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Four very different people tell us what faith means to them


Although they come from different walks of life, each shares a strong Christian faith. Ahead of Easter Sunday, they tell Linda Stewart why it means so much to them.

‘I wouldn’t be who I am today without the Church’

East Belfast singer-songwriter Brian Houston is currently touring Canada. He is married to Pauline and has two children. He says:

I grew up in east Belfast in the Braniel housing estate. My dad was an alcoholic and member of the Communist Party and very anti-Orange, Masonic, etc. My mum was from a very radical loyalist family. They fought almost every day for years until they split up when I was 16.

When I was young, I wanted to be a boxer and then a soldier, but my mum talked me out of both of those. I would sing standing on a table in the assembly hall in primary school when it was raining and they kept the kids in at lunchtime.

It was when I was 10 that my friend, Bobby Cinnamon, played me some Elvis songs, and that was when my world changed. I sang at a Boys' Brigade display when I was 12, including some Elvis songs, and the girls screamed. After that I was hooked.

I left school at 15 with no exams. I became a shipyard carpenter and then a production planner. I started doing the sound rigs for bands and trying to get a record deal with the Mighty Fall band, which included Peter Wilson, later to become Duke Special, and Jonny Quinn, later to join Snow Patrol. When that ended, I made a little demo for £100 and Stephen Woods of Cool FM played it on his show. Folks phoned in requesting it and suddenly I had a career.

I wasn't raised in attending church. I never went until I wanted to sing and I stayed because there were hot girls and it was somewhere warm in the winter. Then when I was about 13 or 14 I made a decision to follow Jesus. I made that decision many times at every revival meeting and gospel hall event, but I didn't really take it seriously until I was around 18.

I didn't think you needed church to have faith. Many churches damage people and their faith, unfortunately. But I do think it is God's way of working on his people and encouraging them and motivating them.

Regardless of the bad experiences I've had in churches, I still believe that without the Church I would never have found my way to Jesus.

The love that the youth workers showed me when I was a kid saved me from becoming a paramilitary, and the teachings of the Church as I've grown up have inspired my search for more of God and his kingdom.

I wouldn't be who I am today without the Church. My faith shaped many decisions - the decision to become a full-time musician, get married, have children, move countries, move back.

In the music industry, you get offered all kinds of opportunities to take different paths. Maybe it's a party or a relationship or an issue of integrity, and I hope I've made a choice to stay on the narrow path rather than lose myself.

Many of my friends have lost their way and their faith and I didn't want to pay that price.

I'm married to the girl I started dating at 15. She always said, 'We take this journey together or we don't take it at all'."

‘Having respect for each other is really what it is all about’

Anne Brennan (60s), who owns the Harper at the Merchant shoe shop, is married to John (60s) and they live in Hollywood. They have three sons, Tim (39), who looks after the shop, Nick (36), who is married to Cassandra and lives in South Africa with son Josh (6), and Jack (27), a journalist who is getting married to Kathy this year. She says:

I lived abroad in Italy for years, and when I came home I wanted to set out to do something on my own.

At that time designer handbags weren't readily available in Northern Ireland. They had been my passion when I lived in Italy, so I opened my shop on Belfast's Lisburn Road 20 years ago.

My mother wasn't a Christian until I was 17, but I grew up in a home in Belfast that was very much along that path - I always went to church and Sunday School.

I did become a Christian quite early in life - probably about age 10 - and I think it was a continuation of Sunday School and church, hearing the gospel and knowing about it, coming to faith and walking with God. I've always been Baptist.

There are very few people who don't have ups and downs in life. But Christ tells us he will be with us, not if trouble comes, but when it comes.

I think sometimes people think that if you are a Christian, everything is a bed of roses and you are different from everyone else. But we all face the same struggles in life - faith or no faith. It's about having Christ to get you through it and bring you His way out the other side.

When it comes to big decisions, I always try and do the right thing.

I do remember the dilemma we had when our shop was at the Lisburn Road. We didn't open the shop on Sundays, but that particular year Christmas Eve fell on a Sunday. We knew there would be lots of people needing to come in and collect things and buy last-minute presents.

I thought I would let people know what Christmas is about, so I organised for part of the choir from one of the local churches to come at a certain time that day, and they stood outside the shop and sang carols.

In the hustle and bustle of Christmas, I was able to show people the real meaning of Christmas.

I am a member of Holywood Baptist Church and am involved in the International Women's Day of Prayer.

