St Paul’s West Hackney vicar Niall Weir on why he’s ‘never felt terribly religious’

Niall Weir

Niall Weir - Credit: St Pauls West Hackney

Niall Weir has been vicar of St Paul’s West Hackney since 2003 and “God was a lad”.

Niall Weir and Tom Daggett

Niall Weir and Tom Daggett - Credit: St Pauls West Hackney

“Some people would say I haven’t grown up yet, but in terms of my life, I grew up in Belfast,” he told the Gazette with characteristic humour.

He has “happy memories” of his childhood in Northern Ireland – “but not so happy that I didn’t fall in love with England,” he counters.

That apparently happened “when West Ham won the World Cup in 1966”. Then 12 years later he moved over here to study English and music at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, having secured a choral scholarship.

“I would be dead long ago if it wasn’t for music,” said Niall. “It gave me a sense of purpose, which is why I want to pass the favour on to young people.”

Singing in a “magnificent” cathedral seven days a week in Norwich inspired him to want to dedicate his life to the church.

“I was around people who believed in inclusivity and all that stuff, and I got very attracted to it,” he said. “It opened my eyes to the riches that can bring. I’ve never felt terribly religious, but I’ve seen what good strong communities can do and what they’ve done to help me – that’s another favour I want to pass on.”

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He added: “I think churches are places where people should be accepted for who they are and encouraged and allowed to become who they are. That’s what the church did for me.

“Often churches are prescriptive and binary and you are either in or you are out. I let God make those judgements.”

He worked as a cleaner in Norwich Cathedral for a year, and then studied priesthood at a theological college in Oxford.

Since then he’s worked all over London and at Southampton hospital, but his “heart is in St Paul’s parish”.

“This is the place I’ve really felt most at home, because it’s a vibrant and diverse community,” said Niall, a self-confessed “hymn junkie” who sings professionally at St Paul’s Cathedral.

“It’s full of really interesting and creative people who want to come out and play. It’s changing all the time and I think the church has an important role to play keeping the conversation going between the haves and have-nots.”