Non-Subscribing Presbyterians and the Great War

On the 102nd anniversary of the beginning of the battle of the Somme in 1916 I thought I should publish on this site my appeal for any information about members of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland who served in the First World War.

I am currently in the process of compiling a full of Roll of Honour of all the men and women of the denomination who served in the Great War. This will be published at a service held at Downpatrick on Sunday, 18th November at 3.00 pm. To date I have identified over 500 men and women who served in the Great War and the names of over 80 men who gave their lives. Having issued an appeal to all churches for information I have received a great deal of help, however, I am also anxious to hear from any church members who had relatives who served in the First World War and were Non-Subscribers.

The number of people who joined up varies from one congregation to another, generally it would be larger in city or town congregations, but the numbers that have so far come to light in some places are almost certainly not complete. So I would appreciate it especially if church officers could make a check of their records and minute books just to see if there are any additional names which may have been overlooked, particularly in those churches where the numbers are currently low.

Also anyone who had a relative involved in the Great War or knows of anyone who served in the First World War and belonged to the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland can contact me on editor@faithandfreedom.org.uk to let me know their name and service record.

So far these are the numbers that I have for each congregation (with the number of people who were killed in action or died of wounds shown in brackets):

Antrim 1 (0); Ballee 3 (1); Ballycarry 10 (0); Ballyclare 1 (0); Ballyhemlin 5 (0); Ballymoney 5 (0); Banbridge 12 (2); Belfast All Souls’ 31 (3); Belfast Domestic Mission 22 (0); Belfast Mountpottinger 20 (4); Belfast Rosemary Street 43 (6); Belfast York Street 12 (0); Cairncastle 3 (0); Clough 10 (3); Comber 49 (10); Cork 1 (0); Crumlin 1 (0); Downpatrick 35 (3); Dromore 51 (7); Dublin 11 (5); Dunmurry 14 (1); Glenarm 8 (5); Greyabbey 2 (0); Holywood 54 (9); Killinchy 8 (0); Larne 50 (15); Moira 1 (0); Moneyreagh 6 (2); Newry 21 (2); Newtownards 11 (0); Rademon 7 (3); Raloo 2 (0), Ravara 0 (0); Templepatrick 25 (5); Warrenpoint 0 (0).

The photograph at the top of the page (taken by Baird of Belfast) is of Second-Lieutenant Percival Godding. Originally from Wandsworth he was minister of Ballyclare Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church in 1917 and was commissioned in the Royal Irish Rifles in that year. He spent six months in a German prisoner of war camp but returned home safely at the end of the war.

 

 

 

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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.

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‘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.

 

Postcard from Banbridge

Banbridge Post Card

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This postcard view of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church in Banbridge along with the Methodist Church and what was then the library in Banbridge must date from before the First World War. It is not particularly rare but I was pleased to pick one up quite cheaply recently. I must have had the view in mind when I took the picture of the same group of buildings in 2017 and, apart from the inevitable cars parked in the way, the view has essentially not changed in a hundred years. The First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Banbridge is a remarkably imposing edifice both inside and out, the four fluted ionic columns tell the visitor that this meeting-house is a significant place. Built between 1844 and 1846 it speaks of the confidence of the congregation building anew immediately after the Dissenters’ Chapels Act of 1844 and choosing a style of architecture that eloquently expressed their identity.

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A Victorian photograph of the exterior

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/

 

 

A Vision Splendid

Congratulations to Wayne Facer on the publication of his new book A Vision Splendid. The influential life of William Jellie. A British Unitarian in New Zealand (Blackstone Editions, Toronto, Canada, 2017  – http://www.BlackstoneEditions.com). It’s an excellent study that looks at Unitarian origins in New Zealand through the work of William Jellie, an Ulster born Non-Subscribing Presbyterian who was one of the many pioneers from there who went out to establish congregations in what were then dominions of the United Kingdom.

