People who know me know that one of my life quotes is Frederick Buechner's line that vocation is where our deepest gladness meets the world's deepest need. Tonight in Fitzroy we were privileged ton welcome a man who lives that to the full. Tom Magill is the brains, and soul, behind the Educational Shakespeare Company. Tom is a lover of story and making films. Instead of using this passion to make himself famous and rich he decided that he wanted to use it to transform lives. Then again, Tom didn't choose just any life to transform. He decided that the deepest need was to go for the prisoner with mental health issues that the system had labeled hopeless. By helping these deeply troubled human beings to tell their stories ESC has helped them find a second chance and real transformation. It was hard tonight not to be moved, challenged and inspired by what ESC does.
Tom Magill himself knows about transformation. Leaving school with no qualifications he ended up in prison but, while dreaming up a way to take out the IRA prisoner in the cell next to him,w he found his humanity. The prisoner was Frank Stagg who died on Hunger Strike in Wakefield Prison Ian 1975. Stagg encouraged Magill to take his life in another direction and having found John Steinbeck's book The Grapes Of Wrath in the prison library Tom read it and tonight shared how through that book he discovered his humanity. He eventually went back to education and gained O levels, A levels and a degree.
Having worked as an actor he was encouraged to think about directing and returning to Northern Ireland, having left there as a child, he started putting his deepest gladness to the country's deepest needs. His belief in the power of telling your story has led him to using short film as a way for some of the most disturbed prisoners in our jails to find their humanity, as Tom did. Not that he has stopped at short films. He also directed Mickey B, a version of Macbeth, in Magaberry Prison. Using a cast of actual prisoners was brave, challenging and surely fulfilling. Tonight I asked Tom how those prisoners felt when that movie was completed. Tom shared how the first viewing was with the prisoners and their families and how there were many tears in the room as these guys, who had been labeled by society and even the prison system as scum, saw themselves as actors. There again in this story is the restoration of humanity. Magill's philosophy is a simple one; if you treat people with humanity and dignity they will change.
As we watched a couple of short films and a documentary about the work of ESC we as a Church, beside Queens University, just off the bustling Botanic Avenue, all having driven from our fine BT addresses, were challenged to think about how some of our fellow human beings are living just a few miles away. We were led into lives that could be called outcasts. It is a very short step in our minds, sitting in Church pews, to link them with the lepers and outcasts of the New Testament. It was with such people that Jesus hung out and then asked us to follow him towards. How far we are from where Jesus was rang loud in my ears.
It was then a real inspiration to interview Tom, Kirsten Kearney, ESC's Chief Executive, and Ruth Gray, a board member, about how they have found themselves moving among those people whom Jesus loved and still does. There was no over spiritualising of what they do. These guys are doing it because of the deep need they see. They are doing it because they believe it to be right. Their faith underlies it all, though their language is never over pious. When I asked about the finishing of Mickey B Tom called it a miracle. These guys are about very ordinary ways to bring about very extraordinary things. As an evening in Fitzroy it was far from as explicit as a Church Service should be but redemption and grace, which is what we are supposed to be all about, was more implicit than most of the sermons I have ever preached. We left inspired, praying that God would lead us into the week, seeking where our deepest gladness could meet the world's deepest needs.