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THURSDAY JUNE 3 2010

Faith matters

Religious Affairs Correspondent: William Scholes tel: 028 9033 7544 email: w.scholes@irishnews.com

Evening events organised for general assembly
THE Presbyterian general assembly begins on Monday, with Dr Norman Hamilton taking over as Moderator from Dr Stafford Carson. The annual meeting of clergy and lay people runs at Church House, Fisherwick Place, Belfast until next Thursday. In addition to the daytime business sessions two special evening events have been planned that are open to anyone to join in. On Tuesday June 8 at 7.45pm ‘Talk Policing and Justice’ will give the audience and an invited panel the opportunity to discuss this controversial topic. The audience will have the opportunity to ask questions and put their point of view to a panel that includes deputy chief constable Judith Gillespie, the acting chair of the Northern Ireland Policing Board Brian Rea, director of probation Brian McCaughey and newly appointed justice minister David Ford. The evening, hosted by the incoming Moderator, will be chaired by Jim Fitzpatrick. While policing and justice is very important some may ask why should a Church general assembly devote so much time to it.

■ TESTING TIMES: The scene yesterday at the Presbyterian general assembly in Belfast. This year special evening events have been added. Included is the assembly celebration on Wednesday June 9 at 7.45pm. The incoming moderator has described this event as “the equivalent of an MoT for our souls”
PICTURE: Hugh Russell

“This event is designed to help give some direction to building up the spiritual health of congregations and individuals”
Dr Norman Hamilton

Dr Hamilton has no doubts why: “These are important issues that affect every parish and person within our Church,” he said. “As part of our Christian responsibility we undertake to uphold the authorities in prayer and in order to do that we must understand the issues and dilemmas involved and face up to the realities involved. “This evening provides an opportunity to meet and

engage with those who have to make the difficult decisions that affect all our lives.” Another evening event that is open to everyone is the assembly celebration on Wednesday June 9 at 7.45pm. The incoming moderator has planned this event as “the equivalent of an MoT for our souls”. Providing some answers will be a panel including the Church of Ireland Bishop of

Down and Dromore, Harold Miller, former Baptist pastor David McMillan, the director of Scripture Union in Northern Ireland, Helen Warnock and Roz Stirling, the Presbyterian Church’s director of youth and children’s ministry, along with worship led by the Ballysillan Praise Group. “The health of our souls matters,” Dr Hamilton said. “And yet it is not something

we talk about very much. “At a time when there is diminishing trust in anything and confidence, even among Christians, is at a low point, this event is designed to help give some direction to building up the spiritual health of both congregations and individuals and to show that our faith gives us the strength to face the future and make a difference for good.”

Maize N’ Grace will be one of the largest Christian events of the year – but why is South African farmer Angus Buchan, pictured, coming all the way to Co Tyrone to speak at it? Faith matters finds out more

South African evangelist farmer to plough new furrow in Tyrone
It was the brainchild of a group of people who have been inspired by Buchan’s speaking and believe he has something relevant for people from every part of the community. The organisers include everyone from pig farmers, business people and an accountant. There is no doubt that Angus Buchan is an evangelist with an international ministry. However, the reputation of high-profile evangelists has been tarnished by money in the past. This is something Buchan has managed to avoid. His farm funds 90 per cent of his ministry and he will travel from South Africa with just a party of four people. He does not charge a fee and only asks that his travel and accommodation be covered. “I am a farmer and my occupation supports me so that I don’t have to ask God’s faithful people to give me money,” he says. So who is this farmer-cum-evangelist? With Irish and Scottish roots he will be able to connect with every part of the community in the north. His life story is the subject of both the book and film Faith Like Potatoes. It tells of his roots building a farm from difficult beginnings. Part of his appeal is that he has lived with the same struggles as the people he speaks to. “I am a man of the soil, an ordinary man who knows what it is to do a long day’s hard manual labour,” he says. Faith Like Potatoes tells the story of hard work to make his farm a going concern. It also tells of a question he asked himself – one that most people will be able to identify with. “The harder I worked the more I wondered what I was doing it all for?” he says. He also describes being in “a state of mind, quick to anger, suspicious of everyone and ready to be violent... I was close to breaking point”. It was shortly after this point in his life that he became a Christian. The most poignant incident in Buchan’s life is the death of his brother’s four-year-old son Alistair in a tractor accident on his farm. He honestly describes the terrible anguish he felt after the accident. As he talks of finding faith that could sustain him through such pain he reflected: “God never promised us a life free of trouble, only that he would walk us through it”. His nephew’s father continues to be one of the key organisers in Buchan’s ministry. It is not only the fact that Buchan talks about Christian faith in a way

■ CROWD-PULLER: Up to 350,000 people attended one of Buchan’s recent events

AM a man of the wide-open spaces and I feel too boxed-in in a pulpit,” says Angus Buchan. Maybe not such a remarkable statement for a South African farmer. It is certainly intriguing if you also happen to be an international evangelist who recently spoke to a crowd of 350,000 and has addressed gatherings that included Jacob Zuma, now President of South Africa. Angus Buchan will be in the north next week to speak at an event called Maize N’ Grace. The event will take place from June 10 to 12 in the Ecclesville Equestrian Centre in Fintona, Co Tyrone each evening at 8pm. It is free and open to everyone. It will be one of the largest non-denominational events in the north this year.

“I

“We want the message of Maize N’ Grace to be good news for every section of our community. It doesn’t matter whether you are a churchgoer or not, of us”

Basil O’Malley

that makes it relevant to whatever life can throw at us. Nor is it just his down to earth style that will make Maize N’ Grace such an interesting event to come to. It is also that the organisers are making such an effort to make it an event that every part of the community will feel welcome to. Basil O’Malley, one of the organisers, says: “We want the message of Maize N’ Grace to be good news for every section of our community. It doesn’t matter whether you are a churchgoer or not, we believe Angus has a way of saying something relevant to every one of us.” St Francis of Assisi is reputed to have said “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words”. Meeting human needs is a part of what Buchan, his family as well as his team, feel called to do on their farm in South Africa. After becoming a Christian he says: “We kept coming across other people who had problems – who

were underprivileged, homeless or lonely – and we would take them into our home.” One of the latest initiatives has been the building of a home for children affected by HIV or Aids. The organisers of Maize N’ Grace had to find a venue that would be easily accessible from all parts of Northern Ireland but also hold up to 3,000 people. That is why the have chosen the Ecclesville Equestrian Centre In Fintona. There have been up to 100 enquiries about camping facilities at the centre. The organisers of Maize N’ Grace have gone to great lengths to ensure that this non-denominational event is one that every section of the community will feel warmly welcome. ■ Maize N’ Grace runs from June 10 to 12 at 8pm daily, at the Ecclesville Equestrian Centre in Fintona, Co Tyrone. More information at www.maizengrace.com.