It is impossible to put into words the feelings of loss, shock, grief and sadness felt with news of Glenn’s sudden death last Thursday. Our hearts and prayers are with Adrienne his soul-mate and confidant; Philippa and Christopher whose maturity inspired him; and Glenn’s parents and the wider family circle in their grief, pain and loss, all made so much more difficult by current restrictions.
Glenn’s involvement with ECONI came soon after the 1988 publication of “For God and His Glory Alone” when he engaged with the serious issues facing Christian people in Northern Ireland at that time. That engagement brought together a cross-generational group of people who were to become his colleagues and friends over the years. There can be no doubt that this involvement as a young man led to his lifelong engagement in peace-making, alongside wrestling with public theology and its application to everyday issues.
His contribution to the life, work and witness of ECONI, subsequently the Centre for Contemporary Christianity in Ireland, and then Contemporary Christianity is incalculable as a researcher and author of numerous articles in Lion and Lamb and other publications, and of course his book, “Not of This World? Evangelical Protestants in Northern Ireland” (2001). As a volunteer, supporter and friend he helped to shape and deliver the training and educational programmes offered by ECONI and CCCI for people of all ages. Everything he did was marked by a gentleness of spirit, wisdom, insight and kindness, all wrapped in a humility seldom seen in people with such ability. Generous in all he did Glenn always had time for a personal conversation and rarely seemed hurried or rushed, no matter what was going on. We were privileged to have him serve as a Board member and his contribution was invaluable when, with a typical graciousness, he could ask penetrating questions and offer good strategic advice, whatever the situation.
His personal skills and qualities were evident as a manager in EBM with the outstanding Skainos Project in East Belfast bearing witness to his vision and creativity. As a theologian he was as much at home handling scripture in a men’s bible class in his home congregation as he was in addressing a large audience at a conference or in a Cathedral. His work in the past couple of years as the Programme Manager in Public Theology with the Corrymeela Community has been outstanding, not least his fresh look at the book of Ruth in our context through “Brexit and Borders”. Who of us can’t recall a sermon, talk, a BBC Thought for the Day or personal conversation in which we can still hear the soft rhythm of his distinctive Bray accent? Creativity, character and clarity marked all he did.
Glenn’s involvement in ECONI was formative and transformative in his life, ministries, and key work roles in public life for over 30 years. He also transformed ECONI, and we have lost a good friend who was always willing to come alongside for a personal conversation, to speak at an event, to contribute to a discussion and to speak out on issues of justice, peace building and for the common good. He inspired; he did rattle a few cages; he bore some personal pain and disappointment with great dignity; he modelled Godly graciousness.
Some of us met with Glenn on Zoom conversation at a Churches Initiative Group (CIG) meeting a matter of hours before his untimely death. He was looking forward to being furloughed last Friday and to have a ‘desert style’ spiritual experience for some weeks while on furlough. Our meeting finished with us all wishing him well… only to be stunned within less than 24 hours to realise that for him it would be an “eternal furlough” with that wonderful welcome…“Well done, good and faithful servant! … Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matt 25.23).
Glenn loved words, reading, blogging, poetry, cycling, music, creativity, the natural world, the Holy Scriptures (our sacred text), conversations of all kinds and lasting friendships. He was a loving, devoted and considerate husband and a proud parent; he loved his two dogs and walking that “crooked shore” with them. We cannot begin to capture all of these graces.
With the permission of his good friend, David Campton, we include a poem, which he penned after the immediate shock had settled last weekend:
He supported the wrong football team.
Had a wrong-headed attitude to rugby.
He was into bikes big time, whilst
I see them merely as a mode of transport.
He championed authors that left me cold.
He was fanatical about a musician
I can only tolerate in small doses.
And loved dogs where I fear them.
But his fierce loyalty inspired love.
His humble wisdom provoked thought.
His unpretentious creativity sparked imagination.
His gentle laughter punctured pomposity.