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Wayne Facer 

The book has a striking cover, taken from a work by an unknown New Zealand artist, and is a very important addition to the study of the way Unitarianism spread around the globe and adapted to new situations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It will be reviewed in future issues of the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society and Faith and Freedom.

AVisionSplendid

 

About the book I have written:

Wayne Facer has written an absorbing biography of a hitherto little known but nevertheless fascinating and important person. Through meticulous research in both New Zealand and the UK the author illustrates the pioneering life of this minister and educator.

Born in county Down, Ireland, in 1865 and described by his family as “Irish through and through” William followed an uncle into the Unitarian ministry. A relatively small but theologically radical denomination Unitarians placed great store on the value of an educated ministry and Jellie received an excellent education at Manchester College which moved its location from London to Oxford while he was a student there. The author draws out the influence of this education upon Jellie especially through the person of Philip Henry Wicksteed (1844-1927). Through him he developed a love of Dante and literature in general as well as a belief in politically progressive causes and the need for direct intervention in society in favour of the poor. Serving in ministries in both England and New Zealand, where a contemporary journal described him as preaching “sermons and addresses so far superior to the ordinary”, he became a key figure in the establishment of Unitarian churches and institutions in New Zealand. After retirement from the ministry he embarked upon a new career as a lecturer for the Workers’ Education Association.

We owe a great debt to the author who has traced the varied course of Jellie’s long career, bringing him vividly to life in the context of his times, his ideas and principles, his family and friendships and the institutions and organisations which he supported.

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New Zealand Ministers – William Jellie, James Chapple, and Richard Hall at the Unitarian Hall, Timaru (from the back cover of the book)

A Vision Splendid. The influential life of William Jellie. A British Unitarian in New Zealand (Blackstone Editions, Toronto, Canada, 2017, ISBN 978-0-9816402-6-6, Pages: xxv + 278)

Harvest Services 2017

 

The Services of Harvest Thanksgiving in October 2017 were all successful and enjoyable events in Downpatrick, Ballee and Clough churches. The first took place at Downpatrick where the guest preacher was the Rev Ernie Boggs, Minister Emeritus of Downpatrick Presbyterian Church, and special music was provided by the Lindsay Chorale with their conductor John Dallas. The congregational hymns were accompanied by church organist Laura Patterson. Over the year the Sunday School and young people of the church raised £400 for the work of Daisy Lodge and during the service Laura Neill presented a cheque to Aisling Gibson, the South Down regional fundraiser for Daisy Lodge, a purpose-built therapeutic centre located in Newcastle for families affected by cancer.

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DpkAngelsHarvest

 

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Downpatrick Harvest Daisy Lodge

Presentation to Aisling Gibson of Daisy Lodge.

 

At Ballee the service was held on Sunday, 8th October at 3.00 pm when the guest preacher was the Rev Adrian Dorrian, minister of Ballee Parish, Church of Ireland and special music was provided by the Quoile Area WI Choir conducted by Isabel Keenan and accompanied by Kathleen Gill. Congregational hymns were accompanied by John Strain, the church organist.

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Quoile Area WI Choir including also Rev Adrian Dorrian

 

Clough held their annual service of harvest thanksgiving on Sunday, 15th October at 3.00 pm. There was a large congregation present to hear the visiting preacher, the Rev Paul Reid, of the Old Presbyterian Church, Larne and special music provided by local choir Harmonic Progression, the Seaforde based Community Choir for Women under the direction of Carolyn Ross. It was also pleasing to see that the painting of the exterior of the church had been completed in time for the harvest.

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Harmonic Progression including Rev Paul Reid (Old Presbyterian Church, Larne)

On 30th September Ballee also acted as a key staging post for Christian Aid’s Strangford Sportive, a cycle event covering up 120 km around this part of county Down which raised over £6,500 for the charity.

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Postcards from All Souls’

 

Edwardian postcards of Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches are not unknown but they are not common. Obviously some churches feature more prominently in this format than others although generally some of the churches in towns outside of Belfast – such as Dromore and Banbridge – are the most frequently seen. In Belfast All Souls’ Church appears on four postcards that I am aware of although two of them are very curious in their own right.

