Belfast Telegraph

Karen Bushby: 'My dad told me that, after my brother Keith, who had epilepsy, died when he was just 16, my mum said she hadn't stopped believing in God, she'd just fallen out with him for a bit... I totally empathise with that'

What I Believe: Karen Bushby

Breaking ground: Karen Bushby, is the first female editor of the Church of Ireland Gazette
Breaking ground: Karen Bushby, is the first female editor of the Church of Ireland Gazette
Alf McCreary

By Alf McCreary

Karen Bushby is the newly appointed editor of the Church of Ireland Gazette and is also diocesan communications officer for the Church of Ireland Diocese of Connor. She is married to Matthew and the couple have three children, Aaron, Victoria and Ruby.

Q: Can you tell us something about yourself?

A: I have been diocesan communications officer for the Church of Ireland Diocese of Connor for 13 years and will continue to do this job alongside my new role as editor of the Church of Ireland Gazette. The gazette is 163 years old and I am the first female editor, which is quite an honour and a challenge.

I am married to Matthew and we have three children. We live in Banbridge. My father, Robert (Jim) Russell, is a civil engineer and worked for the old Banbridge Urban and Rural Council before moving to the Water Service. He recently retired as clerk of session in Banbridge Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church after more than 40 years.

My late mother, Denise, was a PE teacher for many years and latterly taught in the special needs unit at Banbridge High School before she retired. My sister Diana followed in her footsteps and teaches at Bridge Primary School in Banbridge. Our family was devastated by the very sudden death of my brother Keith, who had epilepsy, in 1987, when he was just 16. This left a gaping hole that will never be filled.

Q: What about your education and career?

A I went to Banbridge Academy and I have a degree in English and History from Loughborough University. My first job was as a cub reporter with the Banbridge Chronicle, before moving to London to work with the Informer group of newspapers, who sponsored me to do a graduate course in journalism. I was awarded my proficiency certificate from the National Council for the Training of Journalists in 1990.

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I met Matthew when he visited Ireland with a university friend of mine. The day after returning home to Kent, he flew back to Northern Ireland. The rest, as they say, is history.

Matthew and I backpacked around the world for a year during 1990-91 and I came to the realisation that Northern Ireland was, for me, the most beautiful place. We returned in 1992, living in Omagh and then Armagh, but moved back to Banbridge to be closer to my family when our children were small. They are much bigger now. Aaron is studying astrophysics at UCLan in Preston and Victoria is doing zoology at Bangor in north Wales. Ruby, who is 14, shares her sister’s passion for animals and is a budding singer-songwriter and musical theatre performer. After working for the Tyrone Constitution in Omagh, the Ulster Gazette in Armagh and the Tyrone Times in Dungannon, I moved into freelance public relations in 2002. I was Northern Ireland co-ordinator of the National Lottery’s 10th anniversary in 2004-05.

Matthew had given up his job in the Civil Service in central London to move to Northern Ireland and did a Masters degree in environmental management at the then University of Ulster in Coleraine. He now works as countryside services manager with the Mourne Heritage Trust. Both Matthew and our daughter Victoria are karate black belts.

I have been a member of Banbridge Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church since the age of five and was earlier this year installed as an elder.

Q: Have you ever had a crisis of faith?

A A crisis of faith, yes. When someone you love dies suddenly and inexplicably, someone good, someone who has so much to live for and so much to give, you have to ask why this supposedly loving, kind God would let this happen. Yet, when I was drowning in grief following the loss of my brother, I was encouraged by a good friend to turn to the Bible for support and the passage that still comforts me today comes from John 14:2: “In my father’s house there are many rooms.”

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

A Angry isn’t the right word, but, like everyone else, I so often ask, “Why, why?” Famine, plane crashes, earthquakes, abuse, suicide. God, how could you let this happen? Yes, I was angry when my brother died. I was angry when my mum, who was the fittest, youngest looking 73-year-old you would ever meet, died suddenly of an aortic aneurysm one Tuesday afternoon. I was angry with the world, with God, with everyone. But you cannot stay angry. You go back to the question: why? And, in my case, I take some comfort in knowing that, while God may not reveal his reasons to me, he created me and everyone else and he calls us home. He has a plan.

