Continuing his series of interviews with local clergy, Jonathan Bell talks with the Reverend Ed McDade about the wonder of Christmas...
“I am reminded of a story about Paul Newman,” says the Reverend McDade as we sit in his manse discussing Christmas in the year 2012.
“The movie star walks into an ice cream parlour in America and there is a lady at the counter getting an ice cream and recognising him right away she is completely flummoxed and unable to speak.
“So she leaves the store and realises she has forgotten her ice cream and goes back into the parlour, only to once again be confronted with Paul and again she is tongue tied.
“She is unable to speak to him and so he says to her ‘are you looking for your ice cream?’ And because she is totally in shock at meeting Paul Newman only manages to nod her head. To which Paul Newman replies, ‘you should check your handbag’.
“To me that sense of wonder and awe encapsulates what Christmas is about.”
Ed McDade and his wife Heather have been in Ballyclare for the past six months. Replacing Tommy Stevenson who has moved to Larne, Ed is superintendent at Ballyclare Methodist and is also responsible for the churches in Doagh and Ballynure.
Ordained in 1988 he began his ministry career in Newtownabbey Mission in Rathcoole and has worked across Northern Ireland in churches on the north coast, in Fermanagh, Cullybackey and finally Trinity in Lisburn before his move to Ballyclare in the summer.
“Ballyclare has been great,” said Ed, “There is a real vibrant busy community and a good relationship among all the churches and we have been made very welcome.
“We attended the switching on of the Christmas tree lights in Ballyclare and were surprised to see so many people turn out. It was very well put together by the council and for me to be involved was a real privilege.”
He continued: “I have been 25 years in the ministry and Christmas is in many ways very similar as our society is still afflicted by poverty and need.
“Social outreach and the alleviation of need as well as teaching the Gospel has always been the main thrust of the Methodist Church.
“We have a big social outreach programme throughout the year and at Christmas we have our toy appeal were we ask members of the congregation to consider buying an extra gift for a child or teenager and then they are handed by the mission to families who have been referred to us by social services.”
He went on: “Through the three churches of Ballyclare, Doagh and Ballynure there are a lot of people involved and each are very different and contribute a great deal.
“It’s a busy time of year with the extra services, carol singing and visits to people throughout the month.
“For us though, being new in the area we are really excited to see how its done in Ballyclare.
“The young people at Doagh are holding a Christmas Eve service at 11.30pm and that will be very special.
“I also enjoy the Christmas Day service, it is a little more informal than usual and the children get a chance to show off their new toys to their friends and me.
“And it is also a great way to start the day and say ‘happy birthday’ to our Lord.”
Ed continued: “The sense of wonder really impresses me at Christmas. My father’s cousin was a great reader of hymns and carols.
“Charles Wesley, brother of Methodist founder John, wrote the well known carol ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’.
“And when you sing ‘Glory to the new born King’ my eyes always fill with tears and I can’t now sing that song without thinking of my father’s cousin and of the wonder - and isn’t it just fantastic.”
Concluding the Reverend McDade said: “In the book of Malachi, in the Old Testament the prophet talks about the refiner’s fire, about a lady who had a sense of curiosity about silversmithing.
“So she goes to a silversmith who explains to her the process. He tells her it is important to put the silver right in the heart of the fire, in order to refine it and rid it of its impurities.
“But if it is left in the fire for too long the silver will be destroyed and if it is take out too early the impurities will not be burnt off.
“So she asks how you know when its ready and he tells her you have to sit with it the entire time and when you see your face in the silver it is ready.
“This reminds me of the vision that people need to see Jesus alive in us. We need to see our face in our faith and God’s face in everything we do, but
people need to see in us the living faith in everything that we do and for me - not just at Christmas - but all the year, that vision that
Christ would be seen in all our church activities, in how we live our lives through our faith and the sort of people we are is so important.”