14 September 2023

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (109) 14 September 2023

The college chapel in Harris Manchester College, Oxford, hosts services in the Unitarian tradition (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and the week began with the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XIV, 10 September 2023). The Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship designates today (14 September) as Holy Cross Day.

Before the day begins, I am taking some time this morning for prayer and reflection.

This week, I have been reflecting each morning in these ways:

1, Looking at a Unitarian church I know;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Harris Manchester College, Oxford, has its roots in a Unitarian college founded in 1757 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Chapel, Harris Manchester College, Oxford:

The Unitarian community in Oxford worships in the chapel in Harris Manchester College on Mansfield Road. But the Unitarian tradition was a late arrival in Oxford, and none of the 17th or 18th century nonconformist bodies in Oxford developed into a Unitarian church.

Harris Manchester College is a constituent college of the University of Oxford. It was founded in Warrington in 1757 as a college for Unitarian and other Nonconformist dissenters who were barred from Oxford and Cambridge. It moved to York, Manchester, London, and then Oxford in 1893. It became a full college of the university in 1996, when it altered its name, recalling both its predecessor the Manchester Academy and a bequest from the Conservative life peer Lord Harris of Peckham. Harris Manchester is the smallest undergraduate college in either Oxford or Cambridge.

The first woman to train for ordained ministry in any denomination began her studies there in 1901. Rabindrinath Tagore and S Radhakrishnan gave lectures there, and Sir Alister Hardy established the Religious Experience Research Unit there.

Manchester College was founded to train Unitarian and Free Christian ministers, and after the move to Oxford a small Unitarian congregation was associated with it. However, the college was independent of denominational control and its chapel was registered for worship by persons who ‘refuse to be designated.’

Unitarian services and a Sunday school were being held in Charles Street, off Iffley Road, by 1900. They were described as ‘Christian Brethren’ in 1911, indicating it was non-denominational rather than part of the Brethren. The mission hall was said to be Unitarian until 1918, although by then it was run by the colourful and eccentric Ulric Vernon Herford.

The college chapel in Harris Manchester College was built in the arts and crafts style at the end of the 19th century. It is well-known for its stained glass windows designed by Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris, and its painted organ pipes.

The chapel is unusual in the way it was designated for people who could not accept the beliefs of any particular denomination. This open spirit continues today, and the chapel is for all to enjoy, regardless of belief.

The chapel is the only room in Oxford to be lit entirely by Morris and Burne-Jones glass. It was designed by the Manchester Gothic Revival architect Thomas Worthington (1826-1909), who had an Unitarian upbringing, and was dedicated in 1893.

The original windows were of plain glass; the oak screen was added in 1896; seating was on individual chairs, until the installation of the pews in 1897. The shields on the screen chart the college’s history, moving from Warrington to York, Manchester and London, before settling in Oxford in 1893.

The windows were made by William Morris & Co between 1895 and 1899, and replaced the original plain glass. They were designed by the Pre-Raphaelite artists Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris, who designed two of the lights, Joseph and Mary Magdalene, in the chancel window above the communion table.

A striking series of windows by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones depicts the Six Days of Creation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The most striking windows are the Six Days of Creation, installed in 1896 on the north wall, a gift of James and Isabella Arlosh, in memory of their son, Godfrey. Six angels carry the earth as it was on successive days of Creation, with the previous days’ angels crowding in behind each new one. The motto Elargissez Dieu, a quotation from the French philosopher Diderot, can be translated as ‘broaden your idea of God.’

The model for the angels in the windows was reoutedly May Morris, daughter of William Morris. Incorporated in the design is a verse from the ‘Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge who, at one time, was a Unitarian minister:

He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.
He prayeth best, who loveth beast,
All things bith great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.

The architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner says, ‘The whole set of windows in Manchester College Chapel is a pure joy.’

The windows facing the Creation series represent virtues such as generosity, charity and humility. In the choir, facing the organ pipes, two small windows in softer colours, reflect a musical theme: Miriam, sister of Moses, accompanying her song with cymbals, and David, composer of the Psalms, with his harp. Both were added to the chapel in 1900.

The window at the back of the chapel has three figures representing Truth, Liberty and Religion in the college motto, with an angel in each of the sidelights and fice scenes from the life of Christ below.

The chapel has a three-manual Nicholson organ, restored in 2008. The organ pipes were painted by Morris and Co, although the college tradition that William Morris himself painted them in situ is not true, since he died a year before they were commissioned.

A set of stained glass in the library including portraits of original supporters of the college, and an extraordinary window reflecting religion through the ages in the library oriel.

William Morris designed two of the lights, Joseph and Mary Magdalene, in the chancel window above the Communion Table in the chapel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

One of the most colourful and eccentric Unitarian ministers in Oxford was the Revd Ulric Vernon Herford (1866-1938). He was a Unitarian minister in Oxford in the 1890s before seeking consecration by the Nestorians as Metropolitan Mar Jacobus I in 1902, and then formed the Evangelical Catholic Church.

