Rosemary Dunlop is a founder-member of the Corrymeela Community and a member of Whitehouse Presbyterian Church
Q. Tell me about your background.
A. When I was five my family moved to Comber and we became a part of Second Comber Presbyterian Church. I am the youngest of six children. Through teaching and example in my family, in the congregation and its organisations, and through Comber Primary School, my understanding of the Christian faith and my own faith developed. At the age of 12 I committed my life to Christ at the Jack Shuler Crusade in the King’s Hall. Thereafter, I confessed my faith and became a communicant member of the church. During my teenage years, through the church, Belfast High School and the Torchbearers organisation, my faith grew. At QUB, I studied psychology and was active in the Christian Union and in a community group in the Presbyterian Community Centre where the Reverend Dr Ray Davey was the chaplain. I met John, my future husband, at QUB. We have a daughter, a son and five grandchildren.
Q. Does faith play a real part in your life, or is it only for Sundays?
A. The Christian faith affects the whole of life. In 1965, with others, I was a founder member of the Corrymeela Community whose work is relevant to building bridges in this divided society. I have sought to live out my faith in our family and the Presbyterian Church, locally and on its central boards and councils; in my work as a couples counsellor, and with service on various boards including Belfast YMCA, Stranmillis and St Mary’s University colleges, the Mater Hospital Trust and its community forum. Living for 10 years in Jamaica broadened my appreciation of the wider church.
Q Have you ever had a crisis or a gnawing doubt about your faith?
A. No. There were times when I was puzzled and have searched for understanding, but I always believed that I was held by God. I have a sense of a deep foundation to my trust and faith in God.
Q. Have you ever been angry with God?
A. Not angry, but questioning; there are enough references in Scripture to individuals questioning, and even being angry with God, to know that it is acceptable to feel and express those strong feelings. God has been patient and loving as I have worked towards greater understanding.
Q. Do you ever get criticised for your faith?
A. Criticised, yes, by way of suggestions that I am naive in my faith in God; or a challenge that there is no proof for the existence of God. Such criticisms or challenges often don’t appreciate the multi-dimensional, relational nature of faith.
Q. Are you ever ashamed of your own church or denomination?
A. Many people, like me, have been dismayed by the truly shocking decision to break significant links with the Church of Scotland, and with the lack of sympathy for any person or organisation holding an alternative position on questions of human sexuality. The church would be enriched with more women in leadership roles as ministers and elders in congregations, Presbyteries and the general assembly. The good will of the wider Presbyterian community is important.
Q. Are you afraid to die, or can you look beyond death?
A. I am not afraid to die, but I need to be mindful that death can come suddenly. What is beyond death certainly involves change, but largely remains a mystery.
Q. Are you afraid of ‘hell-fire’?
A. Jesus has triumphed over death and hell, and my trust is in Him.
Q. Do you believe in a resurrection, and if so, what will it be like?
A. Yes, I believe that resurrection brings transformation into a different body. Struggle and fear will be over, and I will know God as I am known.
Q. What do you think about people of other denominations and other faiths?
A. Different forms of worship can be enriching and I am open to learning from them. I listen with respect to people of other faiths and can be challenged and even rebuked by their devotion and generosity.
Q. Would you be comfortable in stepping out from your own faith and trying to learn something from other people?
A. My faith accompanies me as I meet with those of other faiths and yes, I am comfortable to listen and learn.
Q. Do you think that the churches in Northern Ireland are fulfilling their mission?
A. Church life is marked by the enthusiastic commitment of thousands of its members who work with young people, in care homes, in social outreach, and day by day as they earn a living. The caring ministry of the church often goes unnoticed.
Q. Why are so many people turning their backs on organised religion?
A. For a lot of people, the statements issued by churches are irrelevant and don’t represent the opinions they hold or address issues that are important to them. The disputes and divisions between those who claim their beliefs are the only correct ones and who show little tolerance for other opinions do not enhance the work of reconciliation.
Q. Has religion helped or hindered the people of Northern Ireland?
A. People of faith have made a considerable positive contribution to life in Northern Ireland, but exclusive and self-isolating churches reinforce divisions.
Q. Some personal preferences?
A. Film: Kramer vs. Kramer. Book: To Kill a Mockingbird. Music: Variety of some classical, some from the 1960s, Paul Robeson, hymns I have sung with others over many years.
Q. The place where you feel closest to God?
A. Any place of quiet contemplation, often with music.
Q. The inscription on your gravestone, if any?
A. That is for others to decide.
Q. Do you have any major regrets?
A. Many things over the years could have been said and done better, but lingering on those is to focus on the past. With repentance, apology and forgiveness, moving forward reflectively and seeking to do better seems a wiser, more positive and healthier option.