Rev Dr Harold Good: 'It's time for the Churches to confront our politicians about their moral, as well as political, responsibilities ... and refuse to be silenced until there is a positive response'
In conversation with Rev Dr Harold Good
Rev Dr Harold Good is a former President of the Methodist Church. In 2005, along with Fr Alec Reid, from Clonard, he oversaw the decommissioning of paramilitary arms. He was appointed OBE in 1986 and given the World Methodist Peace Award in 2007.
Q Can you tell us something about your background?
A I was born in Derry/Londonderry on April 27, 1937, where my father, the Rev Robert J Good, was superintendent minister of the Derry City Methodist Mission. My mother was Doris (nee Allen) and my elder brothers were Peter and Robin.
As a child, I was a victim of bovine tuberculosis and was strapped flat on my back to a frame for three years, which prevented me from starting school until I was almost nine.
In 1945, my father was moved to what is now the East Belfast Mission. I began my schooling at Strandtown Primary and, later, Methodist College. In 1950, my father moved to Knock Methodist Church, where, 34 years later, it was my privilege to minister.
In 1956, I was accepted as a candidate for the Methodist ministry. I studied in Edgehill College and, later, in the United States.
This year is my "diamond jubilee", 60 years as an itinerant Methodist minister, having served in a variety of circuits and situations, as far apart as the Corrymeela Community and Waterford, where I was to meet and marry Clodagh Coad.
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We recently celebrated our 55th wedding anniversary, with a family of five children, 12 grandchildren and now our first great-grandson.
In retirement, my life seems no less busy, but without responsibility, which gives me time for informal pastoral opportunities, often as I walk my dog, and opportunities to preach. I am still trusted across the "divide", which involves me in a variety of meetings, conversations and quiet facilitation.
Q How and when did you come to faith?
A Growing up in a manse, the Church was a natural and normal extension of our family life. In my mid-teens, I was part of a class for Church membership known as a "preparation class", where we were helped to understand more clearly the fundamentals of our faith and the challenge of what it means to be a follower of Christ.
When invited to make a personal commitment to all that this represented, I had no hesitation. I was also very influenced by a book entitled What Christ Means To Me by Wilfred Grenfell, a doctor, who spent his life serving in Labrador.
Q Have you ever had a crisis of faith, or a gnawing doubt about your faith?
A No, but this is not to say that I do not question some aspects of what I am expected to believe, as stated in traditional creeds and theological formulae. GK Chesterton once said: "There lives more faith in honest doubt than in half the creeds." The longer I live, the less certain I am about many things, but the more certain I am about the things which really matter.
Q Do you ever get criticised for your faith? And are you able to live with that criticism?
A Outside of the Church, it has been my privilege to have known, and worked in more secular settings with, wonderful people, who do not necessarily share my faith. In cherishing their friendship, never once have I sensed anything other than respect for who I am and what they know I believe. Sadly, there others who make loud professions of their own faith, who have criticised me for what they see to be failings in mine.
Q Are you ever ashamed of your own Church, or denomination?
A Like ourselves, none of our institutions is perfect and too often we have failed to live up to our own ideals. I have to confess to being an unashamed Methodist, partly because of our history and our contribution to society rooted in John Wesley's understanding of the Gospel, reminding us that "there is no holiness which is not social holiness", and partly because of our reputation for being a bridge Church in our tragically broken and deeply divided society.
Q Are you afraid to die? Or can you look beyond death?
A Naturally, I want to delay the event as long as I can and I doubt if any of us looks forward to the journey itself. But, as an inveterate traveller, I am curious as to where it takes me. For the moment, I am happy to speculate.
Q Are you worried about hell?
A I am much more concerned about the hell in which so many of our starving, stateless and suffering fellow inhabitants of this otherwise good earth must live - and the hell we make it for each other in our failure to combat war and pestilence.
Q Do you believe in a resurrection? And, if so, what will it be like?
A Death, as is true of so much in life, is shrouded in mystery. But I hold to the words of Jesus, which I read at every funeral I conduct. He spoke of a spacious place with "many mansions" and to those who worried about such things he said: "I am going to prepare a place for you, so that where I am you may be also." So, quit worrying. There is nothing to be afraid of.
Q What do you think about people of other denominations and other faiths?
A I have spent my entire ministry seeking to encourage and restore relationships between Christians of every denomination. What have we to say to a broken world when we are so divided? It was Jesus who prayed that we all might be one, "so that the world might believe".
Q Do you think that the Churches here are fulfilling their mission?
A The easy answer is "yes" and "no". "Yes" in the role of the local Church as providers of excellent youth services and in the offering of pastoral care within their communities, but to be true to the biblical role of the people of God we are called to be prophetic as well as pastoral.
Many of our Churches continue to make splendid statements about critical social and political issues, yet many of these aspirational statements have failed to be incarnated into the daily life and pastoral practice of parish and political life. In our present political impasse and chaos, it is time for our Churches, together and unapologetically, to confront our politicians about their moral, as well as political, responsibilities, refusing to be silenced until there is a positive response.
But let us not forget that the Church is the whole people of God, not just the clergy.
Q Has religion helped, or hindered, the people of Northern Ireland?
A For many people, at a personal level, spiritually and pastorally, the answer has to be "Yes". However, when it comes to the divisions and discord within our society, we in the Churches must be among the first to accept responsibility for our part in the causes of our conflict, as much in what we have failed to do and say as in what we may have said and done, particularly when we have confused our loyalties to political preferences with our loyalty to the Kingdom of God.
Q What is your favourite film, book and music, and why?
A I hate war, but I loved the film War Horse. To relax, any book by John Grisham, or Walter Macken. For spiritual encouragement, Philip Yancey - particularly What's So Amazing About Grace? For music, it has to be the songs of redemption in Les Miserables, The Messiah and the enduring hymns of Charles Wesley.
Q Where do you feel closest to God?
A I know I am expected to say the beach at Ballycastle, but where I feel God's presence the most is when I sit at a bedside, or a fireside, and have the incredible pastoral privilege of sharing God's love and grace with someone who is hurting, anxious, or grieving.
Q What inscription would you like on your gravestone?
A As my ashes will be scattered on the Straits of Moyle, a headstone will not be required. But as what is left of me floats on the water, I would like my family and friends to sing, "There's a wideness in God's mercy/like the wideness of the sea".
Q Have you any major regrets?
A I will spare you the long list. In my busyness, I regret that I did not give more time to my family. I ask them to forgive me for that.