WHEN MY RADIO SHOW TOUCHED A SOUL... POWER OF RADIO!

Stocki in Beeb

(my Pause For Thought script on October 14, 2021. The theme was The Power of Radio...)

I was at a wedding. During the reception a woman approached me. She was from a different part of Northern Ireland. We had never met. She reached out her hand (remember the olden days) and introduced herself. She said that I didn’t know her but she wanted to thank me.

Thank me. What on earth for. She went on to tell me that a few years before she had come across my radio show Rhythm and Soul while travelling in her car. It had been Remembrance Day and I had filled my show with laments, songs of death and remembering. She didn’t need that and was just about to switch off but before she reached the off button she was captivated by the song that I was playing. 

She explained that she was travelling home after the death of her husband. She was obviously in a fragile and vulnerable place. Songs of war and death was the last thing she needed BUT she went on to say that that hour was very precious to her. She told me that those songs spoke into her grieving soul. She had always wanted to thank me and here I was.

I was very moved. The power of radio. I had probably sat all afternoon glancing across my CD collection for the right songs for that show but I had no idea that someone would be listening in those particular circumstances. It is humbling.

Before I preach I always pray that God will take the skeletons and bare bones of my thoughts and put upon them the flesh and the muscle of the Holy Spirit that that my thoughts might come alive and twist and twirl a broken world around in an extravagant dance of healing and hope and good news. That prayer was certainly answered on that radio show.

I call them angelic moments beyond coincidence and such moments can happen even without radios. Arriving at the right time. Saying the right word. 

After I finish I am off to the ferry and then the 402 mile drive from Cairnryan in Scotland to Reading. My daughter Jasmine is at University there and it is her 21st on Sunday, a week after her dad’s 60th. The journey and our schedule is a skeleton. As we set out I pray for the flesh and muscle of love in every meeting scheduled or accidental. I better get going… turn on the radio.


MY 60th BIRTHDAY - WONDERFUL DAY

Stocki 60

Much as I loved the surprise parties thrown for my 40th and 50th birthdays I had my family under strict orders that I didn't want big party for my 60th. 

It wasn't that I wanted to hide the fact that I was 60. Fr Martin Magill and I have heralded our landmark birthdays for a month, trying to raise money for Embrace NI. 

No, I have become more and more introverted through my 50s. I am not sure what to do with crowds pointing at me. Fitzroy singing “Happy Birthday’ before the service was lovely but my heart and brain go mush and I cannot fully appreciate the sentiment! 

I am happier at a good meal with a smaller number rather than short greetings with a couple of hundred.

So it was Holohans Pantry my very favourite restaurant, owned and run by good friends. We even had Eli and Bella as waiter and waitress. The food was amazing. I am a Seafood Boxty fanatic so joined by our good friends David and Rachel Quinney Mee I was in my happy place. I am always so relaxed in the Pantry.

Not that I got away without a surprise. Oh no! Dandering out at the end of the Fitzroy service someone mentioned an Ice Cream Van and I realised that they have done me again. Surprise!

Yet, a surprise that included the entire congregation, at least the 60% back after Covid, was a perfect way to celebrate. To see the children and young people enjoy a big 99 or a double one with lime sauce was a birthday thrill. Even a more mature member admitted to racing to get in line before the kids.

It was a real carnival and of course with an ice cream van and children it was not about me. I loved it. 

The whole day had started on BBC Radio Ulster. Fr Martin and I were rather honoured to have our landmark birthday recognised on Sunday Sequence and the lovely Audrey Carville reflecting on our lives.

It was good to give testimony to what has been a 10:10 ‘life in all its fulness’ and confessing no regrets but that at times I had hurt others. It was good to declare that we weren’t switching off and were getting excited about the future, particularly the 10th Anniversary of The 4 Corners Festival next February.

It was good to give a last plug to our Big 60th Birthday Fundraiser. To realise that we will have raised over £7000 for Embrace NI and the work that they do with refugees and migrants is the best present ever. Thank you so much to everyone who has contributed so generously! 

