Belfast Telegraph

Owen Crane: When my friend was raped, I was overwhelmed by horror and asked myself why God hadn't stopped it

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

Reaching out: Owen Crane, of the Community Fellowship Church, enjoys working with other denominations
Reaching out: Owen Crane, of the Community Fellowship Church, enjoys working with other denominations
Alf McCreary

By Alf McCreary

Owen Crane (41) grew up in Newick, a village in East Sussex he describes as being "a bit like the setting for the Vicar of Dibley - it's a beautiful place and I loved living there".

He spent most of his adult life in the north of England, studying business management at Manchester Metropolitan University and working in telecoms before moving into the charity sector.

He worked for Christians Against Poverty until moving to Northern Ireland almost eight years ago in a church leadership role.

He is married to Anne, whose father lives in Glengormley. The husband and wife have three children, aged 18, 15 and 12.

Owen has been senior pastor at the Community Fellowship Church for two years. It is a non-denominational church that started life as a prayer meeting during the Troubles.

There are several congregations in Belfast, including in Strandtown, Stranmillis and Ballymacarret, as well as in Antrim and Holywood.

A total of around 1,000 adults and 500 children attend services in the different locations each Sunday.

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Q. How and when did you come to faith?

A. At 15 when, for the first time, I was acutely aware of my own distance from God. You could call it an awakening, because I not only had an understanding of my distance from Him, but I had an overwhelming realisation of His love for me.

From that point on, I lived a double life - my Christian, church-going life, and my partying, messing-around life. This was typically adolescent, with an over-indulgence in alcohol and chasing too many girls. That was not healthy at all.

It all came to a head during my second year of university, when I was 20. I realised my two lives were incompatible and I had to make a choice. I chose the way of Jesus and things have never been the same.

Sunday gatherings are one aspect of the way of Jesus, but He makes a difference in all areas of my life. I try to work out His teachings in my relationships, my work, my creativity and my leisure time. He is the God of all things, not just Sundays.

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

A. Definitely. My crisis came a few years ago, when I was overwhelmed with the horror of our world - in particular, some horrendous circumstances endured by a friend of mine. I struggled to reconcile the goodness of God with the evil I saw.

My friend, a Christian, was raped. I found that hard to reconcile with a God who is a loving father. Why did He not step in and stop it? That made me angry.

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

A. My anger was a clear part of the crisis that I mentioned before. I remember being so angry that I could not talk to Him, yet I couldn't deny His existence. I later came to realise it wasn't God's fault that my friend was raped and that He was completely with her in the healing of the situation. There will be a time when all pain will cease and all sorrow will end. That keeps me going.

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

A. Not a lot, really. It feels like people are more likely to ignore the way of Jesus than criticise it. I actually prefer the criticism, because it shows people are at east engaging with faith.

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

A. Not the Community Fellowship Church specifically, but certainly the wider church as a whole. Any time we exploit the poor or justify racism or misogyny, I feel sad. When we fail to show love, understanding or compassion, it breaks my heart. The abuse scandal is a good example. The traditional Church gets hit with headlines, but it's happened in smaller, less well-known churches as well.

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

A. I'm not afraid of dying, but I'm concerned about what would happen to my family if I died today.

Q. And what about hell? Do you worry about that?

A. Not at all. The Cross of Jesus dealt with it.

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

A. Absolutely. The truth is, we don't fully know what it will be like. The Bible gives us glimpses and some amazing promises but is light on specifics. I don't believe it will be the cartoon of us sitting on fluffy clouds, strumming harps.

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

A. We try to work with, bless and support other denominations. We are all different aspects of the same family. Other faiths I respect and honour. I want a society where people of all faiths and none can feel safe and at peace. We work with a Baptist church in running a debt-counselling centre and we also support a food bank run by an Anglican church. The Community Fellowship Church has members from every denomination I can think of.

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

A. I would love that. I meet to pray with Presbyterians, Catholics, Anglicans, independents and others.

Q. Do you think churches here are fulfilling their mission?

A. I'm encouraged by the work of churches across Belfast. They are feeding the hungry, including the lonely, and caring for the elderly. They're running youth programmes, homework clubs and debt-counselling services. They're doing all they can to follow the way of Jesus.

The people I've spoken to tell me they are searching for life, for a connection, a genuine community with God and with people who follow Him. I don't think that we, as the church, have always provided that.

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

A. As a blow-in, that's a hard question for me to answer. We have done some amazing things, but we've also done some things that do not display the kindness of Jesus.

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

A. People have been told they are not good enough for God to love them, that if they were 'better' then God would accept them. If they lived a religious life, prayed, read the Bible, did not swear, or drink alcohol, then God would be happy with them. The idea that I could do enough to make myself acceptable to God is absurd. That's the reason for the Cross. I am not, and never can be, good enough. That's why I need Jesus.

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

A. My favourite films would always include adventure and good-versus-evil conflict. The films include Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Casablanca, The Italian Job and The Breakfast Club. The books would be The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, and the Power of One, by Bryce Courtenay.

Q. Where do you feel closest to God?

A. I feel closest to God when I'm at the beach.

Q. What inscription would you like on your gravestone?

A. I would like 'home at last' on my gravestone.

Q. And what about regrets? Any major ones?

A. Not really. I've made many dumb mistakes, but I know I can't change them, so I try my best to learn and grow.

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