The picture at the top of this page (not taken from a postcard as it happens) is a fairly obvious view which does appear as a postcard. Another postcard that does sometimes turn up is of an architect’s line drawing of the Rosemary Hall which was published before the Hall was opened.

The other two cards, of which I have copies, raise a number of questions. The first is this one:

Postcard St Marys All Souls

What the eagle-eyed will immediately notice is, that whatever the inscription says at the bottom of the picture, this is not a postcard of All Souls’ Church, Elmwood Avenue, Belfast. It is quite neatly printed and isn’t badly produced. On the reverse it says it is part of ‘The “National” series’ and was printed in Britain. So it may not have been locally produced which might account for the error. But I wonder how many copies they sold? Who would have bought them?

It is in fact a picture of St Mary’s Church of Ireland on the Crumlin Road. Does this mean that there is in existence a view of St Mary’s Church that has been carelessly titled ‘All Souls’ Church’ by the printers. I have not seen one if such a thing was ever printed.

The other card definitely is of the interior of All Souls’. It is quite a well-taken view showing the organ, the chancel and part of the nave and published by Baird’s of Belfast. Unfortunately my example is a bit dog-eared and creased but I am glad to have it because these postcards are fairly rare these days.

Postcard All Souls

The church does have an enlargement of this view which was held in some awe by some of the members. The reason for this can be seen if you look carefully at the organ console. This was the original organ that was moved to All Souls’ in 1896 when the congregation migrated from Rosemary Street. Originally opened in 1806 it was the first organ used by a Presbyterian congregation certainly in the north of Ireland. I have written before about the history of this interesting instrument which is still in regular use in Newry Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church where it moved in the 1920s. But much mythology attached to the organ. One story was that it had been built for St George’s Chapel, Windsor by the famous organ builder John Snetzler. This was very widely repeated and continues to be repeated sometimes in the present day. Some years ago I discovered and published the true origin of the organ (which was constructed in Belfast as you might expect) but many people still prefer the legend! Attached to the legend was a belief that the old organ was haunted, and haunted by no less a ghost than that of George Frideric Handel. This is where the postcard comes in because it was believed by many that the picture shows his ghost sitting at the organ:

Postcard All Souls cropped

One person told me that this picture had been subjected to a battery of tests but no one could explain the blurred image in front of the organ keys. My scan is not wonderful but there is a blurred image that is printed on the photograph. If you look carefully though you can just about make out the figure of an Edwardian lady in a large hat. I don’t think it is G.F. Handel.

Rev Dr Arthur Long – An Appreciation

I was very pleased to attend the memorial event for the Rev Dr Arthur Long organised by the Unitarian Christian Association and held at Luther King House, Manchester on the afternoon of Saturday, 15 July 2017. Among the speakers were Rev Alex Bradley, Rev Alan Kennedy and Adrian Long, one of Arthur’s sons. Unbelievably it is nearly 11 years since Arthur died but it was good to be able to share in such an occasion and to meet Arthur’s family. I am not alone in having been strongly influenced by Arthur’s learning and erudition in my time as a ministerial student. After his death I wrote an appreciation of him for the January 2007 issue of The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine. The Rev Andrew Brown, then the editor of The Herald, then asked for permission to republish the appreciation and it subsequently appeared in the Spring 2007 issue of that journal. In a timely coincidence I came across a copy of this issue today and was spurred on to track down the original text on my computer. I managed to find the text but not, alas, the original black and white photograph which I took of Arthur in his office when he was principal and which appeared in both The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian and The Herald at the time. The appreciation has something of an Irish focus because of the original place of publication but I would like to re-publish it now as my own tribute to an exemplary minister, scholar and teacher.