I heard on the radio that some people were talking about starting a Christian party and some others were saying there was enough of that. But there are so many Christians of different denominations in Northern Ireland, and it's the true spirit of Christianity that we all need to get together around.

The way forward for here is for all denominations to come together that are Christ-minded. I honestly think having respect for each other and giving and taking - I think that is what it's about. If Northern Ireland could come together like that and if people could love one another as Christ loved us, it would be a infinitely better place."

'Deciding not to have IVF led  to a very difficult five years'

Lynne Rainey (43), a partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers in Belfast, is married to Shane (47), and they live in Randalstown. She says:

I come from Dromara, Co Down, and had the privilege of being brought up in a Christian home along with my sister and brother. Church was a central part of our lives, not least because my dad was a Sunday School teacher and my mum was one of the leaders in our local Good News Club.

But becoming a Christian at the age of seven was my personal decision. In many ways, I still have that simple faith of a seven-year-old.

While other people can make their faith very complex and question what they believe, my faith is best defined as 'just believing.

And that has largely been the story of my faith - believing that God has a plan for my life and being open to where he leads me.

When I went to university, I genuinely had no idea what I wanted to do. But a very sensible teacher advised me to do something I enjoyed doing, so I studied modern history and politics. I did a postgrad business course and worked in the public sector for four years before applying for a role in PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Looking back on it, I applied for a job and ended up with a career.

I started to work in the consultancy part of the business in 2000, and moved into deals in 2009. My day job is as a partner in our forensic services business, where I work with a range of global clients, helping them to limit their exposure to bribery, corruption and money laundering.

With a fundamental belief that God has a plan for me, I can honestly say that there is very little that worries me. But that doesn't mean that my life has been easy, and the fact that I don't have any children is an important part of that story.

I always imagined that I would have a family, but at 26, around the time I started working for PwC, my husband and I were told that IVF was our only option. What followed was a very difficult five years, because while we decided that IVF wasn't for us, there was still a long journey in accepting what that meant for us.

That journey definitely made my faith so much stronger as there were many days when I had to depend entirely on God to just get me through the day, or through certain situations.

But I look back on this time as a blessing. If I hadn't gone through that experience, I wouldn't have been able to understand the struggles that others go through, nor would I have been able to share my faith. I firmly believe that everything happens for a purpose.

Professionally, my biggest struggle in terms of my faith was whether becoming a partner in PwC was the right thing for me. It wasn't a role that I sought; it was one that came looking for me.

But God has taught me that, as a Christian, this is where he wanted me to be."

'Going back to Mass for the sake of my kids felt like coming home'

Jim Deeds from west Belfast took up the post of development officer with the Down and Connor diocese Living Church Office in May 2012. He is married to Nuala and they have three children; Brendan, Joe and Eimear. He says:

My return to faith some years ago resulted in a career change and was brought about by three children, a book and a priest. Let me explain that.

I grew up in the 1970s in west Belfast. I had a fairly typical Catholic upbringing. I had two parents who took me to Mass. In time I became an altar boy, and so it stayed for some time.

However, as I grew up my faith waned, and by the time I reached my early twenties I had lost touch with it. I became far more interested in pints of Guinness, music and parties. Good times!

I took up a career in social work at age 21 and worked for the next 20 years or so in that field. I married Nuala when I was 23 and we had children - three of them. As they grew through toddlerhood into their primary school years, I began to ask myself if I was giving them the great start that my parents had given me. The answer was simple: I wasn't. So I decided to go back to Mass and to take them with me. I found it a great experience. I felt like I had come home.

About 15 years ago, for Lent I decided to look out the old Bible I had been given when I was in school. I don't know why, but I decided to read one page a night.

I found myself drawn into the story of Jesus and his love for all people, even the messy ones like me. The combination of going to Mass and reading the bible brought me alive spiritually.

Then, some 10 years ago, an old priest came to my home parish of St Teresa of Avila. His name was Monsignor Tom Toner, or Father Tom to all who knew him. I fell into a lovely friendship with him. In truth, he became a mentor of mine.

Over the next few years, he encouraged me to grow deeper in faith.

Father Tom was also suffering with cancer - suffering he bore with dignity and courage.

He died in November 2012, just as I was having a change of career inspired by him, the book I had read that Lent and my three children.

Since that time, I have worked in full-time pastoral ministry for the Diocese of Down and Connor, facilitating groups of lay people and priests as they build up the local church.

My life is utterly changed and I am happy that it is. I am sustained, challenged and motivated by my Catholic faith - imperfect as I am and imperfect as my faith is - to try to make this world a little better."

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