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Peter Quigley: 'My birth mother placed me in a Dublin orphanage, the Bethany Home, in Rathgar. More than 220 children died there from neglect and malnutrition. I am one of the fortunate ones... a Bethany survivor'

In conversation with Peter Quigley


Positive action: former Baptist youth officer Peter Quigley

Positive action: former Baptist youth officer Peter Quigley

Positive action: former Baptist youth officer Peter Quigley

Peter Quigley is a former Baptist youth officer, who has held leadership roles with a number of Northern Ireland's key charities, including Age Concern, the Northern Ireland Hospice, Action Cancer and the East Belfast Mission. He has been married to Beryl for almost 25 years.

Q Can you tell us something about your background?

A I describe myself on Twitter as a "motivator, mentor and community activist, now 74". I believe that, for me, life is about positive action. Martin Luther King said: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter."

I was born in 1945 in Thorndale House, a Salvation Army hostel in north Belfast. My mother returned to Dublin and placed me in an orphanage - the Bethany Home, Rathgar. More than 220 children died in that home between 1922 and 1949 from neglect and malnutrition. Those children were buried in unmarked graves in Mount Jerome Cemetery. I share that, because I am one of the fortunate ones - a Bethany Home survivor.

In 1949, I was adopted by Bertie and Violet Quigley. An advert had been placed in the Faith Mission magazine, Bright Words. I understand that it said: "Good homes required for Protestant Boys." Obviously, Bertie and Violet saw this advertisement. And the rest is history.

I arrived in Bovevagh, Co Londonderry around my fourth birthday in 1949 and it appears that I started school immediately. My adoptive parents had four children. The only surviving member is my sister, Winsome, and we keep in regular contact.

When I was 42, I managed to trace my birth mother, Peggy, and met up with her on Mother's Day 1987 at her home in Bognor Regis. Regrettably, my mother had cancer and passed away 18 months later.

Q How did you come to faith?

A Growing up in the heartland of Co Londonderry in the 1950s, there was little to do other than go to church, Sunday school, gospel meetings and missions. As a result of that, one of the incredible blessings was memorising great passages of the King James Version of the Bible. I guess, from an early age, I understood that, in order to be a follower of Jesus, I had to make that choice.

However, it was not until I was 19, when there was a gospel mission in the local Orange hall, that I took that step of faith. Before that eight-week mission was over, Marjorie Surgenor, the evangelist, had me involved in the meetings, doing the Bible readings and conducting quizzes.

Within a few weeks of that event, I saw an advertisement in the Christian Herald that the Sandes Soldiers and Airmen Homes required Christian workers. I came to Belfast for an interview in the head office in Clifton Street and started working with Tom and Edna Hamblin at the Sandes Home at Ballykelly RAF Station. Sometime later, I moved to Catterick Military Garrison Sandes Home.

In 1967, I entered the Irish Baptist College for four years of theological studies. Following this, I was appointed as Baptist youth officer for the Baptist Union of Ireland.

Q Have you ever had a crisis of faith?

A In 1980, when I was pastor of a church in Glamorgan, south Wales, I had a real crisis. There were extremely difficult issues in my marriage. I was caring for three young sons and endeavouring to pastor a church and I crashed - emotionally, financially, physically and spiritually. I hit the rocks. However, I could never deny what I knew to be true and that was that, when I trusted Jesus with my life, his holy spirit had taken up residence in me.

It was that knowledge and awareness and the comfort of God's spirit within me that got me through. I am now married to Beryl and we have been happily married for almost 25 years.

Q Are you ashamed of the Church?

A For me, the good news of the Gospel is all about love, grace, acceptance and forgiveness. I have real difficulties in recognising the 'Jesus' that some Churches present. We seem to specialise in a hard, judgmental Gospel in these islands. The radical Jesus that we read about, who made time for the marginalised of his society, seems so far removed from some of the teaching I hear today.

Q How do you feel about death?

A For me, this is where the reality of faith kicks in. I am so grateful for the words of Jesus: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. I go to prepare a place for you."

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

A As a child, I played for what seemed like endless days in a wee glen near my home. It had a burn running through it. I loved it and when we sang that old Gospel hymn, "There is a happy land far, far away/Where saints in glory stand bright, bright as day", my mind would turn to my happy land in Bovevagh Glen.

I'm excited about the happy land that my Heavenly Father has created. There is such a vivid description of Heaven and what will and won't be there in the Book of Revelation: no tears, no pain, no sin, no night. The presence and peace of God will fill every life. That sounds good to me. An eternal happy land.

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

A That great prayer of Jesus in chapter 17 of John's Gospel is my guiding light: "My prayer is that they all may be one."

Connecting with others and sharing in conversation and fellowship is a vital part of my Christian life.

Reconciliation is at the heart of the Gospel. I have a confidence in my faith and God's hold on me that motivates me to the widest community engagement.

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

A This is a challenging one. Perhaps too many Churches have alienated the very people that Jesus calls us to help. Thankfully, there are Churches with life and energy making a difference in their communities.

If I don't like the coffee and the service in a particular cafe, then my desire for caffeine will drive me to a good source. For me, I need to engage with a Church that ministers to my brokenness and is inclusive and compassionate.

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

A Religion does get a bad Press in Northern Ireland and that is understandable. There are far too many instances where strict religious observances have got in the way of the Gospel and alienated people from the liberating power of the grace of God.

I love the story that Jesus told of the wayward son, who ran away from home.

The Prodigal Son ended up in the depths of despair and, as he returned home, his father rushed to embrace him, even though he smelt of pig swill. Christian faith is not about religion; rather, it is about a personal relationship with the God/man Jesus, who loved me enough to die for me.

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

A The very first Western I saw on the big screen at the Regal Cinema in Limavady was Shane starring Alan Ladd. I could relate to Joey, the wee fellow in the best Western of all time.

Nelson Mandela's autobiography, A Long Walk to Freedom, is one of my outstanding reads.

I was introduced to classical music when I was studying at the Irish Baptist College. One of the first LPs I bought then was Brahms Violin Concerto. I still have that record - and I love it.

Q Do you have a motto, or favourite saying?

A I like Helen Keller's comment: "Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow."

Q Where do you feel closest to God?

A It depends on the moment. The spirit of God is always present, so in the midst of a crowd, or alone in nature, I feel God close at hand.

Q Have you any major regrets?

A I was delighted to meet my birth mother, Peggy, but circumstances prevented me from spending time with her to discover more about my family. Knowing who my dad was would have been helpful.

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