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Adrian Anderson BEM: 'In the West, we have become too comfortable and materialistic and people feel they no longer need God... the Church is growing where there is persecution'


Faith notes: organist Adrian Anderson

Faith notes: organist Adrian Anderson

Faith notes: organist Adrian Anderson

Adrian Anderson BEM is church organist and founder of the summer recitals at Ballywillan Presbyterian Church in Portrush.

Q Can you tell us about your background?

A I am single and recently celebrated my 80th birthday. I was born in Stewartstown, Co Tyrone, and my parents, Victor and May, moved to Portstewart in the early 1940s, where my father opened a shoe business. My mother was a primary school teacher. I have two sisters, Doreen and Heather.

Q What about your early education?

A I went to Portstewart Primary School, Coleraine Academical Institution and Queen's University Belfast, where I studied physics and applied mathematics. I taught these subjects for 34 years in Coleraine Further Education College. I studied piano with the well-known teachers Bertram Jones and Wight Henderson and organ with Brian Thompson. I have been the organist at Ballywillan for more than 45 years and I assist at Holy Trinity and St Patrick's, both in Portrush.

Q Can you tell us about your summer recitals?

A For 30 years I organised popular summer recitals in Ballywillan Presbyterian Church, where there is a fine Wells Kennedy pipe organ. The international organists to have visited Ballywillan include Thomas Trotter, Carlo Curley, Catherine Ennis, Desmond Hunter and Gerard Brooks. The pianists have included Barry Douglas, John Barstow and Michael McHale. We have had Oxbridge choirs and singers too numerous to mention.

Q Who were some of the most memorable performers?

A The late William Loughlin MBE (a singer) filled the church whenever he appeared. I accompanied him at concerts all over Ireland and in Germany and France. He was blessed with a magnificent voice and loved the song How Can I Keep From Singing?

Barry Douglas first appeared in Ballywillan in 1978 and played each summer until 1984 before winning first prize at the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in Moscow.

The Belfast pianist Michael McHale has a successful career as a concert pianist and the Derry organist Darren Hargan is conducting and directing opera in Europe.

The American organ virtuoso Carlo Curley was larger than life and died too young at 59.

I greatly enjoy my musical career and in 2015 I was awarded the BEM for services to music.

Q What about your health regime?

A The Herring Pond at Portstewart is a natural rock pool a few minutes away from my home, which overlooks the ocean. Its moods are varied and capricious. At times it is like a lake. However, with a full swell and a high tide it can be, to quote the Irish Hymn writer Cecil Francis Alexander, "tumultuous, wild and restless". It can be dangerous and could be a one-way ticket for any swimmer who is not paying attention. From May to December, at first light, I join a group of friends for a dip. Islay, Jura, Innishowen and Donegal provide a magnificent backdrop. In the low morning sun and changing light, it is magnificent.

Q How did you come to faith?

A My parents had a strong Christian faith. My father, an elder in Portstewart Presbyterian Church, was a Sunday School superintendent, a choir member and organist. My mother was devoted to the scriptures and prayer. The Bible readings each summer at Portstewart Keswick Convention were not to be missed. My grandmother, Emily Frances Anderson (nee McReynolds), was organist at St Patrick's Parish Church, Ballyclog in Stewartstown. Her husband, Charles Anderson, was Presbyterian, but she was a very convinced member of the Church of Ireland. I must have inherited some of this because I love the flow and timelessness of the Service of Compline in Holy Trinity Parish in Portrush on Sunday evenings.

Visiting Ballyclog for the first time several years ago with relatives from New Zealand, I was thrilled to discover an old pedal organ with my grandmother's name on a brass plate. I thought that was quite providential.

Q Does your faith play a real part in your daily life, or is it just for Sundays?

A I came to faith in my early teens through the work of the CSSM in Portstewart. My faith is very real to me and not just for Sundays. I never have had a crisis of faith, but I often have prayed, "Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief".

Q Have you ever been angry with God?

A I never have feelings of anger towards God, but rather of gratitude. Charles Spurgeon put the point very well when he said, "It is a good thing God chose me before I was born because he surely would not have afterwards".

Q Are you ever ashamed of your own Church or denomination?

A No, I am never ashamed of the Presbyterian Church. I believe the perfect church as an institution does not exist and I do not expect perfection from any denomination, including my own.

Q Are you afraid to die, or can you look beyond death?

A No one looks forward to the increasing frailty and weakness which generally precedes death for so many people. However, for a Christian, death should hold no terrors. I always like to think of the words of JS Bach, who referred to it as "a gentle friend".

Q Are you worried about Hell?

A Our Lord had a lot to say about Hell, but His Amazing Grace promises Heaven to the believer. To quote Martin Luther, "The Lord has written the promise of the resurrection, not in books, but in every leaf in springtime". I believe in a resurrection, but I have no idea what it will be like. God is a God of surprises.

Q What do you think about other denominations and faiths?

A Belief in the Lordship of Christ is central. I would not be comfortable outside this. However, I am interested in what others believe and their reasoning behind that belief.

Q Do you think that the churches here are fulfilling their mission?

A The work of the Church is to strengthen believers in their faith and its mission is to make disciples. Some churches emphasise the former and others the latter.

Q Why are many people turning their back on organised religion?

A The only thing the Church can offer that the world cannot offer is a sense of God's presence, the numinous. This should be the attraction. We need deeper reverence and more Godly fear to receive God's promised blessing. Noise has become an addiction. We seem to have lost the art of silence and some churches even print on their bulletins, "Before the service, speak to God. During the service, let God speak to you. After the service, speak to your friends." In the West, we have become too comfortable and materialistic and people feel they no longer need God. The Church is growing where there is persecution.

Q Has religion helped, or hindered, the people of Northern Ireland?

A Religion has helped the people and I believe that there is still a lot of kindness and decency around.

Q What is your favourite book, film and music and why?

A My favourite book, apart from the Bible, is the writing of A W Tozer (1897-1963), who had a superb mind that penetrated the obvious and uncovered Christian motives and practices with profound insight. For example, "Religion has accepted the monstrous heresy that noise, size, activity and bluster make a man dear to God". My favourite film is The Quiet Man. A great story with great acting and great scenery. It portrays Connemara at its very best. Concerning favourite music, George Bernard Shaw said, "Only those in a deplorable state of musical culture have favourite tunes".

Q Where do you feel closest to God?

A To quote a mystic, "Nothing in the universe resembles God as much as silence". I feel close to God during communion and also on a deserted beach or somewhere similar.

Q What inscription would you like on your gravestone?

A I would like, 'The trumpet shall sound'.

Q Finally, have you any major regrets?

A I regret not having more faith.

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