His earthy faith queried religiosity.
His righteous anger challenged injustice
His vulnerable honesty questioned certainties.
His generous openness invited engagement.
He was so much of what I aspire to be.
I will miss his incisive mind in meetings,
The bruising banter by text and twitter,
The long coffees righting the world,
And him keeping, or putting, me right,
Or the occasional late-night conference
Conversation, with well-rehearsed stories
Matured like the whiskey we shared.
Farewell friend, to me and many.
You’re on furlough now.
Tribute drafted by Stephen Adams with valued input from former ECONI staff and friends.
We are pleased to include some personal comments from other friends. We invite others who read this tribute to add your personal comments by our website …PS…comments facility.
From Nicola Brady
Glenn’s door was always open — metaphorically speaking, as he preferred to meet informally over coffee rather than in an office. He was excited by possibility and energised by collaboration. He contributed so much to the work of the inter-church structures in Ireland. In my four years as General Secretary, I called on him often and his generosity was unfailing. Reflecting on his contribution, Bishop Brendan Leahy, Co-Chair of the Irish Inter-Church Meeting said: “Glenn was a regular contributor to our inter-church work for many years, speaking at events of all sizes and facilitating important conversations. His passion for the transformative power of the Gospel, and his commitment to supporting and resourcing churches to help heal the wounds of a broken society, were truly inspiring. Glenn contributed Bible study and theological reflection to set the scene for meetings on some of the most challenging themes we have addressed in recent years, including human rights, Brexit, sectarianism, tackling paramilitarism and reconciliation. He challenged us as churches to do more in the field of peace-building in particular — to learn from past mistakes, and integrate the lessons from successful initiatives.”
From Stephen Cave
There was a depth to Glenn that showed in so many ways. I loved his commitment to gracious but probing conversation, his ability to build diverse relationships, his passion for justice, and his deep love of Scripture that came with an unwillingness to settle for trite answers and shallow interpretations. And it was always great to see him excited about rugby, even when it came at Ulster’s expense in the Leinster matches!
From Norman Hamilton
My most treasured memory of Glenn was a tour around the half-finished Skainos building in East Belfast. As we walked, he explained the theology behind the design, and that its layout gave the finest accommodation to the most vulnerable groups and people who would be using it.
Glenn embodied the very best in ‘public theology’ alongside extraordinary Christ honouring compassion.
From Diane Holt
Glenn personally shaped a lot of my theological thinking in the early days of working in community. He was thoughtful, kind and had a great sense of humour, but he was also not afraid to speak up and out if it was necessary. He is such a loss to so many. But my thoughts are particularly with his family who he so obviously loved to bits.
From Rick Johnston
Glenn was a theologian and associate of mine over many years from when I first studied theology (he was one of the only mature students to bother with a 19 year old in need of a haircut). I then interacted with him throughout my time in evangelical student work and the boards of various organisations and eventually we studied the book of Jeremiah together when doing our MTh. I remember one leadership training session he spoke to us about the work of growing Sequoias — the slow growing, enduring legacies in our character and those we sought to lead. It is only now I realise who he was and what his character meant.
Earth receives an honoured guest
A saint and scholar laid to rest
All the dogs on the island howl
for the fierce mind in an easy smile.
We stopped, stunned, surprised
at the great trunk that dims our skies
from north to south, over the in and out
the Sequoia’s shadow cast.
The seed that dies bears fruit
a paradox in holy writ
Then earth receive this emerald spark
and from this dirt a forest start.
Now sown, set free
Emptied of all theology
I will never forget that his was a face
that never looked through me.
So I bow, not in prayer
but to look up
at this giant tree
and pledge to be a better me. (Rick Johnston: June 2020)
From Karen Jardine
Glenn’s impact through his work at ECONI, and subsequently Contemporary Christianity, cannot simply be measured in hours of work and toil, or the number of words written. It lives on in the legacy of minds, hearts and voices that continue to bear his imprint, heeding his call to pause and pay attention and to keep looking for grace as it reveals itself.
