I am 66 and grew up in Fermanagh. I went to Magheracross Parish School and Portora. I retain a tremendous affection for Fermanagh and its people. My father was a clergyman and my mother a primary school teacher. I am married and we have one daughter.
In my family a living faith and the response to God’s call to serve, were both part of what was normal. I recall my father literally setting down his knife and fork to see someone in distress. He would have gone into the hospital in Enniskillen on a nightly basis to pray with sick parishioners. My mother saw teaching as a vocation.
My faith is woven into my everyday life and work. Not only is the church my ‘day job,’ a Scriptural, prayerful and practical faith infuses the work I do. Sunday is special because it is the day on which we give thanks for the resurrection of Jesus– every week
Have you ever had a crisis or a gnawing doubt about your faith?
This is a highly important question. Without any sense of pride, the answer is:’ No.’ I have had times and instances where making the connection between God’s providence gracious provision and what is going on around me has been almost impossible. There also have been, and still are, times when I ask myself: How am I getting this so spectacularly wrong? I would see such difficulties and failures less a loss of faith than an inadequacy of listening and response to God by me.
Have you ever been angry with God?
Yes. This is not a disloyalty, betrayal or rejection of God. Such anger might well be focused on big picture events such as the war in Ukraine and how this is allowed to continue. It might also be focused on gently listening to someone bereaved or permanently incapacitated by an evil event, for example the on-going victims of the Enniskillen bomb. I was physically there when it went off. Anger is an energy. It is, therefore, important to redirect it as an energy towards a good outcome for oneself and for others.
Are you ever get criticized for your faith?
Yes. I am well aware that there are things that I do not do as well as I should or as well as I might hope to. Living with criticism is a very personal thing and if you have a public role, it is important to keep trying to hear the criticism, to assess the validity or mischief of the criticism and, however reluctantly, to turn the other cheek.
Are you ever ashamed of your own church or denomination?
Yes. I worry about our responses/reactions regarding cruelty towards and the abuse of children and vulnerable adults. Frustrated by … is another component. For example,;, our incapacity as an organisation to work out the relationship between elected membership, range of skills needed, ethnic diversity and gender balance. Other organizations and institutions have had to sort this out and many have got there; also, our incapacity to honour the life-experience and faith-content of people with disabilities.
Are you afraid to die, or can you look beyond death?
Having ministered to and among many people who have died, I am honest to say that I fear death, whatever form it takes. The Christian faith speaks vividly of life after death and union with Christ and welcome by God. To this I trust. As someone who recognizes that Holy Scripture speaks of spiritual evilholds with the reality of spiritual evil, I cannot rule out hell as a state of torment and, therefore, I must fear it. I am in no way sufficiently good as a person to do other than incur the wrath of God on myself while I also hope for God’s redemptive love.
Do you believe in a resurrection?
Yes, and the way in which it is stated in the Creed is exhilarating: … the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come … My own picture is simple: people who were old when they died will laugh and play with those who were young when they died as equals unimpeded by the limitations of the human body.
What about other denominations and faiths?
Other faith traditions have ways of expressing their core values and godly motivations. I rejoice daily that Jesus Christ is my Saviour. I cannot use my rejoicing as an organ of humiliation or as a way of humiliating or failing to appreciate other people whose context is very different from mine. and whose life makes them believe differently in God.
Why are so many turning their backs on organized religion?
Developments in the world have enabled people to preside over their own lives more and more confidently. Many also sense a certain hypocrisy at the heart of religion; but there is hypocrisy in almost everything if you go looking for it. Other reasons include: the expression of religion in worship can be boring in content and long in its delivery. The impact of child abuse and elder abuse and the experiences of Mothers and Babies in homes run by people of various religious denominations have done perhaps the most in recent times to make people turn away.
Has religion helped or hindered here?
Religion and politics are closely intertwined in Northern Ireland although today the specific influence of religion on politics seems to be waning fast. Religious practice helps people to express their faith, to commit themselves and their needs and hopes to God. Throughout the Troubles, The Mothers’ Union in the Church of Ireland did extraordinary work in maintaining a respectful stability in society. Ecumenical cordiality is growing in Northern Ireland in exciting ways.
Some personal preferences?
James Bond films because of the sweep of excitement and escapism.
Where do you feel closest to God?
Gougane Barra in County Cork.
The inscription on your gravestone?
One Greek word: SALPISEI: the trumpet shall sound.
Any major regrets?
Being less adventurous when the opportunities presented themselves; taking fewer honourable risks when they were looking me in the eye; failing to advocate for those who were and are being bullied and taken for granted.