(At then back of 95 Moat Road, Granny Kernohan's house, when I was around 8... cousin's Sharon and Paul then me with Granny Kernohan with Aunt Mavis)
At our Church weekend we were thinking about Church. Erin Thompson and I were asked to talk about our childhood memories of Church. I dug deep.
There were two senses of place in my childhood - Maine Park Galgorm, the housing estate I lived on until I was 7 and Harryville Church. Both ends of Ballymena. A Galgorm Stockman, a Harryville Kernohan. I was set and safe!
So, Church for me as a child was very very important but I never went to Church.
Let me explain. When I say we never went to church, we never went to a Sunday morning service. My dad went in the evening when he was on the count. Adding up the money.
BUT I never remember the three of us at a Sunday morning service. Later I would go, once a year, to collect my annual Sunday School prize.
For me Harryville Church was about Sunday school which happened before Church, Boys Brigade on cold winter Friday nights and eventually Youth Club on teenage Saturday nights. I at least started going because, my mum told me later, she wanted to keep her baptismal vows.
All of this took place in the Sloan Hall tucked in beside the Church on Francis Street. The Church was on Casement Street, after a Ballymena Academy knight of the realm who was executed for being an IRA gun runner! See his memorial at Murlough Bay. I always found Francis Street by checking for the mark my mum left with our Ford Cortina on the telegraph post at the Larne Road end.
Sunday school wasn’t so much fun. I remember sitting around in circles. I did learn about fundraising, saving thru-penny bits for our New Hall but most of the rest of my memory is football chatter with Roy Harris whose family went to Australia and came back a year later for £10, Brian Crockard who later played for Ballymena United before tragically dying in a holiday accident at 22 and Philip McCrea who like me became a minister and helps us with the 4 Corners Festival.
BB was more fun. I hated the marching… but football. I got to play with future Irish international Steven Penney and win cups. I also got to be runner up in NI BB Quiz and was lead singer when we were joint winners of the NI BB Choir competition… that latter took place in First Antrim where 15 years later they would become very familiar buildings in my five years as asst minister there!
I also remember during a Squad Inspection night… holding on as long as I could and then peeing all over the wooden floor, watching it darken the wood below my shiny white plimsolls, now slightly yellow. Everyone then had to walk round my puddle when we were marching. I could see the titters and though no one has ever said, I imagine they knew it was the future minister of Fitzroy!
Youth Club was for teens. For me it was about girls and music and eventually God, with snooker and badminton and a little footie thrown in. I remember putting my hand through a window one night when a Johan Cruyff turn went wrong. Your arm through a window. Time stops and you think “should there be blood”, “Will I die” “Is my arm cut off”. Then you bring it back through very slowly hoping none of those things come true.
Back to music and girls. I remember my mate Rab breaking up with the 13 year old love of both of our lives, Janet. Janet played some soppy love song, maybe Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, on the record player pointed at Rab. Quick as a flash Rab put on Smokie’s Don’t Play Your Rock N Roll to Me which might have been the first time I watched songs being linked - a trait I’d take into my radio show 25 years later.
I had 4 good atheistic years at Youth Club before God caught up with me. In a bus of youth clubbers on the way back from visiting a GB weekend in Portrush a few weeks after I had another God bothering moment at the GB display I finally realised that God didn’t only exist but wanted to do something in my life! I started going to Church the very next week.
In the end, though I never went to Church until I was 17, Harryville Church was a major shaper in my young life.