From John Kyle
I came to know Glenn during his time overseeing the building and development of the Skainos centre in East Belfast. His winsome manner, theological insights and compassion made him not just an articulate champion for the disadvantaged but wonderful company; a man of grace and peace. I am grateful to have known him.
From Peter McDowell
I did not know Glenn as well as many others, but every time we did meet through Contemporary Christianity, or Skainos, or other times our paths crossed, I experienced his warmth, humour and generous spirit. Rarely have I met someone who thought so clearly and with conviction about issues. And I don’t think I know anyone who could combine that with an incredible vision like that for Skainos, with the ability to bring it into being. He will be missed in so many different ways, by so many different people.
From Patrick Mitchel
A question I sometimes ask students is ‘What is the purpose of being a Christian?’ It can open up discussions beyond sometimes abstract theological debates. Words like ‘love’ (of friend and of enemy), ‘kindness’, ‘hospitality’, ‘peace-making’, ‘self-giving’, ‘joy’, ‘hope’, ‘integrity’, ‘trustworthiness’, ‘freedom’ and ‘courage’ tend to emerge. In other words, they describe a life of human flourishing. And they describe Glenn.
From Sam Moore
The depth of loss I and so many others feel demonstrates the scope of Glenn’s influence. His generosity (particularly in having and making time), curiosity, depth of insight, ability to help us pay attention to voices different from our own and appreciate beauty and grace have made us all richer. Glenn planted sequoias.
From Sean Mullan
Glenn was a brave and wise man who made me want to be braver and wiser.
From Philip Orr
Glenn and I collaborated on two plays, one for the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 theses and another for the centenary of the end of the Great War. He was deeply interested in how our divided society should go about remembering the past.
Glenn had a deep faith in the capacity of the arts to try out new, humane forms of remembrance and to stimulate a host of questions. I already knew him as a reader of novels and poems and as a wise, innovative interpreter of the Christian and Jewish scriptures.
From Derek Poole. In memory of my brother and friend.
For Adrienne, Philippa and Christopher.
It is always the women who are the Watchers
And keepers of life: they guard our exits
And our entrances. They are both tomb and womb,
End and beginning. Bitterly they bring forth
And bitterly take back the light they gave.
The last to leave and still the first to come,
They circle us like sleep or like the grave.
Earth is their element, and in it lies
The seed and silence of the lighted skies,
The seasons with their fall and slow uprise,
Man with his sight and militant surmise.
It is always the women who are the Watchers
And Wakeners. W.R. Rodgers, from Resurrection an Easter Sequel
From Geraldine Smyth
I am still ‘arrested’ By Glenn’s death. Such a magnanimous and wise man, one who visibly lived In and by the unforced rhythm of grace, and now lives fully his true Life… hidden with Christ in God.
Thoughts and prayers with and for Glenn’s wife, daughter and son, Adrienne, Philippa and Christopher and his parents, Pat and Pat in their profound loss.
From Alwyn Thomson
I was working as Research Officer at ECONI when Glenn was working on Not of This World? Evangelical Protestants in Northern Ireland. Only Glenn could have gained the confidence of those contributors who viewed ECONI with deep distrust. In a world of increasing division and anger Glenn’s open listening and gracious speaking is a great loss.
From Ethel White
What has struck me as I’ve reflected on knowing him is how he was gentle and calm in his demeanour and had a way of creating a ‘space’ for others to be adventurous, daring to explore different and difficult ideas and to ask questions, but always to be gracious in their thinking and speaking.
From Michael Wardlow
May you continue to inspire us:
To enter each day with a generous heart.
To serve the call of courage and love
Until we see your beautiful face again
In that land where there is no more separation,
Where all tears will be wiped from our mind,
And where we will never lose you again. John O’Donohue