My father told me just recently that, after my brother died, my mother said she hadn’t stopped believing in God, she had just fallen out with him for a bit. I can totally empathise with that.

Q: Do you ever get criticised for your faith?

A: No, I have never been criticised, at least not to my face. I practise my faith quietly. Anyone who knows me will know I go to the church beside the leisure centre in Banbridge and that I work for the Church of Ireland, but they would be taken aback if I started to chat about Jesus, or quote the Bible to them. But in my job, reporting faith in action, perhaps I am fulfilling discipleship and, in that respect, some criticism does come my way.

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

A: I have been disappointed by decisions taken within the Church, but in any large body (or even small committee) there are going to be disagreements and differences of opinion. My church ultimately strives to bring people into a closer relationship with God and that is not ever something to be ashamed of.

Q: Are you afraid to die?

A: I am in no hurry to die. I am enjoying the blessed life I have been given in this glorious, glorious world. But when the time comes, I know that, in one of those many rooms Jesus talks about in John 14, my brother and my mum will be waiting to welcome me home.

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

A: I have been privileged to visit Buddhist temples in Thailand, Indonesia and Hawaii; Hindu temples in India; the Temple of Heaven in Beijing; the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and the Passar al-Jazzar Mosque in Acre, Israel. There is a spirituality in all those places of worship. Seeing other faiths in action can help us be more tolerant of others.

Q: Do you think that the churches here are fulfilling their mission?

A: The churches here are fulfilling their mission more than ever, because, in many cases, they no longer have the luxury of waiting for people to come to them. Church members are stepping outside their handsome building and, through their actions and good work, be it teaching children at risk of exclusion from school, providing essential items for families in disadvantaged areas, raising funds for charity, opening doors for refugees and so much more, are demonstrating and sharing the love of Jesus.

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

A: Around the world, many evil acts have been committed in the name of religion and that includes Northern Ireland. Around the world, people of faith have also blessed lives with their words and deeds and that also includes Northern Ireland.

Q: Your favourite film, book and music, and why?

A: My favourite film is Bagdad Cafe. It is difficult to name a favourite book, but Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy was amazing and a recent favourite is Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Regarding music, I am a complete philistine.

I used to take part in a lot of sport — swimming, squash and hockey in my schooldays, jogging and the gym as I got older. Now, I just love long walks with our dogs, Pepper and Toby.

Q: Finally, do you have any major regrets?

A: Yes, I should have stopped colouring my hair decades ago. Just think of the time and money I would have saved.

Thought of the week: Allen Sleith: Divisiveness in modern world

Ecclesiastes says there is no end to the writing of books, yet once in a while one attains the status of "breakthrough" or a "classic", for example, The Master and His Emissary by Iain McGilchrist. An expert in literature, neuroscience and philosophy, McGilchrist's thesis is stated in the sub-title: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. Research on the brain's two hemispheres reveals that though each can work independently, ideally they are meant to perform in tandem in a sort of criss-crossing of specific functions that enable the mind, and thus the person, to think and act in better ways.

The right hemisphere majors on direct encounters presented to the person in interactions with individuals in a wider context and is therefore appreciative of what is often implicit, evolving and interconnected in holistic patterns that pose the "how" questions. The left hemisphere has more to do with processing and re-presenting these prior experiences into systems, mechanisms, rules and procedures, to gain a greater measure of control over a narrower field. Ideally, the brain works best when the right hemisphere takes priority over the left, open to the flux of life and the flow of events on which the left hemisphere performs its more analytical work, the left then giving way to the right, then the right to the left again in a spiralling to-and-fro to maximise our best possible understanding and appropriate response.

McGilchrist argues that our modern world with its emphasis on technology, productivity, consumption, information technology and social media has allowed left hemisphere thinking to predominate with the baleful consequences we now suffer from and contribute to in so many areas of life.

Left hemisphere thinking wants or needs to organise, control, reduplicate and administratively regulate. Lamentably, such phenomena are self-evidently parts of the package that so dehumanises us.

No wonder we're under such threat from the fundamentalisms of religion and of secularism alike. Albert Einstein perceptively said: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant; we have created a society that honours the servant but has forgotten the gift."

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