With the death of the Rev Dr Arthur Long on Saturday, 9 December [2006] our household of faith has lost its leading theologian and educator of recent times. In a long, varied and distinguished career Arthur was most closely associated with Unitarian College, Manchester where he was Principal from 1974 to 1988, and prior to that was a tutor from 1959. His role in the training of ministers cannot be overestimated and when one considers that in the whole of the twentieth century almost exactly half of all the ministers in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland were trained at the Unitarian College (UCM) and that exactly half of the ministers listed in the current NSPCI Aide Memoire were trained there we can see that Arthur’s influence was as significant in Ireland as much as in Britain.

Arthur was a son of the manse, his father being minister at the Bell Street Mission in London for many years, and also President of the General Assembly in later years. Arthur grew up in Wembley and was steeped in the traditions of his denomination. Because of his background his knowledge of the denomination, of ministers and personalities was positively encyclopaedic.

Following education at Exeter College, Oxford Arthur stayed in Oxford to train for the ministry at Manchester College, his father’s old college. His scholarly ability was clear from an early age and in his theological studies he developed a particular interest in the Bible, he always said that he found Hebrew particularly congenial. Nevertheless he was denied the Oxford BD although it has long been recognised that this was solely on theological grounds, yet he never showed any bitterness about being on the receiving end of such odium theologicum. At the same time, however, he was successful in being awarded a prestigious Hibbert Scholarship to go and study at the University of Edinburgh. Normally this would have been taken at a University abroad but this was in 1944 and such travel was clearly out of the question. His time at New College, Edinburgh was another key stage in his own development and he was always proud of having been organist at St Mark’s Church near the Castle during his time in Edinburgh.

Arthur was a rare figure in the world of theological education and ministerial training in that he not only was supremely well equipped for the job in terms of his scholarly background and accomplishments but he had also held long and successful pastoral ministries prior to becoming a college principal. It is not always the case that those who are charged with training ministers have any real experience of doing the job themselves but Arthur had this in abundance. He began his ministry in London, in 1945, at Stamford Street Chapel where he remained until 1952 when he moved to Deane Road in Bolton, adding the congregation of Horwich to his responsibilities in the 1960s. Here he exercised a traditional, urban parish ministry with large congregations of a type that has now almost disappeared within British Unitarianism and he carried out his work with devotion and great success. One dominant feature of his ministry was his enthusiasm for ecumenical work. The town of Bolton had the longest established local Council of Churches in England (founded in 1918) and for thirteen years Arthur worked as secretary to the Bolton Council of Churches. Fully immersed in the practical work of the ministry it is typical of Arthur’s modesty that he never expected to end up as a college principal and yet was supremely fitted for the job.

In 1959 he was appointed to the staff of the College and in 1963 published Faith and Understanding: Critical Essays in Christian Doctrine. This consisted of a series of essays which appeared originally in the Inquirer and which attempted to explain for the general reader a number of traditional Christian doctrines. The book was later instrumental in his appointment as an honorary lecturer at the University of Manchester where he became a member of the Faculty of Theology and lectured for over twenty years on the Christian Doctrine of God.

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Following the death of the Rev Fred Kenworthy in 1974 Arthur was appointed Principal of the College where he remained until his retirement in 1988. As Principal he oversaw the removal of the College from its home since 1905 at Summerville to Luther King House as part of what was then called the Northern Federation for Training in Ministry. There can be little doubt that only Arthur could have handled this transition so smoothly in the face of opposition from conservative evangelicals in other denominations and narrow spirits within his own church. His ecumenical experience in Bolton undoubtedly helped as well as his longstanding co-operation with academics from the other colleges and the University of Manchester. But the result was the unprecedented creation of a new federated college which brought together the United Reformed Church, Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans and Unitarians in one site, a co-operative institution that continues to develop to this day and which secured the future of the Unitarian College.

