A Protestant church leader from Derry is to release a book that will lift the lid on his “life-changing” friendship with Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness.
Rev. David Latimer, Minister at First Derry Presbyterian Church, says the book, entitled ‘A Leap of Faith’, will tell the true story of his relationship with the former IRA commander who died last year.
Dr Latimer describes his friendship with the former deputy First Minister as “very close” and says it was “cemented” by their joint commitment to peace building and improving the lives of Northern Ireland’s young people.
It’s understood the book has the support of Mr McGuinness’ family and that his widow, Bernie, has penned its foreword.
Proceeds from the book will be donated to medical research into Amyloidosis, the condition which Mr McGuinness died from.
The book is expected to be published some time in the autumn.
David Latimer, who read a eulogy at Mr McGuinness’ funeral, says he cherishes his “truly unique friendship” with the former Sinn Fein leader which evolved and developed over more than a decade.
“I miss Martin greatly,” he says. “He gave me strength in time of trouble and wisdom in time of uncertainty. He was a special human being.”
In the new book, Rev. Latimer talks candidly of the problems he encountered from within his own church as his friendship with Mr McGuinness developed.
“Even as my intentions were being interrogated, I always knew, deep in my heart, the path I was treading was the right one.”
Rev. Latimer added: “I often recall that, soon after my friendship with Martin became public knowledge, the naysayers, and there were many, were quick to proclaim that I was naive and was being used by Sinn Fein. Some were even saying, ‘Sinn Fein know they’ve got David Latimer in their back pocket’.”
“I shared these sentiments with Martin and he told me: ‘David, we know you are not in our back pocket and we wouldn’t want you there anyway’.
“Those who rushed to condemn were blind to the mutual respect that underpinned our relationship right from the moment we first met on the steps of First Derry Church.
“A segment of society failed to see anything good emanating from my relationship with Martin and, without ever seeking an explanation or asking a single question, poured scorn on it from the beginning. This took a variety of forms.
“Grim graffiti, spelling out in no uncertain terms loyalist opinion, was daubed on a gable wall in the Protestant Fountain Estate. A local PSNI commander informed me that police intelligence indicated loyalists were planning to vandalise my home.
“Families defected from First Derry’s membership while the Loyal Orders excluded First Derry as a venue for their annual church parades.
“I was overtly shunned and/or politely ignored, mainly by co-religionists. None of these ever made me reconsider my association let alone think of concluding my connection with Martin.
“Sometimes on life’s journey what is needed is a step of faith. It is this that can turn out to be the longest, hardest and scariest step we’ll ever have to take.
“Shying away from this course of action would have left me forever thereafter wondering, ‘what if?’ Our longest regrets are our inaction regrets - the things we would have, could have or should have done but did not do. Choosing to trust God and act as I did despite stiff opposition, was right.
“After more than ten years, I can honestly attest to harbouring no regrets in any shape or form.”
Rev. Latimer says that, across future generations, Martin McGuinness will “cast a shadow like no other political leader”.
“In his own unique way, he embodied what we hoped our society might become,” he says. “He navigated the politics of conflict and reconciliation with audacity and care. His learning curve should inspire today’s leaders.”
‘A Leap of Faith’, by Rev. David Latimer, is to be published by Blackstaff Press.