bound up with unequal terms of trade between western society and the lands where most of these textiles are produced.

ST Indiennes cropped

Indiennes: The Extended Triangle. Depicting the slave trade

 

They have such an eye for detail and incorporate in each of the eleven major works vignettes from the history of the interaction between luxury consumption, trade, and imperialism. It asks so many questions about ethical trade and the history of consumerism and Liverpool is such an appropriate place for this appear. The image at the top of this page is a detail taken from their work ‘Cotton: Threads of Change’, a raw material produced originally in India and central to the economic development of Liverpool as a port as part of the ‘Atlantic Trade’.

ST Cotton cropped

Cotton: Threads of Change

 

The bottom of ‘Cotton’ shows an imagined historical skyline of Liverpool which begins symbolically in China and Egypt and ends in New York. Some of the buildings of Liverpool fly the Confederate flag, a pointed but accurate assertion for a city that was so tied to slavery for so long and which in many cases supported the South in the American Civil War. A grand ball was held by the citizenry in St George’s Hall to support the Confederacy.

ST Calico detail

Calico: Merchant Thieves (detail)

 

Some of the new paintings feature Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Angela Merkel and Donald Trump and in one room is a large collection of objects from around the world from the Museum’s collection which shed further light on the history and issues bound up in this interaction between fashion, empire and trade. There are also preparatory works in the show and time-lapse films of the works being created.

ST Silks and Quilts cropped

Silks and Quilts: Exploration and Exploitation. Queen Isabella of Castile

 

It is an incredibly impressive and thought provoking exhibition which I am glad I got to see. It is in Liverpool until 20th May 2018 after which it will move to Wolverhampton Art Gallery from 21st July to 16th September.

ST Silks and Quilts detail

ST Silks and Quilts detail addition

Details from Silks and Quilts

Chester Cathedral Refectory

Chester Cathedral refectory ph

British Cathedrals are often good places to eat. Mindful of providing the full experience for the tourist market most large cathedrals are well-attuned to the culinary needs of visitors. Sometimes the restaurants are squeezed into the holy places in a slightly insensitive way but cathedrals do often have the ideal space for a café in the form of the refectory. The best cathedral that I have eaten in is undoubtedly St David’s in Wales, where the refectory is a very pleasant place to go. But the most interesting refectory in use as a restaurant, even if the food isn’t great, is probably that of Chester Cathedral.

Chester Cathedral refectory counter

The Early English Gothic refectory, originally part of the medieval Benedictine abbey, dates from the thirteenth century and is constructed in the red local sandstone used throughout the Cathedral and in many places in the region. It’s an impressive monastic space although the roof is entirely modern dating from 1939. For most of its recent history (from 1613 to 1876) the refectory was part of the King’s School, presumably used as the school dining room. But it has a very interesting ancient pulpit approached through a long arcaded staircase.

Chester Cathedral refectory pulpit stairs crop

Here a monk will have sat reading the scriptures while his colleagues enjoyed their repast. The walls contain the carved graffiti of seventeenth-century scholars and the early twentieth-century east window contains a whole selection of saints at the centre of which presides St Werburgh, to whom the original abbey was dedicated. At the other end a colourful stained glass window commemorates the millennium under which hangs a rather tired looking Mortlake tapestry which is not well displayed. But the full effect of the refectory is a good one, although the over-priced sausage rolls are probably best left un-sampled.

Chester Cathedral refectory pulpit stairs 02

Stairs to the pulpit

Chester Cathedral refectory pulpit

Pulpit

Chester Cathedral refectory roof crop

Refectory roof

Chester Cathedral refectory tapestry

Mortlake tapestry depicting Paul and Elymas

Chester Cathedral refectory graffiti ph crop

Seventeenth-century graffiti

Kolozsvár/Cluj monuments, inscriptions and doors

Unitarian Church door detail

Unitarian Church door

Unitarian Church inscription

Unitarian inscription

Franciscan Church

Franciscan Church plaque

Lutheran Church inscription

Lutheran Church inscription

Door to St Michael's Church

St Michael’s Church door

Catholic building door

Roman Catholic parochial house door

Obelisk

Obelisk commemorating the visit of the emperor. Built in 1831.

Obelisk detail

Obelisk detail by Austrian sculptor Josef Klieber. The emperor and his wife visit the city hospital. Note the gas lamp.

Original city arms

The  original arms of the city

Plaque commemorating visit of emperor

Plaque commemorating the visit of Emperor Francis I and Princess Caroline Augusta to ‘Claudiopolis’ in 1817

Downpatrick First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church

Downpatrick 1 Oct 2016

Downpatrick is one of the finest 18th-century T-shaped meeting-houses in Ireland. Built in 1711 at the start of the ministry of the Rev Thomas Nevin, a pioneer Non-Subscribing Presbyterian minister who became a founder member of the Presbytery of Antrim, the church is one of the most notable buildings in this part of county Down.

