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Stephen Murray: ‘Religion is easy, but faith is the hard bit, requiring constant self-examination’

Stephen Murray is a member of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Cork


Stephen Murray is a member of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Cork

Stephen Murray is a member of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Cork

Stephen Murray is a member of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Cork

Tell me about your background

I am the loving father to two children and three grandchildren, my son and grandson

in Cork and my daughter and two grandchildren in Australia. I have always lived in the beautiful city of Cork, and although I have a travel bug, I will probably never leave. I am 64 and the second child of five from a working -class family. We lost our mother Mary when I was 14 in a car crash and had to grow up very fast, just to survive. I married at 21, Angela was barely 20, and were together for the next 40 years. I am a recent graduate from UCC, in Social Science.

I have emerged into the light of 2022 having lived in a kind of perpetual darkness following the death of my darling Angela in October 2019. The onset of COVID only dimmed the lights further and exacerbated the trauma of grief. A lot of counselling helped me through, family were invaluable and my real friends were supportive, kind and caring. Naturally, my relationship with my God was strained, but as ever, he remained constant while I flapped about looking to play the blame game.

When did you come to faith?

I came to faith in the late 1980s and found a home in the Presbyterian Church and the congregation of Trinity, Cork. This was a direct result of a search to fill a God void in my life. Presbyterianism came with many other attractions, its democratic structure and its adherence to Scripture. In particular I was attracted by the dissenting tradition.

Does this faith play a real part in your life, or is it only for Sundays?

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A living faith is a 24-hour activity. Religion is easy, but faith is the hard bit, requiring constant self-examination.

Have you ever been angry with God?

Yes! My life has been book-ended by the deaths of my mother and my wife. These caused the greatest fury in my relationship with God, from rage to anger to acceptance and love, from turmoil and chaos, to order and relative happiness. I have been reconciled to God through both, and by both, and both reconciliations occurred at the same time.

Are you ever ashamed of your own church or denomination?

Yes, more so in recent times. In the past decade something changed in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland that I could never put my finger on, a negative reactionary social movement whose fruits have brought great shame on many who call themselves Presbyterian. Its first iteration was the open negative discussion on the role of women in the church, it has gathered momentum from there.

Specifically, the General Assembly adoption on the treatment of LGBTQ+ people in churches and the nauseating developments of Sandymount Church in Dublin. The former was another fruit of that backwards-looking social movement which made it more irrelevant to the society in which it operates, whilst the latter is distinguished by a fundamentalism not seen since the Inquisition. Both events are a perfect storm for PCI, which will take years to unravel and do a lot of damage in the unravelling. These two events have brought great embarrassment on the denomination.

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

Becoming older, my fear of dying has diminished. I don’t look forward to death, which is inevitable, but my faith gives me the confidence to approach death with a certainty of the promises available to all believers. Grace is what saves us, not churches, not dogma, not hierarchies, not ministers, not fasting, not works, nothing.

Are you afraid of ‘hell-fire?”

No, because if it does exist, I’m not going there.

What about people of other denominations and other faiths?

I should say live and let live, but I cannot. So much of what I see and hear is not a faith in God, but a faith in Man and his religious institutions.

Would you be comfortable in stepping out from your own faith and trying to learn from other people?

I came from little or no faith and am blessed with an open inquisitive mind, so yes, very comfortable.

Are the churches fulfilling their mission?

No, some do not know how to reflect what Jesus has to say in the 21st century and consequently have lost sight of what their mission is. Some preach a message that is devoid of Jesus, whilst others are huddled in a corner preaching to themselves.

Why are so many turning their backs on organized religion?

Part of a Beatles lyric ‘yours sincerely, wasting away’ describes precisely what is happening to organised religion in Ireland and more precisely to PCI. When you single out any group or individuals in society, you stigmatise them and set them apart. When you use the Bible and, to my mind misrepresent what it is in it, seeking vengeance for their perceived guilt you separate yourself from the society within which you will eventually become irrelevant. The Bible is not a book of quotations to be used to assuage guilt or demonise the ‘other’, it is not a pick ‘n mix where you only buy the ones you like and ignore the rest. It is a book to be interpreted in the round and for the society and people to whom it is being preached, so to do anything else will empty the churches and halls.

Some personal preferences: favourite film, book, and music?

I enjoy an eclectic and catholic taste in music, film and reading, so whatever is current are my favourites.

Where do you feel closest to God?

On a grey and wet winter’s Sunday afternoon, snuggled up on the couch trying to find an answer to whatever it is that is bothering me at the time.

Finally, any major regrets?

Lots of bad decisions, but no major regrets.

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