Belfast Telegraph

Alf McCreary: ‘Now that my wife Pat is a bishop, our lives don’t feel any different from when she was a curate and rector’

In our continuing series, we talk to leading figures about their faith

Strong bond: Rev Earl Storey with his wife Patricia
Strong bond: Rev Earl Storey with his wife Patricia
Alf McCreary

By Alf McCreary

Rev Earl Storey (60) was brought up in Enniskillen, where his parents, Jack and Ena, both now deceased, ran a grocery and building supplies business. He was educated in Northern Ireland and at the University of Kent.

He was ordained as a Church of Ireland cleric and served as a parish minister for some 20 years in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. He was rector of Crinken in Dublin, as well as Glenavy and Crumlin and, from 2005-2008, he was director of the Church of Ireland Hard Gospel project, which was established to address sectarianism and living with difference.

In 2003, he wrote Traditional Roots: An Appropriate Relationship between the Church of Ireland and the Orange Order (Columba Press).

In 2008, he founded Topstorey Communications and has worked with organisations as diverse as the GAA, the Orange Order, development agencies, Churches and individuals.

He is the author of a number of other publications, including a report for the Community Relations Council entitled Beyond the Pale: Church and the Decade of Historic Commemorations.

Rev Storey has been editor of the Church of Ireland Gazette for several years.

He is married to the Rt Rev Patricia Storey, Bishop of Meath and Kildare, the first female Anglican bishop to be appointed in the UK and Ireland. They live in Kildare and have two grown-up children and a grandson, aged two.

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Q. How and when did you come to faith?

A. An important part of my journey was growing up in a rural Co Fermanagh parish, where I learned the basics of the faith. I studied law at the University of Kent - my grand life plan was to become a barrister, to earn plenty of money and to have fun.

University was a great experience, but also unsettling. The unsettling part was that the fun, the prospect of a career I'd longed for and money didn't seem to be enough. Trying to make sense of it all involved conversations with an Anglican university chaplain. The one thing I remember the chaplain saying was: "You are on a journey."

Half-way through my first year, I went along to a mission at the university. There were no blinding lights, emotional highs, or moments of great revelation. It was a simple realisation that what I didn't need at that moment was more knowledge of the faith; what I needed was to make an adult response to what I already knew. So, that is I what I did. Faith is an integral part of my life. I recognise the frailties and messiness of my own life and feel genuinely personally dependent on God.

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

A. I have spent significant times in my life thinking about faith and whether it makes sense intellectually. I wouldn't believe it if I didn't think it was true. I still believe it is. The journey, for me, is more about allowing God's love and presence to be something that I feel and experience.

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

A. I'm challenged by the things we are all challenged with - trying to make sense of suffering, disasters, wars and other things that seem to have no explanation. I don't have answers for any of those things. The one hope I have is that Christ somehow brings light into any darkness.

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

A. As a student, I spent a summer travelling around Europe, when the Iron Curtain still existed. I became aware of the difficulties that Christians had at that time, whether in meeting together, or even getting access to Bibles. Of course, things have radically changed since then.

I am also aware that persecution is a weekly, if not daily, experience for millions of Christians worldwide - it is estimated that over 200 million Christians are at constant risk of persecution.

So, when I compare my experience with others, I am not especially aware of being criticised for my faith.

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

A. Church is like anything else: the more we get to know it, the more we realise its foibles, failures and things that it gets wrong. I also realise that, as a member of the Church, I am just as much responsible for its failings as anyone, or anything, else.

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

A. I am not afraid of dying, although I hope the process will be as peaceful as possible.

Q. Are you worried about hell at all?

A. My belief and hope is in God's mercy and forgiveness and I am genuinely thankful for it.

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

A. Yes, I believe in a resurrection, although I don't know what it will look or feel like. That is why Easter is such a comfort - reminding me that death does not have the last word.

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

A. My most fundamental sense of identity is as a Christian. The Church of Ireland has been an important part of my spiritual journey. However, Christians and Churches of other denominations have also been important in my spiritual development as well. I am always glad to respectfully engage and build friendships with people of other faiths.

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

A. There is no "one-size-fits-all" answer to this question. One thing I notice is more openness in Churches to ask the fundamental question of themselves: why are we here? The changing place of Church, faith and Church attendance may all be part of why there is that willingness to ask fundamental questions of ourselves. Whatever the reason, I think the willingness to start with that question is a healthy thing.

The management guru Richard Drucker says there are two crucial questions which any organisation should ask itself: what's your business and how's business? When we are willing to ask ourselves the first of those questions, then the second question will flow naturally from that. That can only be healthy.

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

A. There is no doubt that the place of Church, faith and organised religion in people's lives is changing. It is probably a mix of growing secularism, disappointment with the human failings of organised religion and a more individualised approach to spiritual belief, with less of a belief in suggestions of external revealed truth.

However, I am still convinced that the Christian faith can speak to the most fundamental need in a person.

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

A. The ordinary, unheralded Christian witness of many people has been a significant contribution for good in Northern Ireland.

We also know that the divisions in our community have followed both political and religious demarcations, which have proven very unhealthy in the past. I still believe that the message of Christ has something life-giving to say to all of us.

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

A. I prefer TV programmes that make me laugh and Fawlty Towers is one of my favourites.

I tend to read books for diversion and relaxation - usually thrillers. I really enjoyed I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes. As I get older, my musical tastes are definitely getting more mellow - usually classical, or folk, music. One of my favourite pieces is Mozart's clarinet concerto.

Q. Where do you feel closest to God?

A. Walking in the peace of the countryside is a good place to think, pray, or just get some headspace.

Q. What inscription would you like on your gravestone?

A. Preferably something simple and short - perhaps reflecting the importance of family relationships to me.

Q. Have you any major regrets?

A. Like anyone else, I have plenty of these, which I share with a few friends and loved ones, but not publicly.

Q. What is it like being married to the first female Anglican bishop in these islands?

A. It isn't any different. I feel that I am married to Pat and we have been married since 1983. I don't feel any different from the time when Pat was a curate and a rector. We both live busy lives and I am grateful for being able to get on with what I am doing. I am sure that it is the same for the wives of male bishops."

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