The road to Derry is much maligned for many and varied reasons, all of which I will refrain from mentioning here.
However, for the weary and unsuspecting motorist, apart from acting as a speed trap, the village of Bready is renowned for something rather more spiritual: Posters.
Bready minister, Blair McFarland has been conceptualising and erecting original signs outside his Reformed Presbyterian Church for the large part of the last decade, posters which are eye-catching as much for their ingenuity as for their pride of place.
Spanning the great swathe of Christianity’s message and featuring the majority of a calendar’s big festivals, the posters have effectively put the west Tyrone village on the map, at least in terms of the novel.
Many if not all, feature quotes from the Bible but as Blair himself explains, his modus operandi is making people think.
‘Quite a few people remark on them,” Blair offers, sorting through the back catalogue of placards, the collection of which he keeps in his garage.
“I’ve been here nine years or so, so I suppose I’ve been doing these from the start.
“I try to change it every two months, though sometimes I put up old ones.”
Blair indicates a four foot by three foot placard. It reads, ‘Can’t sleep? Don’t count sheep. Talk to the shepherd.’
The minister continues, “Quite a few of them have question marks because the whole idea behind them – apart from making a statement – is encouraging people to think about God.
“I put the thing together but the ideas come from anywhere. I might see a sign and think that’s interesting or whatever. They don’t come over night. I see things that give me an idea and I think about it a little more. It’s like cutting wood, you have to work six months in advance.
“People do notice them. There was one time there was a guy talking on radio and he mentioned ‘the wee church at Bready with the signs’. So people do notice.”
Blair is up to 14 posters – and counting. And though he hasn’t had his latest ecclesiastical brainwave committed to plastic just yet, he knows what it’s going to be. It’ll read, ‘God is not who you think he is. He is who he says he is. He tells us in the Bible. Why not read it? Join us, Sundays @ seven. The Bible, simply.’
This, Blair explains, is at the centre of his efforts with the posters: He is inviting people to consider God and establishing a relationship therein.
“This one was part of a series of sermons last year,” Blair explains, nodding to another placard. “Everything we do is based on the Bible.”
Referring to the tangible evidence of attracting extra bodies for the congregation, he continues, “We’d always like to see more, but Sundays at seven are open to all. Simplicity is the aim. No complicated rituals, just the message of the Bible made simple, explained for the relevance of today.”
Having a conversation with Blair McFarland and not mentioning God would be like speaking to Neil Armstrong and avoiding the topic of the moon. God is Blair’s inspiration, his life and his love; as is indicated by his commitment to spreading the good word. And he is a minister, after all.
“We have been made by God and For God, and until we realise that, life doesn’t make sense,” Blair eulogises.
“God talks to us through the Bible. The Bible is different from any other book in the world. It is a living book and He speaks to us through it. So the Bible and prayer go together. Prayer has to be based on the Bible.”
Another of Blair’s posters reads, ‘Know Christ, know life. No Christ, no life. Join us Sundays at 7pm.’
“Of course, we are open to any (denomination),” Blair smiles, before indicating that I too would be most welcome at one of the Sunday gatherings.
“The important thing is we come to God humbly and we come to God through Jesus.
“Everything we do here is based around the Bible. We sing from the Bible… we read from the Bible and the sermon is based on the Bible.
“I am totally convinced about the importance of the Bible but what we’re seeking to do here is push people into asking, ‘is there more to life?’
“There’s more to life than making money and I think people don’t think enough. They go out to work and they come home in the evening and they flop down in front of the television – to watch a lot of nonsense.
“People can get tied up with the material side of things – making money. But there is the whole spiritual side of things as well.”
Amen to that.