Arthur’s knowledge of contemporary theology was extensive and was put to particularly good use in his 1978 Essex Hall Lecture Fifty Years of Theology 1928-1978 The Vindication of Liberalism. He was an able and ardent exponent of the liberal tradition and was able to tie Unitarian theology into the concerns of the mainstream. He always maintained a keen interest in the Bible, few people know the Bible as thoroughly as he did, and he could provide an apposite text for any occasion. He was often amused to be asked by University lecturers in the field of Biblical Studies (who were also ministers) for the suggestion of a text for a particular sermon. Just last year I had to preach a sermon for a congregation with sporting interests and asked Arthur for advice. He suggested a passage in the Book of Acts where we read of the occasion when “Peter stood up with the Eleven and was bowled by Grace!” Arthur had a tremendous sense of humour, an inexhaustible fund of anecdotes and had an especial liking for the works of Richmal Crompton. It is not widely known too that he was an expert in the history of the pantomime and when the federated college was set up at Luther King House, a large and lively institution, he particularly came into his own at the staff and students’ Christmas concerts when his knowledge and appreciation of music hall and pantomime were always put to good use by him in some item on the stage.

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Arthur maintained close relations with the Unitarian churches in Romania and Hungary and while he was Principal Hungarian-speaking students began to return to the college again. These numbers increased following the collapse of the Soviet Union and a great many of the Hungarian-speaking students who have studied at UCM have also visited Northern Ireland. The high opinion in which Arthur was always held in Romania was made clear when the Protestant Theological Faculty at Koloszvar awarded him the degree of Honorary Doctor of Theology in 1995 which he was able to go to receive in person.

In 1983-4 Arthur was made President of the General Assembly and visited Belfast during that year. Arthur maintained a close relationship with the churches in Ireland throughout his career. Partly this was through his former students but was also based on his appreciation of the principle of non-subscription, something which he felt was being replicated in the Northern Federation for Training in Ministry. In his historical lectures he always included a course on the history of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland, which was regularly updated following input from the students at UCM who came from Northern Ireland. His connection with Ireland might even have been closer.  In the early 1960s, when the Dublin congregation was vacant, Arthur applied for the vacancy but bad weather kept the Dublin boat from sailing and he was never able to make the journey. In 1996 Arthur visited Ireland at the invitation of the Ulster Unitarian Christian Association. He preached at All Souls’ Church, visited a number of churches and ministers, and delivered a lecture entitled Current Trends in British Unitarianism at both Holywood and Dublin. This was very well received and was subsequently published in 1997. The booklet sold out and just at the time of his death consideration was being given for the publication of a second edition.

Arthur was also a key member of the group which produced Hymns of Faith and Freedom the new hymnbook which had its own official Non-Subscribing Presbyterian imprint in 1991 and which is in use in many of our churches. Arthur had a great love of hymns and church music and compiled the very useful Index of Authors including biographical notes which appears in the hymnbook.

His knowledge and learning were also recognised by the Unitarian Historical Society of which body he was President from 1993 to 1996 and vice-President up to the time of his death. His learning is clear also in the many important articles he contributed to the Society’s Transactions in the years following his retirement from UCM. He was also instrumental in the establishment of the Unitarian Christian Association of which group he became the mainstay for a number of years not least as the first editor of the Unitarian Christian Herald, which journal he established as an interesting and useful publication. Arthur was able to address all sections of opinion within contemporary British Unitarianism and was rightly held in high regard by all, but there was never any doubt as to his own place in the theological spectrum and the Unitarian Christian Association was a strong expression of this identity.

Arthur was always in demand as a preacher, congregations were always pleased to have him come to them as a visitor. In Luther King House he broke new ground when the Federation was established and he was asked to officiate at one of the weekly eucharists there. He also preached a sermon in the Chapel soon after the Federation was established, at a time when there was still a lot if uncertainty and some tension between the colleges. His address on that occasion to a congregation of theological lecturers and students for the ministry was characterised by warmth, wit, erudition, scholarship and thoughtful reflection, and was typical of him. It was the sort of contribution that helped to cement relationships within the Federation. In later years he added another string to his bow when, through the good offices of the Rev Paul Travis, Arthur was able to participate in network television broadcasts with ITV from Liverpool Cathedral.

