FROM THE PULPIT: Two Traditions but Only One Jesus Christ; Baptist Pastor the Reverend David McMillan Recalls His Loyalist Childhood in Island Magee and How He Has Learnt to Live and Let Live

Article excerpt

THERE'S never a time of the year when it's more evident that there are two traditions on this island than July.

Even in the `good old days' before the `troubles' it was always obvious that you belonged to one tribe or the other when the marching season started.

I come from the tradition that inhabits most of East Belfast. The only photograph I have of my grandfather is of him standing with his horses wearing his Orange sash.

He used to drive the horse and carriage that carried the `big nobs' on the twelfth. He was very proud of that. He died when I was very young so it was left to my granny to teach the grandchildren the Orange songs, which she did as we marched around our family bonfire in the hills of Island Magee where I spent the long summer months with my cousins.

We stayed in a row of small, whitewashed cottages with our mothers and, of course granny, while the fathers worked in Shorts and the shipyard, travelling down to join us at the weekends.

Our `loyalism' was a tame affair but deeply rooted. There was none of the `other sort' about in the fields of Island Magee so we sang about King Billy's cat and the mickey mouse without an audience or much understanding of just how offensive it might sound to Roman Catholic. But we never had any contact with them anyway.

My own children grew up in Newry. A mere 30 miles from East Belfast but a different world.

We lived there for 12 very happy years and enjoyed the friendship and sense of community with many of those `mickeys' I sang about as a child.

I think my granny would turn in her grave is she knew what growing up in a nationalist community has done to my children's view of politics.

There was another powerful and profound influence on my life. That influence taught me that my first loyalty must always be to Jesus Christ and to his commission to share his love and gospel with anyone and everyone.

No other loyalty, I was taught, must ever get in the way of following him or making it difficult to share his love with others because of their morality, background or politics. …