04 November 2021

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
159, former Edgehill Theological College

The interior of the Chapel in Edgehill Theological College, Belfast, designed by Adam Bunyan Dobson in 1937 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

Before the day gets busy, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme this week is Methodist churches, and my choice of church this morning (4 November 2021) is the chapel in the former Edgehill Theological College in Belfast.

I spent two days at Edgehill Theological College, off the Malone Road in Belfast, ten years ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Ten years ago, I spent some time at the former Edgehill Theological College off the Malone Road in Belfast. The Edgehill campus at Lennoxvale is near the main buildings of the Queen's University of Belfast and the university halls of residence, and, at the time, the college provided ministerial formation, university education, adult education and training is a ministry of the Methodist Church in Ireland.

At the time, Edgehill Theological College had close links with the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and had a partnership with Saint John’s College, Nottingham.

During that visit in 2011, I was a guest of the then principal, the Revd Dr Richard Clutterbuck, and the Revd Diane Clutterbuck, former Methodist missionaries in Tonga. I spoke at the beginning of term retreat, delivered some lectures as a guest lecturer, and presided at the Eucharist.

Methodist ministerial training was located at the Methodist College, Belfast, from 1868. But it soon became clear that a separate centre was necessary. The site and premises at Lennoxvale were bought in 1919 to establish a residential and training centre for students preparing for ordained ministry.

After the 3.5 acre site and the main house at Lennoxvale were bought, other buildings were added and the separation of the Theological Department from the Methodist College was approved by the Methodist Conference in 1926, a process that was completed by Act of Parliament in 1928, and Edgehill Theological College became a legal entity in its own right.

At the heart of the small Edgehill campus is a large, two-storey Italianate house with a triple arcaded entrance porch, stables and conservatory that were added in 1891. This main house was designed by Young and Mackenzie, a Belfast architectural partnership formed by Robert Young and his former pupil, John Mackenzie, in 1867 or 1868. The partnership was joined by Young’s only son, Robert Magill Young, in 1880.

By the beginning of the 20th century, the Youngs and Mackenzie had developed the most successful architectural practice in Belfast. They had become the leading architects for the Presbyterian Church in the north-east and their commercial commissions in Belfast included the Scottish Provident and Ocean Buildings in Donegall Square and the Presbyterian Assembly’s Hall.

The former stables and conservatory behind the house were replaced in 1926 by a hall and classrooms, with cubicle rooms above them, designed by Munce and Kennedy.

The Belfast architect Adam Bunyan Dobson designed the Principal’s House in 1932, which stands on the south side of the main house. This was completed in 1933, and there I was a guest of the Clutterbuck.

Dobson also designed the chapel at Edgehill in 1937. The Revd Robin Roddie, who I had a placement with as a theology student in the 1980s, once described the chapel at Edgehill as ‘the spiritual home of one of the most transient congregations in Irish Methodism.’

Because of the slope on the site, the chapel was built beath the Principal’s residence. It was a gift to the college by Dr High Turtle and was opened on 31 August 1937. It was a beautiful little chapel, with pinewood panelling and concealed lighting. Over the entrance door of the chapel was a Greek inscription that translated: ‘My peace I give unto you.’

Dobson, who was born in Belfast in 1870, was a pupil of William John Gilliland, and had set up his own practice in Belfast by 1923. He was mainly involved in designing houses for developers and, during the 1930s, in work for the Methodist Church, of which he was a member. He retired to live in Whitehead, Co Antrim, around 1947.

Bright new premises were built at Edgehill in 2001-2002, and the college received a new library, lecture rooms – that also served as a Conference Centre – a spacious dining area, a Resource Centre (‘No 9’), a Methodist Study Centre, a renovated worship centre and offices.

Most of the buildings on Lennoxvale are owned by Queen’s University Belfast, and the main university building – within a short walk – is one of the great architectural set pieces in Belfast. Its imposing front fa├žade is instantly recognisable, and it is often seen on banknotes and tourist posters.

The main house at Edghehill Theological College, Belfast, was designed by Young and Mackenzie (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 15: 1-10 (NRSVA):

1 Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’

3 So he told them this parable: 4 ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.

8 ‘Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’

Edgehill is a short walk from the Lanyon Building at Queen’s University Belfast ... Lanyon’s designs were influenced by Magdalen College, Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (4 November 2021, Saints and Martyrs of the Anglican Communion) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for churches across the Anglican Communion, and all those who have given their lives in service to the spreading of the Gospel around the world.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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