Minister to tell story of friendship with Martin McGuinness despite congregation opposition

First Derry Presbyterian Minister Rev David Latimer with the late Martin McGuinness
First Derry Presbyterian Minister Rev David Latimer with the late Martin McGuinness
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A Presbyterian cleric has said he remains determined to tell the story of his friendship with Martin McGuinness despite “resistance” from his own congregation.

Rev David Latimer, of First Derry Presbyterian Church, is heading to the USA next week to promote his book ‘A Leap of Faith’ about his unlikely friendship with the late former IRA commander and deputy first minister.

Rev Latimer, who struck up his friendship with the late Sinn Fein figure after an appeal for help in bringing attacks against the church to an end more than 10 years ago, also spoke of his support for a ‘peace foundation’ in memory of Mr McGuinness in an interview with the News Letter.

The former Army chaplain is soon going to tour New York and Boston to share his story.

Talking to the News Letter, the clergyman was frank about the resistance he has faced since striking up his relationship with the former IRA leader.

Asked how his kind words about Martin McGuinness might affect those who were victims of IRA violence, Rev Latimer said: “I am very conscious that there are hurting people throughout the country who view me with a wee bit of suspicion, and I have to accept that.

“There are people who hold different views of Martin than myself. I could never have believed I could have gotten to know the man I did if it were not for paint splashing on my church.

“Because I got to know him the way I did — we talked about everything, the painful things and the joyful things — if people could hear this story it could help them to see that regardless of where we start, stray or stumble in life, it’s how we finish in life that counts. That’s how it is with God as well.”

He continued: “I would point people to Saint Paul, who was no angel in his early life — probably the OC of the stoning party that was responsible for the martyrdom of Stephen. We read that the cloaks of that stoning party were placed at the feet of Saint Paul. But Saint Paul had an encounter in his life and I’ll tell you something — I got to know a man who also had an encounter.

“Yes, he was radicalised as a young fellow growing up in the Bogside and he never concealed the fact that he was in the IRA. But then his life continued and he took a movement away from guns to government and allowed Arlene Foster, the leader of the largest unionist party, to say at his death that Northern Ireland may never see another politician like Martin McGuinness. He was exceptional.”

He added: “There is both support and resistance from both below and above in the church. Many clergy, I suppose, are cautious and they are cautious because they are wary of how their congregations might respond if they got too close to me. But that’s okay. You can’t have everybody with you. I have discovered, in the words of Barack Obama, that those who are for you outnumber those who are against you. I think we have to accept there is a range of views and hope that in the fullness of time there will be a softening.”

Rev Latimer will visit the USA from November 13 to 21 to speak about his book.