It is not a new thing but it is worth flagging up the 360 degree virtual tour of the interior which was put online courtesy of VirtualVisitTours. The panoramic view can be explored here:

http://www.virtualvisittours.com/downpatrick-first-presbyterian-non-subscribing-church/

 

 

Gyulafehérvár

Citadel

The Orthodox and Roman Catholic Cathedrals

Cathedral

Roman Catholic Cathedral

Diocesan notice

Diocesan noticeboard in four languages

Archbishop

The Archbishop greets us

Staircase

Staircase

Cathedral altar

High altar

John Sigusmund tomb

Tomb of King John II Sigismund

Queen Isabella tomb

Tomb of Queen Isabella Jagiellon

Roman inscription

Roman inscription

Habsburg Arch

Habsburg arch

The Edict of Torda

I was privileged to be present at the special celebration to mark the 450th anniversary of the Edict of Torda held in Torda, Romania, on Saturday, 13th January. It was a remarkable occasion with three churches filled in the town, the service relayed to a screen in the town square and the event broadcast live on Hungarian television.

 

The Edict of Torda was the first promulgation of religious toleration in Europe. From the point of view of Western Europe it came at the surprisingly early date of 1568 and took place in Transylvania under the rule of King John II Sigismund, the only Unitarian king in history.

 

Here I will post some images from the service held in the Catholic Church in Torda, traditionally regarded as the location for the meeting of the Diet of 1568.

Assembing in Torda near the Orthodox Church

Assembling in Torda near the Orthodox Church

Walking up to the Catholic Church

Walking up to the Catholic Church

Inside the Church before the service

Inside the Church before the service

Rev Marton Csesc and Rev Imola Molnar who introduced the 16 speakers in the Church

Rev Márton Csésc and Rev Imola Molnár who introduced the 16 speakers at the service

Laszlo Kover President of the Hungarian Parliament

Lászlo Kövér, President of the Hungarian Parliament

Preparing to unveil the new monument to religious freedom after the service

Preparing to unveil the new monument to religious freedom after the service

Some of the congregation outslde

Some of the congregation outside

Bishop Ferenc Balint Benczedi of the HUC and Archbishop Gyorgy Jakubinyi

Bishop Ferenc Bálint Benczédi of the Hungarian Unitarian Church, Archbishop György Jakubinyi of the Roman Catholic Church and other dignitaries

Rev David Gyero deputy bishop of the Hungarian Unitarian Church delivers the homily

Rev Dávid Gyerő, deputy bishop of the Hungarian Unitarian Church delivers the homily

Rev Istvan Kovacs Director of Public Affairs HUC

Rev István Kovács Public Affairs Director of the Hungarian Unitarian Church

Rev Jozsef Kaszoni

Rev József Kászoni-Kövendi, deputy bishop of the Hungarian Unitarian Church

UNveiling the memorial

Unveiling the memorial

The new memorial to religious freedom at Torda

The new memorial to religious freedom, Ad Astra, by Liviu Mocan

Martin Luther: Postage Stamps

As part of the commemoration last year of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses, our churches in county Down put together an illustrated exhibition on the history of the Reformation from 1517. One part of this was a collection of stamps from around the world all related to Luther. It is surprising how many countries have seen Martin Luther as a suitable subject for a postage stamp. I don’t imagine this is an exhaustive collection of Martin Luther related stamps but it is interesting to compare the variety of images and styles utilised. Some are very artistic, others less so.

Stamps 01

Top row, left to right:

USA 1983 20c, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth; French Polynesia 1983 90F, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth; Bulgaria 1996 300 lev, 450th anniversary of Luther’s death; Germany 2017 .70 euro, 500th anniversary of reformation.

Second row, left to right:

Lithuania 2017 .39 euros, 500th anniversary of reformation; West Germany 1971 30c, 450th anniversary of the diet of Worms; Estonia 2017 .65 Euro, 500th anniversary of reformation; France 1983 3.30F, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth.

Stamps 02

Left to right:

South Africa 1967 12.5 c, 450th anniversary of reformation; South Africa 1967 2.5 c, 450th anniversary of reformation; West Germany 1979 50 pf, 450th anniversary of Luther’s Catechism; Germany 1995 100 pf, 450th anniversary of the Worms Reichstag.

Stamps 03

Left to right:

Germany 2002 56 pf, 500th anniversary Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg; West Germany 1983 80 pf, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth; West Germany 1961 15 pf, 415th anniversary of Luther’s death; Germany 1996 100pf, 450th anniversary of Luther’s death.

Stamps 04

Left to right:

East Germany 1983 85 pf, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth; East Germany 1983 20 pf, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth; East Germany 1983 10 pf, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth; East Germany 1983 35 pf, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth.