Omagh Methodist Men’s Breakfast Fellowship
Meeting of Thursday 23 January 2020

Sir Nigel Hamilton [Left] in conversation with John Buchanan

On Thursday 23 January, to mark  this year’s week of Christian Unity, Omagh Men’s Breakfast Fellowship held an evening meeting, which was well supported by men from the circuit and neighbouring churches.  The special speaker was Sir Nigel Hamilton, former Head of Northern Ireland Civil Service. Having opened the meeting with praise and prayer, John Buchanan introduced his guest and explained that, rather than ask Nigel to give a talk, he would interview him about his life and times. He began by asking Nigel about growing up in North Belfast where he attended the Boys’ Model School and where his family were members of Crumlin Road Methodist Church. In 1969 Nigel graduated from Queen’s with an Honours Degree in Psychology and entered the Northern Ireland Civil Service.

In the early part of his career he worked across a number of Government Departments and entertained his audience with amusing anecdotes. A defining moment in his time as Permanent Secretary of Education occurred with the appointment of Martin McGuiness as Minister for Education.   Nigel related how, with God’s grace, he was able to develop a productive working relationship with his Minister based on honesty, integrity and respect.   When appointed Head of the Civil Service it was his job to advise the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of the then new power-sharing executive, something he did with consummate professionalism without compromise to his Christian principles.  It wasn’t all plain sailing but when the going got tough he was sustained by the repeated assurances he found in Holy Scripture that he was not travelling alone.

In 2010 – 11 he was President of Ulster Rugby and spoke of the privilege of sharing his faith with players and officials.  Now retired, Nigel looked to the sea for an analogy of the enduring love of God which flows as endlessly and unstoppable as waves run to shore.  He noted how the word “sin” traced on the beach is soon washed away and drew inspiration from  the familiar story of “Footprints in the sand”.   Throughout his career Nigel said he tried to be an encourager and encouraged Christians to do likewise for reasons beautifully summed up in the short poem he used to conclude his talk.

If with pleasure you are viewing
Any work a man or woman is doing
If you like them or you love them, tell them now
Don’t withhold your approbation,
Till the parson makes oration.
And they lie with snow-white lilies on their brow
For no matter how you shout it,
They won’t really care about it,
They won’t know how many teardrops you have shed,
If you think some praise is due them,
Now’s the time to slip it to them,
For they cannot read their tombstone when they’re dead

[L – R] Rev Sean Hanily, St Columba’s Parish Church and Sir Nigel Hamilton, with John Buchanan and Kenneth Strong of Omagh Methodist Church