Sammy Horner: A praising Celt

Tuesday 1st April 1997

For the next two months, SAMMY HORNER will see the release of two albums, a kids project R&Beatitudes and volume three of his popular Celtic Praise series. The Belfast born veteran spoke to Mike Rimmer

Sammy Horner
Sammy Horner

With his Celtic flavoured electric rock in his band The Electrics and his own 'Celtic Praise' albums; it's obvious that Irishman Sammy Homer has kissed the Blarney Stone when it comes to talking about the Celtic influences on his life and music. Talking with Sammy is an illuminating experience. In my search to discover his feelings about Celtic spirituality and music, I had a number of questions I was burning to ask but first I wanted to know about his new album.

Why have you called your new album 'Quaich'?
"A quaich is an ancient Scottish cup. It's a funny looking thing. It's a fairly shallow cup and there's two handles on the rim. It was a cup of friendship, given to people as they came into folks' houses. But the thing about it was that it was used by both the lairds and the crofters. It was a common cup for all people, rich and poor. I've always tried to link some sort of history with worship. As far as imagery goes, it's a good image of the cup of Christ, which is there for everyone."

Why did you make the 'Celtic Praise' series?
"The whole thing started for me when I was at a ceilidh about seven years ago. I was at a ceilidh at a little church and I was also preaching there the next morning. The night before at the ceilidh, all the grannies and aunties were there, as were the kids and teenagers. The next morning I was preaching in the very same hall, but the teenagers didn't bother to turn up because they were late the night before. The kids were colouring in with their crayons and Granny's sitting in the corner sleeping. I thought to myself, 'What brings all these people together on Saturday night with such celebration and joy, but then Sunday morning, when we're meant to be celebrating the greatest thing in our lives, there is a complete deadness about the place?' The worship was half-hearted; there was nothing of the joy in the same building the night before. I remember thinking that there was something seriously wrong. Surely if we've got the greatest message in the world and surely if we claim to be sons and daughters of the Living God, then there's got to be something worth celebrating! That's exactly how the first worship album came about."

What do you think we can learn from the spiritual aspects of the Celtic church?
"Celtic spirituality was never frightened to explore what was the truth. Historically you'll find that when the Irish saints came to Scotland, they weren't afraid to embrace and to take hold of the things that were good in the culture. But they also weren't frightened to speak out against the things that were wrong and sinful. So it was a much wider view of what God could do. They had a very healthy mission idea that no matter where you go in this world, God had already been there before you.

"I was brought up to know that if you're in the Church, you're not of this world. We almost hid ourselves in the building. The only time we were ever seen to be doing anything was when we were out on the streets singing songs or giving out gospel tracts. There was absolutely no contact with people on any other level. I think that's desperately wrong. I don't think that people can see you as someone who loves God who believes Jesus commands us to love your neighbour if you never bother with them. I mean, it's obvious isn't it?"

Sammy is worried in case he sounds as though he's saying the whole evangelical thing is wrong. He's not. What he's saying is that there's something desperately wrong with a Church that won't get its hands dirty.

Do you think that the Celtic Church had a more holistic approach?
"Absolutely! There are great stories about the Celtic saints and their evangelism. They'd get into a coracle and let the wind blow them to wherever God wanted them to be! They'd get out and evangelise those people. They had a real sense of adventure that I'm not sure I have. They also had this idea that if you go to a culture where people genuinely help their neighbours, there's nothing wrong with that - you don't tell them everything else in their culture is wrong. You have to live with the people and examine their culture. You have to weed out the junk and bring Christ to them.

"The Celtic saints had a great idea of community. They involved all the people and everyone had a role within the Church. The Church didn't have to have any walls or be a building. If you were a poet you were equally as valid within the Church as if you were a preacher of Bible teacher. There are stories of people like Saint Hilda who brought songwriters in and ordained them to be singers! You don't get that very often in the 20th century Church.

"That is what we've been taught as Christians, but it's not what's worked out. There are certain things which are seen as much better. For instance, it's much better to be an evangelist than it is to be a journalist."

The Celtic Church had some interesting approaches to creation, didn't they?
"They believed that creation was definitely made by God and that it declared his glory like Psalm 19 says. There are stories of Columba seeing a sea bird with broken wings and telling his disciples to care for it because it was one of God's creatures. Afterwards Columba commended his disciples and told them that God would bless them for it. Even animals and creation were seen as being a gift from God and of being worth caring for. Their idea of salvation was certainly a much more 'whole' thing than we have."

Isn't there a danger that the evangelical Church sees this as being New Age?
"Oh yes. But isn't there a danger, if we're absolutely honest, that if you're going to take risks in anything that something will go wrong or that people will interpret them in a different way? I think that there are some things about Celtic spirituality which go on today that I wouldn't want to be involved in. I think that when we put a complete emphasis on the creation and nothing else, then we become unbalanced and it becomes dangerous. We need to remember that there are other aspects to what God has asked us to do. Otherwise we could get into pantheism, if we get too far into creation theology. We could easily say that God is in everything, but that's not what the Bible teaches. The Bible says that creation declares the glory of God, which is a different thing."

What can we learn from the Celtic Church today?
"Just about every single issue we're looking at today was addressed by the Celtic Church - care for the planet, women in the Church, culture, mission, music, the arts, liturgy, worship and diversity were all explored before we'd done it. I think that the secret is to look at the Celtic Church as a model and not think, 'I wish we were like that again.' They had a very harsh life and a difficult existence.
"I think we need to look at the fact that the early Celtic Church was fiercely evangelical and, some would say, fiercely charismatic, because of the signs and wonders. But also, they weren't frightened to draw on many other cultures and traditions as long as they were true and good. That's a very good mission statement." CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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