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Lynda Neilands: My husband's death was a terrible blow, but I know he's alive in Heaven

In conversation with Lynda Neilands, lay leader of the Methodist Church

Inner strength: Lynda Neilands
Inner strength: Lynda Neilands
Lynda Neilands with her husband, David
Alf McCreary

By Alf McCreary

Lynda Neilands (63) grew up in Portadown. She met David, her future husband, when she was 15 and he 17, and they married in 1980.

She trained as a teacher and he became a Methodist minister. Lynda taught part-time for a few years after their marriage, but then concentrated on writing.

She published 14 books between 1988 and 2008, including the Brownie Guide Handbook, three collections of stories for children, which appeared in several languages including French, German, Dutch and Romanian, and a memoir of Nigel Williams, Northern Ireland's first children's commissioner.

She returned to teaching part-time when David became chaplain at Methodist College in Belfast in 2001.

In 2009, she became senior editor of the Methodist Newsletter, combining this with teaching until 2015, when she retired and became assistant editor of the Church of Ireland Gazette.

Sadly, David died of cancer in December 2016, aged 64.

Lynda is currently lay leader of the Methodist Church, and combines this with editing the newsletter. As the Methodists' lay leader, Lynda sits on a large number of committees, has an extensive speaking schedule and plays a key role in the life of the Church. She is a member of Finaghy Methodist Church.

She has two sons - Christopher, who is married to Stephanie, and Patrick, who is doing a PhD in animal cognition in New Zealand.

Q. How and when did you come to faith?

A. I didn't really have any assurance of faith until my late teens. Looking back, I can see a number of influences - Church and Sunday School, Scripture Union, Christian friends, Christian Endeavour, reading some inspirational books.

A key breakthrough came when a teacher in school encouraged a number of us to come in early to pray.

She gave us each a notebook and encouraged us to listen to God and make a note of what we sensed He was saying to us. Coupled with reading scripture, this practice ignited something within me spiritually.

Every moment of every day there is a sense of dependence on God - a joy in His forgiveness, new discoveries made, lessons learnt and learnt again, an awareness of his mercy and provision.

Q. Have you ever had a crisis of faith, or a gnawing doubt about your faith?

A. I have had times when I have felt confused, because things have not worked out as I expected, or hoped, and that has been a challenge. I have had to recognise that God's ways are not my ways, and the challenge is to just sit with the confusion and recognise that it is not the end of the story.

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

A. I am often annoyed with myself. I don't think I have ever been angry with God. My husband, David, died from melanoma cancer at Christmas two years ago. I was not angry with God, because that would have been like biting the hand that was feeding me.

I realised yet again that, as a Christian, you are not immune from the difficulties of life, but you are aware that you are being upheld by God. You are given a sense of knowing what you need to do and, bit by bit, you are able to move forward. David's death was a terrible blow, but I still feel close to him and I know that he is still alive in Heaven.

I am thankful for my friends and my work. I have a wealth of good memories and I am grateful that you can be warmed by your memories.

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

A. My experience has been more of dismissiveness, rather than of direct criticism - a sense that faith is tolerated as long as it doesn't present too much of a challenge. There is always a pressure, often unspoken, to keep your faith to yourself.

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

A. I do not relate to the language of shame. If the Church stands for anything, it is for forgiveness, for hope, for the possibility that sins and errors and mistakes and shortcomings can be confessed and forgiven. I feel very sad that some people pray the Lord's Prayer but do not take seriously the need to forgive others as we have been forgiven.

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

A. In the past two years, I have sat at the death-bed of four close family members - my husband, my mother, my mother-in-law and an uncle. I am not afraid to die, and a belief in life after death has definitely helped me to cope with the sadness and loss.

Q. And what about Hell? Do you worry about it?

A. I am not worried about hell, but I do live life with a profound awareness of judgment and a sense that it is how things will look in the light of eternity that will determine whether my choices were wise, or foolish.

Q. Do you believe in a resurrection? And, if so, what will it be like?

A. I believe that the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit - an inner sense of something indestructible - means that for the Christian, resurrection starts now. I am very bad at imagining what anything will be like. There are always aspects that totally take me by surprise. But once I dreamt I was praying and, as I prayed, I was lifted up and up - it was like flying, a wonderful sense of being free from all the limitations of Earth.

Q. What do you think about people of other denominations and other faiths?

A. People are people - unique and fascinating. It is often more comfortable to be with people where we share common ground in terms of spirituality and doctrine. It is important to hear different points of view and engage in honest, respectful discussion with an openness to mutual learning.

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

I prefer stepping out in my own faith, to engage with folk of other faiths. I am comfortable with dialogue and would welcome opportunities to share in that way.

Q. Do you think that the Churches here are fulfilling their mission?

A. I think there is a lot of thinking going on about mission and what this means across the denominations. My impression is that Churches are taking this seriously and are generally moving in the right direction.

Q. Why are many turning their back on organised religion?

A. There certainly isn't the same social pressure to attend church as when I was growing up, and now there are lots of other social alternatives. So, these days people are unlikely to attend church unless they have a real faith in God. At the same time, some folk who do have a real faith find it hard to fit organised religion into a demanding lifestyle.

Q. Has religion helped or hindered the people of Northern Ireland?

A. Probably both - religious sectarianism has been a hindrance. Love for God and neighbour has been a great help.

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

My favourite film is Brother, Where Art Thou? directed by the Coen brothers. I love the music, the quirkiness of the script, the humour and the way in which the three main characters interact.

A. book that I really like is Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. It is beautifully written and she succeeds in creating a sympathetic and complex portrait of a man - a clergyman - of deep faith. I like music, especially folk music, but I don't listen to it much, because I prefer silence.

Q. Where do you feel closest to God?

A. Walking by the river - any river.

Q. What inscription would you like on your gravestone?

A. Here lies one who often got lost on Earth but gladly followed the Way to Heaven.

Q. Have you any major regrets?

A. This probably doesn't class as a major regret. I have a dog and would like a cat, but I'm allergic to cats!

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