No you haven’t just stumbled across the Weekly World News website, it’s just that there’s no other easy way to say it. “I officiated at a wedding ceremony in which the bride was my sister”? “I pronounced my sister and her new husband man and wife according to the authority vested in me by the Church of Ireland”? Just doesn’t have the same ring to it as a snappy headline.
Whatever title you put on it, it was a pretty cool weekend. Fiona is my only sibling, so this was a once-in-a-lifetime kinda thing! It was quite nerve-wracking to be leading the service with my parents, aunties, uncles and whole extended family watching, but a great time was had. Guests battled through snow, blocked roads, cancelled ferries and re-routed flights to be there. My entire family holed up in a cosy wee hotel in Ballintoy for the whole weekend and had a brilliant time. So Fiona and Michael, just in case you read this blog – congratulations! And it was an honour.
It struck me that some of you reading the blogs might not have the faintest idea about me, Chris Bennett, Chaplain to the Titanic Quarter – I’m sure lots of you haven’t met me yet. So I thought I’d give you a quick crash course in who I am and why I’m here, so that you know more about me than my title and the fact that I married my sister.
This is me as a tiny child. I was brought up in Mossley, on the outskirts of Belfast, and I had a pretty blissfully content childhood (marred only by a profound inability to play football) (And, as you can see, some unfortunate haircuts.) When I was 17 I met Susan (even though she only lived 5 doors down the road from me – we were a very unfriendly street) and 5 years later we got married. (She’s the foxy blonde I’m holding on to in the wedding photo).
During my teens I became a committed Christian and as my Uni years (in Trinity in Dublin) drew to a close, I was wrestling with a sense that God was calling me to full-time ministry. This sat a bit uneasily as there were loads of things I didn’t really like much about the church (which is still the case – which is possibly a good thing). Crunch time came when I got a summer job as a nursing auxiliary (NOT a nurse – that’s a girl’s job) at a residential care home. I thought I was a bit of a stud in the uniform (as you can see, I may have been mistaken) and for the first time, I felt like I’d found a career where I actually looked forward to getting out of bed and going to work each day. But as that enticing future beckoned, I couldn’t escape the feeling that it would be running away from what I was born to do – what I was made for.
So slightly reluctantly, and not really knowing what I was letting myself in for, I entered training for ministry back in ’97, and I was ordained in 2000 (as you can see in the picture, I definitely don’t look like a stud in that uniform) to enjoy a brilliant 10 years serving as a Curate, first in Larne and then in Holywood. Which leads us pretty much up to date and leaves me as you find me – with a great passion to see God working, and faith making a difference, but a slight nagging feeling that the way churches have historically gone about things isn’t quite the full picture.
Maybe a good place to be as we start building church from a blank page in the TQ!