What I believe: In conversation with Rt Rev Harold Miller
'I'm ashamed when I see the Church being self-serving, lifeless and introverted... but I'm so proud when it becomes what it is supposed to be'
Rt Rev Harold Miller (69) retires on September 30 after 22 years as Bishop of Down and Dromore
Q: Can you tell us something about your background?
A: I was born in 1950 as a "baby boomer". I am an only child of older-than-average parents and, in my childhood, we lived on the Shore Road in Belfast. My father, Harold, worked as a clerk at the Belfast docks and my mother Violet (nee McGinley) was a telephonist at the Ulster Unionist headquarters.
My parents taught me to respect other people, no matter who they were, and to value things, because they did not have a lot themselves.
I was educated at Lowwood Primary School, Belfast High School and Trinity College Dublin, studying English and Philosophy. I met Liz Harper, who was to become my wife nine years later, in my first week at TCD. We have four grown-up children (two boys and two girls), and four grandchildren, with another due this month.
I have had a very varied ministry (curate, tutor in theological college in England, chaplain at Queen's University Belfast, rector of a parish in Cork, which included Blarney!).
I have been Bishop of Down and Dromore for the last 22 years and I am retiring on September 30.
Please log in or register with belfasttelegraph.co.uk for free access to this article.
Q: How and when did you come to faith?
A: I came to faith through the witness of Greencastle Methodist Church and, specifically, at a Boys' Brigade camp in the Isle of Man on July 24, 1965. I knew at that moment that God was real, that Jesus had died for me and that his hand was on my shoulder to claim my whole life for him. It was an immediate realisation and the pivotal moment in my life.
Q: Have you ever had a crisis of faith, or a gnawing doubt about your faith?
A: I have never doubted the existence of God, or the love of Christ, but I have seen both the best and the worst of the Church and the latter has made me wonder about what difference the Christian faith makes. However, I can honestly say that, when I see the best of the Church, it outshines any problems.
Q: Have you ever been angry with God? And, if so, why?
A: I'm not temperamentally a very angry person, so "no" is the answer. However, I have questions where God is when I see people suffering and I have been, at times, disappointed with God.
Q: Do you ever get criticised for your faith? And are you able to live with that criticism?
A: Yes, I have often been criticised. When I was converted, my parents, who had both had bad experiences of evangelicalism, were not very happy. I have developed a remarkably thick skin when it comes to criticism, but I try to take positive criticism onboard. A sense of humour has accompanied me throughout life and helps put things in perspective. I also don't hold grudges and I harbour ill-will towards no one.
Q: Are you ever ashamed of your own Church, or denomination?
A: Much of my ministry has been driven by what I call the "Popeye factor" in relation to the Church - "I can't stand it. I can't stand it no more!" I become ashamed when I see the Church being self-serving, introverted and lifeless, thus denying the power of the Spirit and the life-giving Good News.
But I truly see more and more Churches in my own diocese reaching out, blessing the community in which they live and coming to life. I am so proud when the Church becomes what it is supposed to be.
Q: Are you afraid to die? Or can you look beyond death?
A: No, I am not afraid to die. But I don't like death and I like even less the modern inclination to make death seem like some kind of "friend". That is not a Christian view. Death is the last enemy to be overcome. I am not afraid to die, because I am in Christ - the one who has overcome death and gone before us to prepare a place. He holds eternity in his hands.
Q: Are you worried about hell?
A: I am not worried about a lost eternity, because my faith is in the Lord who has saved me. But I am deeply worried for those who reject him and face a future without a saviour.
Q: Do you believe in a resurrection? And, if so, what will it be like?
A: Paul explains a great deal about the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, in a very clear way. It is not some kind of "fluffy, on the clouds" existence, but an introduction to the fullness of life, the new heaven and the new earth. In the Creed, we declare that we believe in the resurrection of the body, and I do. A new spiritual body, which is eternal.
Q: What do you think about people of other denominations and other faiths?
A: I think denominations for Christians are not the perfect will of the Lord, whose blessing is on unity. But that doesn't mean that we must all be the same.
One of the greatest joys of my life has been working with other believers and seeing greater unity develop, not least across Northern Ireland divides. I detest it when people speak of other denominations as "other faiths". With regard to people who are actually of other faiths, I recognise that they often have much to teach us, I enjoy meeting with them to learn of what they believe and I share with them what I believe about Jesus Christ.
Q: Would you be comfortable in stepping out from your own faith and trying to learn something from other people?
A: Of course. I am happy to learn from others, but I can never, never leave my own faith behind as though it is not the central thing in my life.
Q: Do you think the Churches here are fulfilling their mission?
A: Some are, some aren't; some will, some won't. The ones who seek to fulfil Christ's mission will more than survive; they will flourish.
Q: Why are many people turning their back on organised religion?
A: A variety of reasons: 1 They may see it as hypocritical and authoritarian, especially after the scandals of the last years. 2 They may go to places which they perceive to be dead and nominal and think that is all there is. 3 The spirit of the age embraces vague religion more than specific religion. 4 We live in a rich age of "I-centredness" and many feel that they don't need anything outside of themselves.
Q: Has religion helped, or hindered, the people of Northern Ireland?
A: Both, I think, in equal measure.
Q: What is your favourite music, book and film, and why?
A: My favourite music is Vltava from Ma Vlast by Smetana, because of its beauty and my love of the Czech Republic ever since I went there in the communist days. My favourite book is In the Garden of the Beasts by Erik Larson, or Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow by Peter Hoeg, which are both exceptionally atmospheric. Favourite film? I'm going to choose a Netflix series: The Crown. I will be waiting for the next series in my early retirement and would love to view the whole lot again. Isn't the Queen amazing? And my conscious life has been totally during her reign.
Q: Where do you feel closest to God?
A: Saul Church, on the site of the first church planted by Patrick in 432. It is a "thin" place. That and the New Wine annual conference in Sligo.
Q: What inscription would you like on your gravestone?
A: I announced it to all last week at the Bible Week: A Servant of the Lord.
Q: Have you any major regrets?
A: That I wasn't even more intentional about raising up a new and younger generation in the faith. Nothing matters more for a Christian.