christian testimony

jonathan barkley

Jonathan Barkley

A Belfast minister has spoken of how he found strength from his Heavenly Father after his dad was shot dead by the IRA in I988.

When Jonathan Abernethy-Barkley was just two, his father, Colin Abernethy, was shot dead on a train as he attempted to get to work. But despite the devastation — or possibly because of it — Jonathan grew deeper and stronger in his Christian faith. Even so, the 28-year-old, who is now the assistant minister at Fitzroy Presbyterian Church in South Belfast, remembers feeling like the odd-one-out at primary school having just one parent.

“It definitely has played a massive role in my faith; I think for me it was sort ofa catalyst towards faith,” Jonathan reflects.

“l think when something so traumatic happens at such an early age you’re looking for comfort, security and safety, and I suppose because I had lost my own father, the idea of a heavenly father became increasingly attractive to me.

“As a result of what happened my mum was very unwell for a long time and there was always that feeling of being a wee bit odd in terms of being at primary school and everybody else having two parents. But when some relatives started taking me to church that’s when I really started to find hope and security.”

After graduating from Queen’s University, Jonathan worked in events management and PR in Dublin, organising charity balls and parties and enjoying a ‘sparkle and champagne’ lifestyle.

“It was an enjoyable but ultimately superficial world,” he says. “I would be asking myself, ‘Isn’t there more to life?’ I wanted to devote myself to something deeper and longer lasting. And that meant devoting my life to serving God.” Jonathan was a regular church attender growing up in Lisburn, and was inspired by Rev Ruth Patterson, his local minister, and the first woman to fill such a role in Ireland.

‘She was an absolute hero of mine and I suppose I must have been an incredibly irritating child, coming home from church to say to my mother ‘let us pray’,” he remembers.

”It goes right back to my childhood. We would come home from church on a Sunday and if there had been a baptism I would baptise my sister’s dolls or re-enact the service.

“Then when you get to school and start talking to career advisers, being a minister is not something which is pushed sol thought about being a history teacher, but I failed A-level history so that was clearly not going to happen. And then while I was working in events and PR it came back to me that maybe this was the right thing to do.

“I first applied to become a minister at the age of 21 but I was told I was too young and that I needed to go away and get life experience, which I did.”

Jonathan continued to work in the world of publicity before finally training as a Presbyterian minister at Union College at Queen’s University, a move that surprised his friends.

“When I announced I was going to become a minister my family had already seen it coming but I suppose some of my friends were like ‘that’s a bit of a random choice!’”
Belfast’s history is marred by the violence and fighting witnessed during The Troubles, but Jonathan is adamant light always shines brightest in the darkness. ”It positions you with a unique opportunity and possibility,” he says. ”Fitzroy has always been at the heart of peace and reconciliation in the province; our minister would have been one of those who was negotiating during the Troubles and we’ve won a peace prize.

“There were some very dark times in Belfast’s history but being in that dark place provides a unique opportunity and challenge. And as a minister the absence of a father l experienced growing up means that I can empathise with the pain of others who have lost loved ones in a much more intimate way.”

While his decision to become a minister may have come as a shock to some, it has not detached arts lover Jonathan from his passions. “l think a lot of the time people assume ministers must only pray and read the Bible — but of course we are entitled to lead full lives,” he says. “My whole philosophy has always been about trying to lead an authentic life. Being a minister is obviously a huge part of my life, but it isn’t all of who l am. l still have lots of friends who I went to school with. I love going to the cinema or going out for a drink.”

Recent Hollywood blockbusters have used their artistic licence to share the stories of Noah and the book of Exodus, an innovative outreach tool that Jonathan openly welcomes.

“l think it’s fantastic, because if people are actually asking questions about whether things really happened or is that really true then a goal has been achieved because people are coming away from the cinema thinking what was actually going on there,” he adds. “lt encourages people to ask questions about faith and l believe we’re living in a world where biblical literacy is rapidly decreasing so if a film or song gets people talking about faith then I am all for it.”IMG_2279


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