Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Defining Moments

On Monday our Volunteer In Missions group met at 3 pm with Reverend Harold Good who is a Winner of the World Methodist Peace Prize and was involved in decommissioning of IRA guns.

Reverend Harold Good started with where he comes from, his own journey. He insists his is an ordinary story of a preacher's kid, born in Derry. But, other than the first few year in Derry, he was raised in Belfast and considers it home. His youth was in a suburban part of Belfast, over in the leafy suburbs of East Belfast. His father was Minister first on the Newton Irish Road, and then in the Knock area.

He decided to go into the ministry when he was in his teenage years. He followed the usual route for school and the ministry, all very predictable. His story was different because his father was from County Cork, as far south as you can go, before you head to America and his mother was from County Armagh. His County Cork grandfather was in the RIC (Royal Irish Constabulary) which was the old police force before partition in Ireland. His grandfather left that job at a relatively early age when he had ten children. His grandfather left the police force because he refused to take part in the evictions in the late 19th century. With ten children to support, that wasn't done lightly. The poor people were being evicted because they couldn't afford to pay their rents. He always had a great admiration for his grandfather, although he never met him, because he stood up so firmly on principal. His other grandfather, from County Amagh, was also a man of principal, but his principals took him a different direction. When the Protestants and Unions in Northern Ireland feared they were going to be sold out to some kind of united Ireland, he was one of several thousands of Ulster Protestant people who imported guns who were prepared to go to war in order to stay with Britain. He was part of the gun running of 1912 in reaction what was called “The Home Rule Bill” which was seen as the thin edge of a wedge which would take Ireland into an arrangement in which they would not be comfortable.

He had these two grandfathers with quite different viewpoints which seemed to combine to make Reverend Good a hybrid. Growing up, Reverend Good was not sure where he stood on all the factious issues. His family had come from two different traditions. Some people thought he should be one or the other, but he was thankful to have gotten both viewpoints from the very beginning. One day he might argue from one side and the next he would switch sides in the argument. This education about the different viewpoints has helped him in his mission as a minister because he has little difficulty serving the whole community.

In the late 1950s, he was a young minister in South Armaugh, which was a very tense area, a very republican-nationalist area. There had been bombing and shooting which it was an early manifesting of the tensions. The British had set up a curfew and no one was to be out unless they had a permit or pass. He had one as a young minister so he could accomplish his pastoral duties. He came home one night through the Town of Newry. The Nationalist people resented the curfew because they saw it as directed against them. They sat down in Marvin Square in the center of the Town of Newry in protest against the curfew. He heard a big commotion and being a young person he couldn't resist his curiosity so he parked the motorbike by that area and walk closer to see what he could. He saw a horrendous scene of water cannons hosing human beings across this public area in a way you would attempt to hose vermin out of a space. He didn't have any feelings one way or the other regarding the protest, but once he saw that he couldn't believe what people were willing to do to a fellow human being. Something inside him reacted in revulsion. The next day people were saying well that will cool then down now, but he realized the technique was going to create a backlash like throwing petrol onto flames. That proved to be the case. The next night there were twice as many protesters in the square.

He remembers being a young fellow in the center of Belfast when the Youth for Christ Campaign was present. After the World War II there were “blitz squares” which were open areas left by the Nazi aerial bombs. People would gather in these squares and have meetings, gospel readings, political meetings and all sorts of things. On one side was the Youth for Christ Campaign, which was young American evangelists. They were all attractive, in suits, new hairstyles, and they had guitars. The girls were pretty singing in a choir. Off in the distance he saw a straggling group of people coming through the dusk from the Albert Clock.

This clock and the Crown Bar are two things on the tourist trail in Belfast. He said you go to the Crown Bar and when you come out, you see the Albert Clock and you think its leaning! In case you didn't know, the Albert Memorial Clock was built on wooden piles on an area where miscellaneous fill had been placed over wet organic soil around the River Farset, the top of the tower is famous for leaning four feet off the perpendicular.

So in the group was a great big man and a small band – a few flute players, and a couple of drums. They took a position on the other side of the blitz square. He watched with curiosity. The big figure leading this was the Reverend Ian Paisley, who at that time was just starting to be known. He stood up literally on a wooden box and in front of him was one of those watchman's fires. He had a book which had been written by the principal of the Presbyterian College, Professor Davie, who had been accused by his fellow Presbyterians of being a heretic. Professor Davie had written this book in which he was raising some interesting questions. Such a book today would not raise hackles they way it did then.

He was reading something about the virgin birth, he tore out the page, he shouted out something, he flung the page into the fire, and the people would say, “We have heard a joyful sound, Jesus say it!” And he kept doing this with page after page.

Mr. Paisley was a self-ordained minister. He adopted the name Free Presbyterian Church because he wanted to pull people away from the Presbyterian Church, perhaps to build his own empire.

Reverend Good said to himself, “Lord, if you want me to be a minister, please do not let me be anything like that. Please help me to oppose something like that.”

These were some of the defining moments of Reverend Good's life.

This talk is continued in a future blog posting entitled "Reverend Harold Good on Similarities Between Sectarian Versus Racial Conflict".