Arthur had great affection for the church but he was aware too of the wider needs of society and gave his time to the Samaritans for many years. He will be greatly missed. In his lectures on pastoralia and homiletics he always gave a sensitive and precise description of what the role of a minister was for every type of service. In funerals his advice, based on his years of ministry in London and Bolton, was especially detailed and helpful and he used to recommend that ministers complete the service of committal with the following words:

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, for they rest from their labours, and their works do follow them.

Unto thy servant grant eternal peace, O Lord. May light perpetual shine upon him.

[David Steers – The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian January 2007, The Herald Spring 2007]

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Second Banbridge NSP Congregation

The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church in Banbridge has a very fine and impressive building. The congregation recently celebrated its tercentenary and this striking Victorian photograph of the exterior was republished in conjunction with the special service.

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First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Banbridge

But it is probably not widely known that nearby is the building that once housed the second Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church in Banbridge. Standing in Church Square as you enter the town it stands opposite the memorial to the polar explorer Captain Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier who died in 1845. This is probably the only memorial anywhere which incorporates polar bears in its design.

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Crozier Monument

Despite its prominent location the Second Congregation is often overlooked. The Unitarian Heritage: An Architectural Survey published in 1986 is a usually a very reliable guide to church buildings in the Unitarian and Non-Subscribing Presbyterian tradition but the section on Ireland carries no mention of Second Banbridge at all. Indeed it seems to have been very largely forgotten although the size and location of the building suggests it was quite an important congregation in its day.

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The former meeting house of the Second Congregation

Dryasdust gives an account of the congregation’s history in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian (April 1995) and tells how it grew out of a dispute over the appointment of the Rev John Montgomery, a nephew of the Rev Henry Montgomery. A minority left and formed a new congregation and called the Rev David Gordon as their minister who was installed on 15th March 1848. The new building was opened sometime after that.

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Rev David Gordon

David Gordon remained until 1866, later becoming minister of Downpatrick, but he was succeeded by the Rev Richard Acland Armstrong. R.A. Armstrong ended up as a very distinguished minister of Hope Street Church in Liverpool but he arrived in Banbridge straight from College in 1866.

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Rev R.A. Armstrong in later life

Fortunately for posterity R.A. Armstrong’s son published a Memoir of his father in 1906 which included a number of family reminiscences of his time in Banbridge and this gives us a rare glimpse into the operation of the Second Congregation.

His father, the Rev George Armstrong, had been the Church of Ireland incumbent of Bangor Abbey before becoming a Unitarian and minister of Lewin’s Mead, Bristol. It was perhaps not surprising then that after education at London University and Manchester New College in 1866 Richard received a unanimous call to a congregation in Ireland. His stipend was £125 (including the regium donum) and he lodged with a Mrs Morrow, his kindly landlady who secretly supplemented his paltry allowance of tea. But he did not settle easily in Banbridge. Following the death of the Rev John Montgomery in 1867 he attempted to amalgamate the two congregations, even offering to resign if this would help. But a “Mr Walker”, possibly a leading member of the First Congregation, told him that “there was not the least good [in resigning], and that there was no chance of an amalgamation, as there was a difference of principle between the two congregations”.

He also became deeply embroiled in Ulster politics, being identified as “Papish Armstrong” by hard-line opponents. As sectarian tensions accelerated the windows of the manse were smashed by a mob following the publication of a letter by Armstrong in the Northern Whig in defence of the rights of Roman Catholics. A large mob also intended to attack the meeting house but this was protected by a detachment of police. He also courted theological controversy when answering lectures on the inspiration of the Bible by orthodox clergy with public lectures of his own. These were held in the Town Hall and proved rumbustious affairs. The first one was broken up by a mob with more threats being made against him. The second one took place but was a difficult night. His only supporter on the platform was the Rev John Orr of Comber and the chair was taken by a member of his congregation, Gilbert Mulligan. The opposing side was represented by nine clergy who insisted on having their own second chairman (a Mr Simms) on the platform. The meeting lasted for hours and R.A. Armstrong did not get home until 3.30 in the morning, exhausted and with a sore throat and a fever.

