The Rev Jim MacCormack

Methodist minister and missionary

Jim MacCormack ministered in Northern Ireland during the worst years of the Troubles.

James Tresham MacCormack, minister of the church and missionary: born Dublin 11 March 1926; ordained a minister of the Methodist Church 1954; married 1952 Joan Shier (one son, two daughters); died Belfast 6 December 2004.

Jim MacCormack ministered in Northern Ireland during the worst years of the Troubles.

He angered loyalists when in the early 1970s he stopped the UDA from firing a volley of shots over the grave of a comrade at whose funeral he was officiating. This was in accordance with the wishes of the dead man's parents. He was subsequently warned not to attend his church alone, threats were made against his family and police patrols near his home were stepped up.

Thereafter, his strong pastoral role in opposition to sectarianism led to his being taunted as "Father MacCormack" by loyalist elements. Warned off various housing estates, he nevertheless continued to visit them, travelling incognito by bicycle, as his car registration number was widely known.

He was born James Tresham MacCormack, in 1926, the son of Charles E. MacCormack and his wife, Harriet (née Fox), of Dublin. Following the death of his mother, he and his brother Charles were sent as boarders to Wesley College in the city. There he excelled academically and was made head boy. A member of the senior rugby team for three years, he captained the side in 1943.

On winning a maths Sizarship to Trinity College Dublin, he studied Mental and Moral Science for his BA and also took a Bachelor of Divinity degree. Having undergone an evangelical conversion in his teens, he became a local preacher at the age of 20 and candidated for the Methodist ministry from the Rathgar Methodist Church in 1947. He then served for two years at Dolphin's Barn in the Dublin Central Mission circuit, and in 1949 entered Edgehill College, Belfast, where he studied for three years.

In 1952 he was appointed by the Methodist Missionary Society to work in Zambia (then known as Northern Rhodesia) and he served at Masuku for 11 years; he was ordained there in 1954. In 1952 also he married Joan Shier, a nurse, and the three children of their marriage were all born in Zambia.

He was an expert bible translator and while in Zambia worked on a revision of the Tongan Bible, and he continued translation work when he returned to circuit work in Ireland. His Tongan nickname meant "The Man Who Never Sits", to distinguish him from a predecessor known as "The Man Who Sits in the Office and Complains".

Returning to Ireland in 1963, he was stationed in Churchill, Co Fermanagh. "He was somewhat out of the ordinary as Protestant clergy went in those days," his half-brother, Hugh Maxton, recalled. "One legend has it that, on arrival in County Fermanagh, he received through the post - automatically as it were - notification of his Orange Order membership, promptly declined."

In 1966 he resumed his ministry in Zambia, first in Nambala and then in Kafue. At the Nambala Mission he worked among the BaTonga people. He was known for his energy, enthusiasm and compassionate nature. In later years he often spoke of his desire to return to Zambia, such was his commitment to the welfare of the deprived and underprivileged.

On return to Ireland in 1971 he was appointed to the Seymour Hill Church in the Finaghy circuit, where he served for six years. Seven years followed at Whitehead in the Carrickfergus circuit, until in 1984 he was appointed as Senior Tutor at Edgehill College. In 1991 he went to Glastry as superintendent of the Glastry and Portaferry circuit in the Ards Peninsula, and after three years there he retired and linked up with the Finaghy circuit, where he readily helped as needed with preaching and pastoral and chaplaincy work until his final illness.

He served as junior and then senior secretary of the Board of Examiners, and for many years was Irish secretary of the Fellowship of the Kingdom. In his marking of papers he was reputed to be more concerned with assisting than assessing.

Returning to academic scholarship, he studied for a MTh awarded by Queen's University Belfast in 1991. His thesis was published in 2002 as Thoughts from a Warmed Heart: a commentary on John Wesley's notes on the New Testament. He completed his final article, "Meditations on the Letter to the Ephesians", shortly before his death.

P. J. Gillan



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