Herford came from a family of Unitarian ministers, including the Revd Brooke Herford (1830-1903) and the Revd Robert Travers Herford (1860-1950), the librarian of Dr Williams’s Library, London. Another family member, Charles Harold Herford (1853-1931), was Professor of Literature at Victoria University, Manchester. His grandfather, Edward Smith, was a member of the Unitarian church in Birmingham where Joseph Priestley ministered.

Ulric Vernon Herford was born in Manchester and educated at the Unitarian-founded Owens College, Manchester (1886-1889) and Manchester College, Oxford, followed by a year at Saint Stephen’s House (1891-1892), the Anglo-Catholic theological college in Oxford.

Herford was comfortable with both Unitarian and Trinitarian beliefs and his 1892 Hymnal contained Unitarian and Trinitarian hymns.

He was a Unitarian minister from 1893, first at King’s Lynn for three years and then at Whitchurch, before returning to Oxford in 1897. Manchester College had its own congregation, and in 1898 Herford opened a Unitarian Church, the Church of Divine Love, in Percy Street, close to Magdalen Bridge, and also started the Ecumenical Order of Charity and the Order of the Christian Faith.

Herford’s church became a ‘Liberal Christian Church’ after he had himself consecrated a bishop. From 1900 it published The Christian Churchman.

He argued with Unitarians that he was developing a Church for all for the future, embracing all spiritual needs, with ‘sacraments of grace for the heart and will, and sermons for the intellect.’ He contacted the Syro-Chaldean Church, writing to Luis Mariano Suares (Mar Basilius), comparing Unitarianism as he understood it and the Nestorian Church as he understood it.

The key phrase attracting Herford was ‘the manhood is the face of the Godhead and the Godhead is the face of the manhood.’ Herford asked Mar Basilius to come to England to consecrate two people to create a Church in England united with the Nestorian Church. Eventually, Herford travelled to India, and was ordained deacon on 21 November 1902, priest two days later and was consecrated bishop on 30 November by Mar Basilius, who named him Mar Jacobus, Bishop of Mercia and Middlesex and bishop of a missionary diocese of the Church of the East.

Herford married Alice Matilda Skerritt (1854-1928), an Anglican with Free Church sympathies, in 1907. By then, his church was known as the Liberal Christian Church. In 1909 he opened a mission in Temple Cowley in 1909. After his church and hall on Percy Street were bought in 1913 for use as a Roman Catholic church and manse, he opened an oratory in his house at No 128 Woodstock Road. He reopened the Unitarian Charles Street Institute around 1915-1917.

Herford was often seen cycling around Oxford and his interests included pacifism, women’s suffrage, animal welfare and social causes. He opposed the Boer War was a pacifist throughout World War I, joining the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Anti-Conscription Committee in Oxford.

Herford formed the Evangelical Catholic Church and became effectively a ‘wandering bishop.’ He was the source of episcopal succession for many episcopi vagantes. He had close links with Arnold Harris Mathew, one of the best known amongepiscopi vagantes, and visited the Old Catholics in the Netherlands and the Anglican Benedictine Community at Pershore Abbey, Worcestershire.

Herford died on 15 August 1938. None of the chapels or churches in Oxford survived his death. His line of episcopal succession is also claimed by groups such as the British Orthodox Church and the name of his short-lived Evangelical Catholic Church was later adopted by a Church in the US.

A reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper’ above the Communion Table in the chapel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The chapel in Harris Manchester College is aligned on a west-east axis rather than the traditional, liturgical east-west axis. Yet it looks like an Anglican college chapel in its interior decoration and liturgical layout, with a candle on the Communion Table, a reredos that reproduces Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper’, and a lectern and pulpit.

The chapel a hosts college services, run by the college chaplain, on weekdays, and services run by the Chapel Society in the Unitarian tradition on Sundays.

The Revd Dr Claire MacDonald is the Chaplain of Harris Manchester College and the Unitarian ministry tutor. Sunday services in the chapel are at 11 am.

Inside the chapel in Harris Manchester College, Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

John 3: 13-17 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 13 ‘No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’

The organ pipes were painted by Morris and Co, although the college tradition that William Morris painted them in situ is not true (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Holy Cross Day Reflection.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (14 September 2023, Holy Cross Day) invites us to reflect on these words:

Let us pray for strength and courage from the cross as we give thanks for all Jesus has done for us.

The Collect:

Almighty God,
who in the passion of your blessed Son
made an instrument of painful death
to be for us the means of life and peace:
grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ
that we may gladly suffer for his sake;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Faithful God,
whose Son bore our sins in his body on the tree
and gave us this sacrament to show forth his death until he comes:
give us grace to glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
for he is our salvation, our life and our hope,
who reigns as Lord, now and for ever.

Harris Manchester is the smallest undergraduate college in either Oxford or Cambridge, but still has its rowing successes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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

‘To Truth, To Liberty, To Religion’ the motto over the main entrance to Harris Manchester College on Mansfield Road, Oxford(Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

No comments: