'I came upon the aftermath of the Abercorn bombing in 1972, my heart cried out, 'There can't be a God'... but, gradually, I began to see his still, small voice'
In conversation with Brian Kissock, Christian Science practitioner, former golf champion and businessman
Brian Kissock was born in Bangor and educated at Bangor Grammar School. He played golf from an early age and later won the North of Ireland Amateur Golf Championship twice and played many times for Ulster and Ireland.
He also played for several years on the professional European Tour and once finished third to Tony Jacklin in a tournament where he had led for three rounds. Brian still plays regularly off a six-handicap.
From the early-Sixties, he owned several Northern Ireland businesses in manufacturing, clothing, distribution and retailing.
He employed over 200 people, equally from both main communities, during the Troubles until the Eighties. Many of his business premises were bombed and he lost several good friends.
He has three grown-up children and a sister. Marci, his wife of 10 years, is American and a former architect. In recent years, they have divided their time between Bangor and San Diego. Marci is First Reader in the Christian Science Church in Belfast, where Brian also teaches Sunday School.
Q How did you come to faith?
A: When I was 20, my dad, Bill, passed on in my arms and I was bereft. He had worked for the Northern Ireland Electricity Board. He was a good golfer, played senior football and also won the 1934 Irish Rifle Championship. My mother, Mary, was a Presbyterian church organist and my dad was the choirmaster and a fine violinist. We were a well 'churched' family.
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After my dad passed away, I went to the church and asked why he had to die so young. The folks there were compassionate, but said it was God's will.
I pondered why, if Jesus and his disciples healed the sick and raised the dead, would this not be in contravention of God's will?
I started a deep study of theologians, philosophies and religions seeking answers, eventually leading to a theological/divinity degree. During this study, I came across a book entitled Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy. It helped me with many questions, such as, "Who or what is man?", "What is God?" and "What of creation?" It spoke of spiritual healing, which was a new concept for me.
It set my thought in a different direction from my early religious teaching, that God sent evil and disease on his own creation. This book also helped remove the thought that man is a material, miserable sinner and, instead, it proclaimed mankind as the magnificent spiritual ideas of infinite love.
I joined the Christian Science Church, eventually becoming a practitioner, praying with folk challenged by illness, mental health, relationships and many other situations, including financial problems.
One such healing was when I helped to restore the sight of a blind man in the USA, who is still driving at 97. For the past 20 years, I have ministered to the homeless and those in prisons in the USA and in the UK.
I study the Bible and the writings of Mrs Eddy daily and, as a Christian Science practitioner, I receive calls for help from those in need every day.
Q Have you ever had a crisis of faith, or a gnawing doubt about your faith?
A: Not in terms of the theology of Christian Science, but occasionally my own understanding of God's power in the case of human tragedy and challenges.
Then, I remind myself that God is the law, or laws, of good and that the kingdom of heaven is within each of us, as Jesus taught.
Q Have you ever been angry with God? And, if so, why?
A: In 1972, I came upon the Abercorn bombing in Belfast shortly after it happened. I had a shop close by. I had never before seen such an horrific scene, with terrible injuries. Young soldiers and police were being sick. My heart cried out, "There can't be a God!" I saw many more such incidents, but gradually I began to see, as the Bible states, "That God is not in the earthquake, wind and fire", or bombings, but is "that still, small voice".
This "voice" is forever speaking to us in words of consolation and comfort, in thoughts we can understand and put into practical action.
Q Do you ever get criticised for your faith? And are you able to live with that criticism?
A: Christian Science, sometimes wrongly confused with Scientology, is misunderstood and so there is criticism. One such is that we don't believe in doctors. I have the highest regard for what doctors try to do, but a higher way, in my opinion, is spiritual healing, without drugs or surgery. Christian Scientists, however, are free to choose whatever healthcare they wish.
Q Are you ever ashamed of your own Church, or denomination?
A: I understand that question, in the light of recent revelations regarding certain Churches and inappropriate behaviour by clergy. In the last 150 years, the Christian Science Church has tried to carry out the admonitions of Christ Jesus: "Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, freely ye have received, freely give."
The Church has tens of thousands of carefully verified healings from around the world of every type of malady.
Q Are you afraid to die? Or can you look beyond death?
A: Some 25 years ago, I thought had passed on. I had been having heart problems, then my heart stopped beating. I was in a dark place for a short time, then light appeared, the most glorious light. I seemed to be wrapped in it. I could call it love. I was aware of my own identity and consciousness, but with no consciousness of my past life. I was limitless; it seemed I could see forever, with such incredible beauty.
Folk I didn't recognise were welcoming me, but then I came to a barrier. I looked back and saw this body on the bed. I was back in it, but disappointed and then glad.
Was it just a dream? I don't think so, for all evidence of heart disease had disappeared and I was walking on air for many months. I don't think there is anything to fear in the afterlife, so I am not.
Q Are you worried about Hell?
A: The term "Hell" comes from the word "Gehenna", the place outside Jerusalem where the city's rubbish burns. We probably make our own hell, but there is a way out through regeneration and thereby redemption.
We can be resurrected every day by eliminating thoughts of materialism, hate, error and other things and replacing them with God-like thoughts of consideration, concern and love.
Q What do you think of people of other denominations and other faiths?
A: Everyone is at his, or her, own state of consciousness, or philosophy. Everyone is working out their own salvation. I pray I am learning to love more.
Q Why are many turning their back on organised religion?
A: The power of Christ's message has, over the centuries, became somewhat lost in doctrine, dogma, edicts, Church organisation and, therefore, people turn to other gods, such as consumerism, sensuality, drugs and so on.
Yet, many people still look to the Church in times of distress, many still read their Bibles, or the Book of Mormon, or the Koran, and many are seeking comfort.
Q Has religion helped, or hindered, the people of Northern Ireland?
A: In its purest sense, religion always helps, but it has been sometimes used as justification for acts of violence, war, or terrorism, foreign to the Christ-like thought.
But through compromise, co-operation, forgiveness and love, things change for the better. If we can see the qualities of Christ in everyone, not see them as Protestant, Catholic, Jew, or Muslim, but as a brother, or sister. This brings a blessing.
Q What is your favourite film, book and music, and why?
A: My favourite film is The Shawshank Redemption and favourite book is Ultimate Freedom by John Wyndham. My favourite music has to be Elgar's Enigma Variations.
Q Where do you feel closest to God?
A: When I am reading and praying with the 91st Psalm and Isaiah Chapter 41, verse 10.
Q What inscription would you like on your gravestone?
A: He tried.
Q Have you any regrets?
A: Many. But trying to live a Christly life in the now is of greater value.