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Rev Chris MacBruithin: 'I've a healthy fear of God, He's not to be messed with... but I trust in Him'


Rev Chris MacBruithin

Rev Chris MacBruithin

Rev Chris MacBruithin

Rev Chris MacBruithin is rector of Castlerock and Dunboe and a member of the Third Order Society of St Francis.

Q. Can you tell us something about your background?

A. I'm 41, married with a four-year-old son. I grew up in rural north Antrim, although our family home parish is Christ Church, Londonderry. Dad is a retired painter and decorator. Mum is a housekeeper in a nursing home. My sister, Laura, is a nursery teacher in Lincoln.

After Dalriada school, I studied languages at Edinburgh University, then trained as a teacher at the University of Ulster. I did some missionary work in Bolivia and taught in Dublin before settling in Derry. In 2012, I started ministerial training and was ordained in 2016.

Q. How did you come to faith?

A. I can't remember not believing. I once accompanied my father to Billy parish church, where he painted the sanctuary walls midnight blue, with gold paint for the stars. There was a sort of holiness about the place. My parents joined a gospel hall when I was five. It was like my childhood faith no longer counted, because I couldn't say I'd been saved at a particular moment. Home became very religious, although we had a fair amount of latitude - a TV, for example. Friends at school helped me navigate teenage life as a Christian and to see a wider world out there.

Q. Have you ever had a crisis about faith?

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A. I've seen the effects of fundamentalist religion, where questions are discouraged and doubts suppressed. Twelve years ago, that was me. I returned from missionary work in Bolivia with depression, not sure how much of what I'd been teaching I honestly believed in. I found Christ Church in Derry, where I could work through my questions and doubts. I still don't have all the answers, but I have a more honest, resilient faith.

Q. Have you ever been angry with God and, if so, why?

A. Yes, when I had depression. I thought "Why me?", as if it was something that only happened to other people. Looking back, it was the making of my faith and a milestone in my call to ministry in Ireland.

Q. Do you ever get criticised for your faith and are you able to live with that criticism?

A. Yes, too conservative, too liberal, too churchy, too worldly, too staunch, too wishy-washy - it depends who you ask. I'm developing a thicker skin and so long as I'm following in the way of Jesus, that's all I really need to focus on.

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

A. Yes, we've fallen spectacularly short on occasion. But, more often, I'm inspired by faithful people loving God and neighbour.

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

A. I'm not afraid of death, although I don't relish the thought of dying. God is the same this side and beyond. I love the words in our communion service, that Jesus "opened wide his arms on the cross" with "love stronger than death". I have a healthy fear of God. He's not to be messed with. But I trust him - God is love and Christ has conquered hell.

Q. Do you believe in a resurrection?

A. Yes. Tom Wright has helped me here. It's not so much about "going to Heaven when we die", but a radical new creation, a marriage of Heaven and Earth. Jesus talks a lot in terms of a wedding banquet, which sounds really joyous.

Q. What about people of other denominations and faiths?

A. God is nobody's uncle - He's our father and His children are my brothers and sisters, whether Protestant, Catholic, or dissenter. In Northern Ireland, we compare the best of our own ideals with the worst caricatures of others. That's only possible because we live so separately. As for other faiths, St Francis set out 800 years ago to convert the Sultan of Egypt. The Sultan remained Muslim, but the two men became examples of hospitality and friendship.

Q. Would you be comfortable in trying to learn from other people?

A. Jesus is the full revelation of God and I'm committed to Him. As regards other Christian traditions, I'm a bit of a spiritual magpie. There's plenty I can learn from my Muslim and humanist neighbours. I try proactively to follow people with different views.

Q. Are the Churches here fulfilling their mission?

A. Yes and no. Many faithful servants care deeply for their people and serve their wider communities. But to be like the early Church, we have to be communities of radical welcome, where there's space for everyone: not just people "like me", but Irish speakers and Lambeg drummers, Goths, the homeless, gay couples, all sorts of people filling the same pews. Celebrations of divine love and inclusion, like Jesus's infamous dinner parties.

Q. Why are so many turning their backs on organised religion?

A. Life is so busy, God gets squeezed out. People might have experienced lukewarm Christianity growing up and been underwhelmed.

Q. Has religion helped, or hindered, Northern Ireland?

A. During the Troubles, Belfast had the highest concentration of churches anywhere, yet we were shooting one another. However, there are shining examples, like Gordon Wilson, and the cross-community work of my erstwhile mentor, Dean Kenny Hall in Enniskillen. God is more concerned about us forgiving, reconciling and loving than which flag flies at City Hall.

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

A. On TV, The West Wing, which reminds me that progress takes time and leadership means bringing people along with you. Music? Karl Jenkins' Benedictus. Book? Any Kazuo Ishiguru novel.

Q. Where do you feel closest to God?

A. Strangely, hospitals feel like holy ground. When I walk onto the ward to visit the sick, God is already there.

Q. What inscription would you like on your gravestone?

A. Safe in the arms of Jesus.

Q. Have you any major regrets?

A. Taking so long to heed the call to ordained ministry, but God makes up for lost years.

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