Rev Trevor Gribben: 'At times, I have cried out to God in despair. Times when I've seen good people suffer, murdered by terrorists, or dying from horrendous illness... times when I couldn't make sense of this fearful, fallen world'
In conversation with Rev Trevor Gribben
Q. Can you tell us something about your background?
A. I grew up in Tandragee, the youngest child of William and Elizabeth Gribben - "a wee late one", with a much older sister, Gwyneth, and brother, Andrew. My parents taught me values that have stayed with me all my life - the importance of honesty, integrity and of having good relationships across the so-called "community divide".
My dad had served as a Royal Artillery RSM during the Second World War. Though he wasn't a strict disciplinarian, I did grow up learning both the importance of getting my hair cut and supporting Arsenal.
I attended school in Tandragee before moving to Portadown College and then to Queen's University Belfast to study mathematics and computer science, prior to theological studies at Union Theological College.
My assistantship was in north Belfast, before serving as minister in Leckpatrick, outside Strabane, and then Whiteabbey.
I have worked in Assembly Buildings, PCI's headquarters, first as Deputy Clerk and now as Clerk, since 2008. I see myself as a young 58-year-old.
Q. How and when did you come to faith?
A. I attended Tandragee Baptist Church as a boy and am thankful for godly Sunday School teachers. However, it was after attending a mission in the local Presbyterian church hall that, as a 10-year-old, I asked Jesus to be my Saviour. I was nurtured in my faith largely through the youth work in Tandragee Presbyterian Church and I owe a great deal to BB officers there. My parents and I later joined the church, where I was baptised as an adult and received into full membership.
I am not a follower of a religion, but a follower of Jesus. Christianity is primarily about a living relationship with the living God, through faith in Jesus Christ. I am so thankful that God the Father sent his son to make that possible.
I am so thankful that Jesus was obedient to the Father, came to this Earth and died for me on the cross, paying the debt for my sin. I am so thankful that the Holy Spirit enabled me as a young child to believe in Jesus and gave me new and everlasting life, as I was born from above.
Q. Have you ever had a crisis of faith, or a gnawing doubt about your faith?
A. I have never decided to walk away from God, but there have been times when I have drifted from him. He never left me and he was always close by, but there have been times when my faith has been cold, just going through the motions. This has sometimes been through neglect - taking for granted my relationship with Jesus and not working at it. At other times it has been through being too busy - even busy serving the Lord, yet forgetting that my walk with him is always more important than my work for him.
Q. Have you ever been angry with God? And, if so, why?
A. At times, I just haven't understood and have cried out to God in despair, perhaps even in anger. Times when I've seen good and innocent people suffer - murdered by terrorists, or dying too young from horrendous illness. Times when I couldn't make sense of this fearful, fallen world.
But the one thing I've held on to is the fact that God has done something about this world, by giving us hope, by sending Jesus to die on the cross and by raising him from the dead.
Q. Do you ever get criticised for your faith? And are you able to live with that criticism?
A. You should read some of the letters I get. Some, at times, are critical of the views I articulate as general secretary of our Church, but rarely is that a direct criticism of my personal faith. Though an odd journalist has come close.
Q. Are you ever ashamed of your own Church, or denomination?
A. No. At times, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland makes mistakes. At times, we get it wrong. At times, we are not as wise as we should be, in when and how we state our views. At times, we leave ourselves open to being misrepresented and misunderstood. We need to learn from such mistakes.
But we also must continue to speak the truth of God's word into our society in a clear and loving way.
Q. Are you afraid to die? Or can you look beyond death?
A. I'm not afraid to die, because, as Paul says in his Letter to Timothy, in Christ "I know whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day".
Q. Do you believe in a resurrection? And, if so, what will it be like?
A. Yes, with all my heart. The one who conquered the grave through His own resurrection will one day come to share that resurrection with His people. It will be a glorious day when all who love Jesus, whether alive or dead, will meet with our Lord and Saviour and will go to be with Him forever.
Q. What do you think about people of other denominations and other faiths?
A. Throughout my life and ministry, I have been blessed by counting as friends people from many other Christian denominations. Their ways of expressing their faith have enriched me and taught me much.
The unity that all Christians have isn't something that we have to create, it is God-given.
All who genuinely acknowledge Jesus as Saviour and Lord are my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Q. Would you be comfortable in stepping out from your own faith and trying to learn something from other people?
A. Yes, though at times that can be challenging. We need to be clear about what we believe, but it is no compromise to work alongside, listen to and share with those with whom we might differ.
Q. Some people might think that is too narrow. Do you ever feel that you might be wrong?
A. Far from being too narrow, I believe that it is when Christians have a clear understanding of their own faith that they can have the confidence to dialogue with whom they differ. Ultimately, I believe that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and that no one can come to know God apart from through him. He came to seek and to save the lost. That is not a "narrow" belief, but the truth of the Gospel.
Q. Do you think that the Churches here are fulfilling their mission?
A. When we prioritise our calling to share in word and action the good news of Jesus Christ, yes. When we're too inward-looking and insular, no.
Q. Why are many people turning their back on organised religion?
A. Ireland, north and south, is changing rapidly. Church membership is no longer a societal norm, as in the past, and the numbers attending churches of all denominations are in decline. This can be challenging, but that doesn't mean it's all negative.
The Church is a called-out people - called to know and love the Lord and called to go and serve the Lord. The Gospel hasn't changed, nor has it lost its power. The message of forgiveness, of strength for today and genuine hope for tomorrow, is still relevant and attractive in 2019. People still need the Lord. We need to find new ways of sharing and showing his love to those around us.
Q. Has religion helped, or hindered, the people of Northern Ireland?
A. Both. Bad religion, shaped by unbiblical sectarianism, is a cancer that eats away at the fabric of our society. True religion, however, or perhaps better stated as genuine Christian faith, speaks of the priority of reconciliation - first with God, through Jesus Christ, then with our fellow men and women in the name of Jesus Christ.
Q. What is your favourite film, book and music?
A. The film would be Shawshank Redemption, the book Knowing God by James Packer and the music a hymn called Loved With Everlasting Love.
Q. Where do you feel closest to God?
A. Often, in a time of worship, when together we know the father's blessing, the son's presence and the spirit's power - simply heavenly.
Q. What inscription would you like on your gravestone?
A. Trevor Gribben is not here - he's away home!
Q. Finally, have you any major regrets?
A. Of course, but they pale into insignificance when I realise that it all doesn't depend on me and that, because of God's amazing grace, he has forgiven me for all those times I've got it wrong.