Art canvases and powerful Honda motorcycle await retired rector

Jim Campbell during his final service at St Mark's Church in Portadown.
Jim Campbell during his final service at St Mark's Church in Portadown.

The walls of Canon Jim Campbell’s Rectory at Brownstown are adorned with superb oil paintings – the Mournes, Rathlin Island, Ardglass and Roe Valley among them. The ‘masterpieces’ were created by his own fair hand.

In his garage is a roaring Honda CBF 1000 motorcycle, which he longs to “burn”, with wife Barbara as pillion passenger. But he hasn’t had many opportunities over the past hectic 14 years as devoted Rector of Portadown (St Mark’s), to don leathers and crash helmet.

But soon he will. Canon Jim Campbell preached his final sermon at St Mark’s on Sunday night, with Mrs Campbell also plumping for retirement from her exacting and thoroughly enjoyable job as PA for the Hutchinson family at Tayto, Tandragee.

“It might sound like a couple of starry-eyed young people stepping out in life,” said the quietly-spoken 66-year-old Canon. “Now, we are now going to relax and smell the roses.”

The roads of Portadown won’t be echoing to the rip-roar of the Honda, nor will he be erecting his easels at local beauty spots like Moneypenny’s or Lough Neagh. The Campbells are setting up home in the Primatial City of Armagh, where he was ordained as a Church of Ireland minister in 1986 by Archbishop Robin Eames.

It wasn’t his first job. He was a teacher of art and history in Comber and Dromore, followed by a stint in the Civil Service. “I was converted to Christianity in 1977 and that led to my career in ‘The Cloth’.” Those years, he believes, were invaluable training for the ministry, giving him an insight to the outside world, rather than a career exclusive to the ministry.

Jim Campbell was born in England (near Luton) his parents being from Aghalee, part of a staunch Church of Ireland (Soldierstown) family. He recalled, “They had set up home in a farm near Luton Airport, and my abiding memory is that gliders used to overshoot the runway and end up on our land!”

They returned to Aghalee area when Jim was 16 and he rounded off second-tier education at Lurgan Tech and Lurgan College. After A-levels, he entered Stranmillis Teachers’ Training College.

In Portadown he reels off names like Ivan Davison, Arthur Hyde, Leslie Wells, Kenny and Tom Flannagan, Sam Williamson, Robert McIldoon (ex-sexton)… “Scores of people I really loved working with”. And the music tradition really inspired him, with former organist the late Harry Anderson and the present incumbent Stuart Nelson.

Canon Campbell also looks back on curates who served the parish so well and have moved on to become rectors in their own right- Ruth Jackson (Crumlin in Dublin), Malcolm Kingston (St Mark’s Armagh), Gary Galway (Drumcree) and Carmel Hayes (Tobermore).

He is confident about leaving the parish in charge of current Curate Keith Marshall and auxiliary Amelia McWilliams until a new Rector is appointed “probably around next Easter”. But his years at St Mark’s experienced great sorrow in December 2008 when their talented youth worker Lynne McGeehan (25) died suddenly.

He looks back on many wonderful times in church and community, picking out the ceremonies when the RUC Association and the UDR Association provided stained-glass windows for St Mark’s.

“The first Sunday I arrived was Remembrance Day,” he recalled. “I was thrown in at the deep end to conduct the main town centre service of remembrance, and then the RBL and worshipers moved inside St Mark’s where I again conducted the service.”

He loves the Remembrance tradition. And perhaps his most moving occasion was the night that Portadown gathered, in August 2014, to pay respects to the names on the War Memorial and call out all the names of The Fallen of World War One. “I was honoured to conduct that event,” he said.

St Mark’s was well filled for his final farewell. He reflected on his career and spoke of the Riches of God. “The Christian Church is under pressure from the theories of atheists and agnostics – a drip, drip effect that is dissuading people from church. They dissect the Bible for their own ends, in a destructive way. The underlying Christian ethos of sharing, love and selflessness is being eroded.”

It was all love and nostalgia on Sunday night – the evening was chaired by Tom Flannagan – and presents of a generous cheque, a line-drawing of St Mark’s by local artist Bracken Anderson, and flowers for Mrs Campbell were handed over.

Jim and Barbara will remain in the Rectory until the end of September or early October – “which is just as well as our new home in Armagh still doesn’t have a roof!” In the meantime, the paint brushes are being replenished and the Honda is being serviced for two dedicated people who have contributed so much to the Christian life of Portadown.