By this time he was also married, to Clara Wicksteed, the sister of Philip Henry Wicksteed, and their son had been born. In a letter to her mother Clara described the attack on the manse:

Baby and I were in bed when they passed our house, between ten and eleven, and they threw great stones at the bedroom window, smashing six panes. I did not feel frightened some way; my great fear was that we should catch cold with the broken window but we did not. I never thought before what a punishment it was to have one’s windows broken. First there is the danger of being hit by the stones (some people were), then of taking cold, then of being cut by the broken glass, then the expense of mending! Tuesday being a fair-day, a great riot was apprehended, so a regiment of soldiers was brought here, as well as still more police. There were attempts at fights between the Catholics and the Orangemen, but the soldiers dispersed them with bayonets.

Clara Armstrong also recorded:

Our Banbridge people were always kind and loyal. They admired your father, and were proud of him. As he says in one of his letters: “They are doing their best to spoil me there.” They did not always see why he wanted to fight and they would rather have peace, but if their parson wanted to fight, they would back him! ….He always thought of his Banbridge people with affection and gratitude, from the woman who washed for him and brought him presents of eggs, and whose brother once brought a sack of potatoes on his own back for a present, up to Mr Gilbert Mulligan, the chief supporter of the Meeting, and always a most kind friend. He was chairman of your father’s lecture on the Bible. Your father did not know what he was going in for, but Mr Mulligan did – and faced it.

Nowhere in the Memoir does it actually detail what Armstrong said or the issues at stake in Banbridge and in that context the last line quoted from Clara Armstrong’s letter above is quite telling. With this background it is perhaps not surprising that in February 1869 he accepted a Hibbert Trust reading fellowship and with his family left Banbridge. In their farewell address the congregation said:

Whilst we deeply regret the severance of the tie which for upwards of two years has bound you to our congregation and to our hearts, we cannot say that your voluntary resignation of the congregation has taken us by surprise, as you had not been long settled among us before we felt convinced that your talents, acquirements and refinement as a Christian minister would lead to your being invited to some higher and wider field of usefulness.

R.A. Armstrong was succeeded by the Rev John Miskimmin who arrived directly from the Unitarian Home Missionary Board and stayed until 1876 when he moved to Greyabbey.

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Rev John Miskimmon

He proved to be the last minister of Second Banbridge, the congregation subsequently closing and selling the meeting house to the Masons in 1893. The building has continued to be used as a Masonic Hall ever since and presumably it was the new owners who put a lion on top of the edifice. So the church closed quite a long time ago but when I was minister of All Souls’ Church in Belfast there was one member whose family had originally come from Banbridge in about 1920, and she certainly regarded her family as identifying themselves with the Second Congregation. But the actual closure of this church took place a very long time ago, although the building is still there to be seen, with a recumbent lion looking down on four polar bears.

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Rooftop lion

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Monument polar bear

Treasure Hunt and Afternoon Tea, Lakeside Inn, Ballydugan

In July Downpatrick, Ballee and Clough churches held an excellent, hugely successful afternoon tea at the Lakeside Inn, Ballydugan. Blessed with wonderful weather everyone there, young and old, had a wonderfully relaxing and enjoyable afternoon.

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Tea in the marquee

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Preparing the cakes

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Afternoon tea

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The servers enjoy their tea

 

Towards the end of the month Downpatrick also had another excellent Treasure Hunt based at the Lakeside Inn. There was great support for the event with around 140 people taking part and following the fiendish clues around the countryside and coming back to the Lakeside for a hog roast with entertainment as well as games for the children. The weather was great but the marquee provided a comfortable spot for people to relax in. It was another great night and also raised over £1,000 for church funds.

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Setting off

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Queuing for the hog roast

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Enjoying the hog roast

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Inside the marquee

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Announcing the winners