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Alf McCreary

'Heather and I faced miscarriage and infertility. I didn't understand why she was being put through so much pain... nor did I see this was laying the road to adoption'

Alf McCreary

In conversation with Rev Peter Lyle


True blessing: Rev Peter Lyle, wife Heather and daughters Kim (left) and Zoe

True blessing: Rev Peter Lyle, wife Heather and daughters Kim (left) and Zoe

True blessing: Rev Peter Lyle, wife Heather and daughters Kim (left) and Zoe

Rev Peter Lyle is minister of Ballyholme Presbyterian Church. He is married to Heather and they have two daughters, Kim (16) and Zoe (7), both adopted from Thailand.

Q. Can you tell us something about yourself?

A. I am 52 and I was born in Belfast, but grew up in Portrush after my family moved there in 1976. My parents were Sam, who died on April 3 this year, and Pat. I have one sister, Nicola. Heather and I were married in 1991. I was educated in Portrush Primary School, Coleraine Inst, Stranmillis College and Union College in Belfast, prior to my ordination as a Presbyterian minister. I served in First Antrim as assistant minister (1991-95), then as minister in Ringsend and Second Dunboe in Dublin (1995-2002) and I have been at Ballyholme since 2002.

Q. How and when did you come to faith?

A. I grew up with a Sunday School and Boys' Brigade background. In my teens, I was a nightmare for my teachers and leaders as my interest in faith decreased. Yet, even as I drifted, I still noticed their well-worn Bibles, with underlined verses and notes in the margins, and wondered, "What is this that so impacts their lives?"

I now realise that those same teachers and leaders really cared about me. They had discovered the wonder of Jesus, wanted me to discover it and were asking God to make it happen. He did so at Portrush CSSM. I know it was His work, because I was primarily attracted by the girls who attended, especially by a lovely girl called Heather, from Ballycastle.

I found that CSSM presented the Christian faith in a way that I had never considered before - it wasn't churchy, they spoke my language and, as young people, they lived what they talked. When I wasn't looking for it, nor particularly wanting or expecting it, God spoke to me about the wonder of Jesus.

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

A. Being a Christian does not exempt me from trouble in life. I suffered burnout and depression 11 years ago. It was a very dark period and truly horrible. I'd waken up wanting to go to sleep. I couldn't hear God's soundtrack. I was broken. Questions like 'How could this happen and why?' filled my mind, which deeply affected my self-worth. I was sinking and felt powerless to do anything about it. After a year, through medical and spiritual help, things turned around. The Bible says all things are brought together to work for our good. I lived this as God rebuilt me in a new way - hopeful, more accepting of who I am, and stronger.

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

A. I wouldn't say angry. It was just that I did not understand. Heather and I faced miscarriage and infertility. I remember the sparkle in her eyes going out and feeling so useless and powerless to help her. It was a deeply distressing time. I couldn't understand why my lovely Heather was being put through so much physical and emotional pain. Neither could I see that this was laying the road to the adoption of our two girls from Thailand and a whole dazzling new sparkle in Heather's eyes.

Q. Do you ever get criticised for your faith?

A. I have been ignored, but never criticised, for my faith. I don't believe anyone likes to be treated unkindly, or disrespectfully, especially if something is so deeply meaningful to them.

Q. Are you ever ashamed of your own Church?

A. Shame is a strong word. I don't always agree with every decision, or direction, taken. I would feel shame if we forgot justice, ignored mercy, thought more of ourselves than God and didn't speak of the wonder of Jesus.

Q. Are you afraid to die?

A. My dad recently died and I was stunned at the strength and peace I experienced as someone close to it. Obviously, with the parting of ways, it really hurt. But death didn't scare me.

Our girls have really helped to normalise our hope in Christ when they ask, "What do you think Papa is doing now?"

It breathes a strong sense of continuity into what is happening.

Q. Do you believe in a resurrection?

A. The Bible says that not even the most creative imagination can visualise what is going to happen. Considering what creative imaginations in art and science can come up with, that's quite some statement.

I believe in the resurrection of the body and a new Heaven and Earth.

I am thankful for the promise that there will be no more death, suffering, crying, or pain. What a world that will be.

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

A. I have always worked with people from all kinds of Church backgrounds, both locally and around the world, and it has been a deeply enriching experience.

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

A. Yes. I believe we should always be learners. We don't learn by simply listening to what we already know. Sometimes, the best learning and deepening of faith can come from reflecting on different, or contrary, ideas.

Q. Are the Churches here fulfilling their mission?

A. Many Churches are recapturing a sense of mission - to care for the poor and to share the message of Jesus and to help believers mature in their faith and serve in the Church. In Bangor, you would see this in Storehouse North Down, support for Christian Aid and Tear Fund, street prayer, outreach initiatives, ministries to local businesses, partnerships between Church, school and YMCA in providing after-school clubs, involvement in schools and community projects, and discipleship groups.

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

A. There are many possible reasons - attenders who never believed in the first place and are attending no longer, and choreography that is appearing detached, or dated. However, I don't think people are turning away from God, or faith. The coronavirus pandemic has seen a surge in Google searches for faith-related subjects, like prayer. The growth of new expressions of Church is significant.

There is a restlessness in humanity and a yearning for something more. There are many more options in which to go searching today, but I believe what Augustine said - that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.

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

A. In 1991, at a time when others were banned from doing so, my father-in-law met with representatives from both sides of the Troubles, encouraging them towards peaceful dialogue. He did so as a Christian. I believe Northern Ireland benefited from such bold steps.

Q. What is your favourite pastime, book and music?

A. I love travelling, particularly in East Asia, something reflected in our home with our Thai daughters. On sabbatical last year, I visited Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, Cambodia and Singapore. It was wonderful.

My musical choice is at the heavier end of rock, for its energy and emotion. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by CS Lewis is a book that has travelled through my life, revealing new layers of meaning as I age.

Q. Where do you feel closest to God?

A. The kind of place where God changes lives: last year in Cambodia, witnessing lives rescued from exploitation and given the dignity of being loved, retrained in new skills, given support to find employment, a new life and the opportunity to hear about the wonder of Jesus.

Q. What inscription would you like on your gravestone, if any?

A. I'll leave that to someone else.

Q. Finally, have you any major regrets?

A. In my youth, I wish I had understood education better and the blessing of knowledge.

Belfast Telegraph