RECOLLECTIONS OF A SOJOURN IN NORTHERN IRELAND
22nd March 2018
A pastor’s child, who spent two happy years in Coleraine more than 30 years ago, has shared some vivid memories of her family’s time in Northern Ireland. She has also started a Facebook page to share some of her late father’s research on Celtic Christianity, that was inspired by the time he spent working for the Irish Mission.
Fiona McClure was about ten years old when her parents, pastor Don and Isabel McClure moved to Northern Ireland to look after the congregations in Coleraine and Derry/Londonderry. They stayed in Coleraine from August 1978 to March 1980 before they moved to Australia.
Fiona has been working her way through some photographs taken at that time, 38 years ago. She decided to look up the Adventist church in Ireland on Facebook. In the ensuing conversation she shared the following memories and gave permission for us to publish it. What follows are her recollections of the time in Northern Ireland.
“When we arrived at our new home in Greenhill Road the church had left a large sack of potatoes for us on the doorstep.
Mum and Dad had their 25th wedding anniversary while we were in Coleraine. The whole church, including 10-year old me, were in on the surprise. Pr. David Currie (evangelist from Australia) and his wife Gaya, took Mum, Dad and I out for a day trip and then on their way home they made some excuse to stop at the church. All the members had parked far away from the church and the street so there was no suspicion about the surprise until they walked into the church! It was such a happy day.
I also remember a Christmas time church service my dad led out in. It seemed all cosy inside as we sang O Little Town of Bethlehem. It remains one of my favourite carols.
On another occasion, a baptism (could have been mr. Moore) my dad had received news that Sabbath morning that his dad (my granddad, Will McClure) had died. During the filling of the baptismal font something went wrong with the heating. Dad still did the baptism. It was early April, so not yet summer weather.
Then one Sabbath, Ken and Shirley Davies came to visit. I think they were from Londonderry. I remember his sermon quite well. He told an embellished story about Peter, John and Paul visiting the world today and all the differences there were between the world they knew and the 20th century. I listened to his every word.
Sometime, while we were there, Dad and pastor Currie ran an evangelistic campaign in Coleraine's Town hall eventually moving the meetings to the church. The Moore family were baptised as a result. In the evenings of the meetings they would give away gifts for attending and one of the gifts people received was a miniature dead sea scroll vase – I still have mine.
My dad spread the net of evangelism far and wide even making a personal visit to the home of one of my school teachers. However, we never saw her attend the church as she declined any further Bible studies.
We were very sad to learn that Mr. Moore had a heart attack and died not long after we moved to Australia in 1980. I remember Mrs. Moore cooked beautiful mashed potatoes. I would eat hers not mums.
There were special Sabbaths we'd have at the Dohertys. Helen and Irene's mum and dad made us so welcome. The fire would be going, and Mrs. Doherty would serve us apple pie. On one visit to their farm I tried real milk, straight from the cow. Oh! How I loved milk, but it I did not like it straight from the cow. I was used to it from the supermarket.
I remember too – happy Sabbath afternoons at Giants Causeway or Ballintoy Harbour; taken there by the minibus that belonged to the church. I had my own Bible, Sabbath School Lesson Quarterly (now called the study guide), and my own hymn book (words only version) – what more could a young girl want?
We had a social for the young people at the Coleraine university squash courts and someone ended up with a bruised nose from the squash ball.
My dad would travel to the Derry/Londonderry church as well to minister there. There were very few members in the church at the time.
One winter it was so cold there was more than the average snowfall and the Craigs were living in a remote area. Of course, there were no mobile phones then and by the time they called to let us know they wouldn't be at church we had already left home in Coleraine. I remember we arrived at Londonderry and no one was there but us. So we went into one of the smaller rooms and put a heater on and my dear dad took Sabbath School for the whole family alone ---- it was that day that I learned it’s not about meeting and greeting people nor about how many people are present that makes church. I'd never seen church from that angle before; I was only about 9 or 10 years old.
One Sabbath when we arrived we couldn't use the toilet because someone has thrown half a brick through the toilet window. It caused more expense but thankfully no one was hurt.
It was fabulous being a part of Coleraine and Derry/Londonderry Churches. God bless His people and His work. "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you..." (Philippians 1:3 NKJV)”
Memories of Pastor McClure
“Dad worked in Northern Ireland before I was born. At that time, he was based in Banbridge. I don't know which church he had coupled with Banbridge. This was from 1965-1966. I was born in Derby in 1969.
They went to Grantham after Banbridge and dad was assistant editor at Signs publishing (I still have his Good Health magazines).
So, my dad’s career took him to Banbridge, Grantham, Derby, Glasgow, Newcastle Upon Tyne then Coleraine and Londonderry.
After Coleraine and Londonderry, he had three churches in the Gosford area of New South Wales, Australia. Then he had the Australian Newcastle churches at Hamilton and Stockton in New South Wales (one hour north of Gosford and two hours north of Sydney). Following 3 years there he went to Bunbury, Western Australia (2 hours south of Perth) where he had about 3 churches and a company. He was then asked to move to Geelong Victoria, about an hour to hour and a half south-west of Melbourne.
It was here, in a routine medical check, they discovered he had cancer. He stayed in the region for about two years with two churches, the final year of which he was being treated for cancer. At age 64 he retired and moved from Victoria to the Gosford (Central Coast) region of New South Wales and died 9 months later 9th September 1996.
He started writing a book about the early Celtic Church about 3 years before he died, but it was never finished. Pr. David Marshall from the Messenger was editing it. I have the manuscript and have recently, with some advice from the Digital Discipleship department here in Australia, started a Facebook blog to share some of his work. Visit the Facebook page: Ancient Celtic Christianity to read the blog as it takes shape.
The highlights, before Coleraine and after Banbridge, was probably going to Israel (on his own); and the 1975 General Conference Session in Vienna Austria (which he attended with the whole family in tow). In Australia the highlight was being invited to take an evangelistic series in Dunedin (The Scottish City), New Zealand. His personal academic highlight was completing his MA in Theology at Avondale College, NSW, Australia in 1982.”
Migration has long been a factor in the history of Ireland and Northern Ireland. This has also had an impact on the church. Pastors and church members alike have moved into, and out of the Irish Mission. With so much movement, collective memory can be difficult to sustain. But on occasion, there is an opportunity to relive the past. We are very thankful to Fiona McClure for sharing her memories.
[Weiers Coetser with Fiona McClure]