Plans to burn a 20-metre carved wooden tower in Londonderry this weekend as part of an art project have been described as “pagan”.
Reverend Graeme Orr, who joined the congregation in Magheramason in September, said in an email circulated with other Presbyterian Ministers this week that he was “very concerned” about the ‘Temple’ event.
Thousands of people have been visiting the site where the 70-foot carved tower has been built and many are leaving personal messages inside the structure. Around 15,000 people are expected to watch the burning of the tower on Saturday evening.
The Temple project brings together the artist at the centre of the Burning Man Festival in the USA, David Best, and the people of Londonderry, to offer an alternative perspective on bonfires.
Reverend Orr said: “I believe this temple burning practice is pagan in origin. Paganism often leads to the occult, which is spiritually Satanic in nature and according to the Bible should be avoided at all costs.
“Paganism leads to hedonism and self-indulgence, some of which I have described have become part and parcel of these burning festivals.”
He continued: “I would urge readers not to become involved in this temple burning event and instead look to the Lord God and his holy word in the Bible for the answer and deliverance from our past hurts and losses.
“As we approach Easter the answer to societies’ deepest needs will not be met in the sacrificial burning of a wooden man or a temple but in humility, repentance and faith looking to the man, Jesus, who was sacrificed once (and) for all on an old rugged cross…”
Despite those concerns of ‘paganism’, Rev David Latimer of First Derry Presbyterian Church has welcomed Temple to Londonderry.
He said: “I’ve been up at the Temple site and my initial scepticism was about the location because I wondered how it would be attractive to people living in the cityside, people living in the Fountain area, people living in Nelson Drive.
“I had expressed these concerns to the artist, David Best. However, when I went up to the site on Monday my concerns were alleviated. I could see from the names on the messages that people were leaving that these were people from both sides of the community.
“I don’t see this conflicting with the Christian Gospel, I think it can be complementary to it. I think that by leaving these messages, the hope is that if people can leave behind their hurt, their fears, their pain and see them destroyed in the fire, the hope is that people will leave that behind and begin living in the present, in a bright new day.
“I am convinced that God is able to use everything to help people in their lives. For those people who find Church is not connecting with their lives, this is something that may be able to help them along the right path.
“The exercise of writing something is therapeutic in itself. I welcome them into the city. I had some parishioners that had written messages. They had got these hurts, these pains and they had got them very close to their chest. On Saturday night, the hope is that the people and families who are suffering may leave that behind.
“I can appreciate that there are some concerns, and Rev Graeme Orr has raised those concerns, particularly about the Burning Man festivals that take place in various locations around the world.
“I think this is very different. There is no worship associated with this.
“God can reveal himself in all sorts of ways. There is a wideness in his mercy like the wideness of the sea.”
A native of Coleraine, Rev Graeme Orr was educated at Coleraine Academical Institution and went on to study podiatry at Queens University from 1994 to 1996 and worked in the NHS for 11 years. Feeling a call to the Ministry, he entered Union Theological College in 2008.
When Mr Orr moved to Mid-Ulster he joined Curran Congregation, where he was ordained an Elder in 2004. He served as the Assistant Minister in Molesworth Church in Cookstown before receiving the call to Mageramason.
He and his wife, Mandy, have four sons, Paul, Ben Samuel and Jonathan.
Mr Orr’s hobbies include running and he has competed in both the Belfast and Dublin marathons. He has played rugby and has been a football coach, which gives opportunities for outreach.