Alf McCreary: ‘My parents provided a positive example of everyday Christian faith with no real pressure on us to believe... quite remarkable as dad was a Church of Ireland rector’
In conversation with The Rt Rev Ken Good, Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry and Raphoe
The Rt Rev Ken Good (66) grew up in Cork and went to school at Midleton College.
After graduating from Trinity College Dublin in French, Spanish and New Testament Greek, he studied theology at Nottingham University, where he met his wife, Mary, who is from Seattle and was studying for a Certificate in Theology.
They were married in 1977, a month after Ken's ordination as curate of Willowfield Parish in Belfast. They now have three adult children, Jenny, a university lecturer in London, Peter, a primary-school teacher in Nottingham, and Andrew, a civil engineer in Dublin, and three granddaughters.
The Rt Rev Good was chaplain and head of RE at Ashton Comprehensive School in Cork, Rector of Dunganstown in Co Wicklow, Rector of Shankill Parish in Lurgan and Archdeacon of Dromore. He became Bishop of Derry and Raphoe in 2002, and will be retiring in May this year.
His retirement will be spent between Moira and Fanad in Donegal. He also hopes to travel and do some voluntary work.
The Rt Rev Good played hockey and cricket for Munster Schools and senior rugby and tennis at school. He is an 18-handicap golfer and has run the Dublin Marathon twice.
Q. How and when did you come to faith?
A. I'm one of six children who were blessed to have parents who provided a positive example of normal, everyday Christian faith, without any real pressure on us to believe or conform.
That was quite remarkable, because my father, Canon Raymond Good, was a Church of Ireland rector in Co Cork. My mother was called Jean.
I learned from my father the value of down-to-earth pastoral ministry. He also taught us the benefits of a physically active lifestyle and maintaining a well-kept garden, mainly vegetables. He remained very healthy and alert until his death, at 96.
I enjoyed going to Scripture Union summer camps, and it was there that my faith came alive in a personal and meaningful way.
Despite the ups and downs of adolescence, my faith in my teenage years - and ever since - played a pivotal role in my life. I've more convinced than ever that the challenge, the content, the boundaries, hope and enrichment which faith offers provide the best way in which to live.
Q. Have you ever had a crisis of faith, or a gnawing doubt about your faith?
A. Sometimes in ministry, you come across difficult, complex pastoral situations which seem unfair to those caught at the centre. It can be hard to make sense of them theologically and, at those moments, tough questions surface in my mind and I long for clearer answers.
However, I remain convinced that God is a God of love and justice. Even though I might not understand why things happen, He can be trusted.
Q. Have you ever been angry with God? And if so, why?
A. Frustrated? Yes. Disappointed? Maybe. Angry? No. When things haven't turned out the way I've hoped, I've sometimes struggled, but the fault is mine. I have to accept that God's timing is different from mine.
I've grappled with the randomness of illness and tragedy, especially when young people suffer; inequality, even though greed is more often than not a major cause; the frailty of human decision-making; and the mistakes we go on repeating.
Q. Do you ever get criticised for your faith? And are you able to live with that criticism?
A. I don't think I've ever been criticised purely for my faith, but I am sometimes criticised because of something I've said. As a church leader, decisions have to be made and things have to be said which some people find hard to accept. Sometimes, critical letters come in, expressing views forthrightly. People have every right to do so. I can live with robust dialogue, so long as there's mutual respect.
Q. Are you ever ashamed of your own Church, or denomination?
A. All churches are made up of human beings, who get things wrong and make mistakes, as I do. Thankfully, God is merciful. We too must strive to be merciful and forgiving.
Q. Are you afraid to die, or can you look beyond it?
A. One of life's greatest challenges is to be ready and able to die well. As I get older, I become more conscious of the inevitability of death. I can look beyond death, because I believe that this physical world is not all there is.
Q. And what about hell, do you worry about it?
A. No, I am not worried about hell.
Q. Do you believe in a resurrection? And if so, what will it be like?
A. I'm convinced of it, because Jesus is risen and he has opened the door to eternal life for those whose trust is in him. I've no real sense of what it'll be like, but I've no worries, because I trust him.
Q. Would you be comfortable in stepping out from your own faith and trying to learn something from other people?
A. In today's increasingly multicultural society, we all have a great deal to learn from one another. We need to understand better each other's faiths and motivations.
Q. Do you think that the churches here are fulfilling their mission?
A. We can always do better - I'm not sure if that's the preacher or the teacher in me - but churches should always be seeking to do better, and we could always be more effective in the way we serve God and work for the benefit of others.
Churches are called to play their part in transforming the community around them by radiating the love of Christ, so there's still a lot of work to be done.
Q. Why are many people turning their backs on organised religion?
A. While churches need to accept some responsibility for coming across as somewhat off-putting, it's also true that, in our more comfortable, materialistic Western society, people can dismiss a life of faith, which demands commitment, discipline and service. Being a Christian is never an easy option.
Q. Has religion helped or hindered the people of Northern Ireland?
A. Anywhere religion - any religion - has been identified with a political viewpoint, it's often been to the detriment of that religion and society in general. Having said that, I'm convinced that here in Northern Ireland, right across the community, people's deep, personal Christian faith has been a real source of comfort in times of sorrow, of hope during some of the darkest moments, and prevented the situation from becoming even worse than what is was.
Q. What is your favourite film, book and music?
A. My favourite film is Mr Holland's Opus, starring Richard Dreyfuss. My favourite books would be Susan Howatch's Starbridge series on the Church of England. As for music, everything from Paul Simon's Bridge Over Troubled Water to Chopin's Second Piano Concerto. I also love to sing bass in a choir, and take part annually in performances of Handel's Messiah, or Faure's Requiem.
Q. Where do you feel closest to God?
A. I love being part of a large congregation, especially when singing great hymns of praise to God. But, first thing every morning, I spend at least 45 minutes on my own in prayer. I write in my daily prayer journal as I reflect on the scripture readings from the lectionary. It's become a key - I'd even say indispensable - part of my day.
Q. Have you liked being in Londonderry?
A. It's a vibrant and welcoming city, and I've loved living and working here. Relationships with other church leaders have been very positive. I've enjoyed working with (Catholic) Bishop Donal McKeown. We've built a brilliant working relationship and a great friendship and we have sought to give a lead in bridge-building.
Q. What inscription would you like on your gravestone?
A. He served faithfully and courageously. To God be the glory.
Q. And what about regrets? Any major ones
A. Some of my friends think I should regret ever having become a Newcastle United fan.