Rev Tim Kinahan is rector of Helen’s Bay and has raised £2.4m over 50 years to help the Asra Hawariat School for underprivileged children in Ethiopia.
Q. What about your background?
A. I was born on December 31, 1953, and spent my first four years as a barefoot and wild colonial boy in what was then Malaya, before returning to Northern Ireland, where both my parents had been born. My formal education began at Greenisland Primary School, before being sent to a prep school across the water. That formal education was concluded at Cambridge. I was married in 1988 and have two children, both working overseas, one in New Zealand and one in England.
Q. When did you come to faith?
A. Faith was part of family life, although low-key. My maternal grandfather was an Anglican priest, as was my paternal grandfather. It was quiet, understated faith that did not parade its piety. My parents just lived it and that rubbed off on me. Faith became more meaningful to me in my teenage years, but it really took on meaning during my gap-year in Ethiopia, working with Asfaw Yemiru, a man of deep faith and transformational life. He challenged and changed me deeply and quietly.
Q. Tell me more about him
A. He founded the Ethiopian school for which I have been raising funds, much of which came from people and organisations in Northern Ireland. He passed away recently and he was perhaps the single greatest influence in my life. He inspired a lifelong link with Ethiopia and gave me an example of faith in action without trumpets blaring, of a life-for-others lived with bloody-minded determination and total humility. I was privileged to call him my friend.
Q. Have you ever had a crisis, or a gnawing doubt about your faith?
A. Doubt and faith are creative handmaids. We need to wrestle with questions if our faith is ever to mature.
Q. Have you ever been angry with God?
A. I have always encouraged others to express anger with God if that is the way they feel — after all, Jeremiah did. When things go awry, for myself or others, I regard it as something to be redressed. The reality of human suffering is something that I am always wrestling with, but not angrily.
Q. Do you ever get criticised for your faith and are you able to live with that criticism?
A. I am aware that, as a clergyman, I represent to many an anachronistic and irrelevant set of beliefs, but mostly they are too polite to say so. Sometimes, I can have really creative discussions with people who do not share my faith.
Q. Are you ever ashamed of your own Church, or denomination?
A. Shame is a loaded concept. I can feel let down, misunderstood, or out of kilter with the prevailing mood. There is much throughout Christianity that is less than Christian, especially in the institutional Church, but we need to process this past constructively and move on.
Q. Are you afraid of hell?
A. No. I believe, rather, in a divine welcome: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father.” I believe in life after death; that when I meet my Maker face-to-face, I might feel a little awkward for a while, but I know that His love will overwhelm me. Having said that, I don’t find the picture-language of ‘Heaven’, both in scripture and elsewhere, all that helpful. But I do know that, however it pans out, it will be bliss.
Q. What about people of other denominations and other faiths?
A. With St Paul (Romans 2), I believe that “it is not by hearing the law that people are put right with God, but by doing what the law requires”. All who are honestly seeking truth and the things of the spirt are, I believe, blessed by God. If that is outside the institutional Church as I know it, I can’t blame them. After all, the Church has not exactly covered itself in glory.
Q. Would you be comfortable in stepping out from your own faith and trying to learn something from other people?
A. Yes. My faith has been considerably enriched by hearing something of how others have been touched by God. I have even written a book on the subject: A Deep but Dazzling Darkness: a Christian theology in an inter-faith perspective.
Q. Are the Churches here fulfilling their mission?
A. No, but we try. In a rapidly secularising world, it is an uphill struggle to find the language and approach that speaks to the 21st century. And what may be right in Helen’s Bay is, perhaps, not so in Crossmaglen.
Q. Why are so many turning their backs on organised religion?
A. The Church has not covered itself in glory and many find the social context of the Church no longer so important when there are so many other options available in our busy world.
Q. Has religion helped, or hindered, Northern Ireland?
A. Both. Its destructive side has been all too obvious; but it has also offered hope, comfort and vision. Those things are not to be dismissed.
Q. Your favourite book and music?
A. It is often the book I am currently engaged with. For music, J S Bach speaks to me, whatever mood I am in.
Q. Where do you feel closest to God?
A. In a eucalyptus wood just outside Addis Ababa. Or just about everywhere.
Q. What inscription would you like on your gravestone?
A. I’ll be cremated and I am not sure I want any wise words. Let people remember me as they will.
Q. Have you any major regrets?
A. Lots of small ones. I can cringe when I think of them. But I have had a good life and enjoyed most of it. I have been deeply fortunate in the people I have met and in the places I have been.