An hour after that interview I was standing in Fitzroy. It is my piece of pitch. As Kevin De Bruyne has that midfield space where he can play his genius, passing a football into the path of a team mate, so I have my lectern at the front of Fitzroy.

For twelve years that has been my space. In grief, in illness and in joy that little piece of real estate has been the place where I have found my deepest gladness, my reason to be on this planet.

To be there on 10:10. on the day of my 60th birthday, was a marvellous lining up of the calendar. To share the first communion in 18 months with my congregation was going to be special anyway but even more on this particular day. 

“You know who you are with bread and wine in your hand. You are a somebody.” A twist on TV’s Tales of the Unexpected. Who we are. And then… to close… Singing…

 

And all my life You have been faithful (oh)

And all my life You have been so, so good 

With every breath that I am able

Oh, I will sing of the goodness of God (yeah)

 

As we sang I felt a perfect moment. Me and God… aligned. I am thankful, so thankful for reaching 60. For having Janice beside me, throwing surprises. For daughters ploughing their deepest gladness. For an amazingly gifted and generous congregation that allows me to be me. For a wider society that invites me to share with it whether on radio, in newspaper or occasionally TV (Martin and I will be talking about a favourite book in BBC’s Book Week… coming up soon!).

Late evening, with a wee glass, Janice and a TV thriller. In the quiet, looking back. A most wonderful birthday.

60 years. What a 10:10 life. As Van once said, “It’s too late to stop now…” I am kind of glad it is over. The rest of my life starts here! Let’s go!


ALWAYS FITZROY - REFLECTING ON STOCKI'S 50s - AS HE REACHES 60

Stocki smiling in pulpit

(As I arrive at my 60th Birthday... here is the final part of a series of 6... as I try to express each decade in as few words as possible...)

 

Always Fitzroy

The last big gig

The only gig in town

Who else was welcoming my wild imaginings

Who else was as wild in theirs

So began in my 50th year

We took off

At the speed of a teenager

Clonard Novenas

Gospel According To…

Community Carol Services

Communion in Museums

Bruce Cockburn and Over The Rhine

Irish Language classes with some priest

Martin Magill

 

A couple of coffees with Martin

Something beyond us was happening

Listening

Ideas sharing

Critiquing

Pilgrims together

Contriving nothing

Marinating everything 

Holy Spirit conjuring

The 4 Corners Festival

Ricky Ross

Gary Lightbody

Being interviewed on The View

Speaking at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis

Touring the Mid-West of America

Being awarded the Civic Leadership Award

And sharing our 60th to raise money for Embrace NI

Watch for us on BBC Book Week!

 

Fitzroy 200

Imagining

Hall renovations

Contemporary space

For a contemporary ministry

Opening to the neighbourhood

And tithing for a school building

Not a financial transaction

But a relational partnership

With Fields Of Life

In Onialeku, Arua, Uganda

Taking a team for the Opening

Falling in love

With children

Staff 

And community

Dancing together

Grieving together

Praying for each other

Mutual sharing

We were rich in shillings

They were rich in love, hope and resilience

A fence

A well

A girls’ toilet block

Text books

Sponsoring 

Annual visits

So much love and hope and joy

Fabric

Craft stalls

Fundraising

Even a sabbatical

Writing From Killing Fields To Fields Of Life.

 

In Fitzroy

Learning to preach

Learning to pastor

Learning to listen to all

And not just hear one

Learning to slalom the genius and madness

Of congregations

Our gifts

Our foibles

Seeking 10:10 - 

As much in John’s Gospel, as my birthday

Life in all its Fulness

Stumbling and tumbling after Jesus

Being particles of light across the city

God’s Kingdom on earth as in Belfast

Grace and imagination

Realigning our place in God’s order of things

 

Coronavirus

Discovering gifts

And deep gladnesses

That met this particular deep need

Online Church

Blog

Belfast Telegraph Column with Fr Martin

Pastoring by phone from the kitchen table

Wild imaginings

For a time such as this

Maybe when all is said and down

My best time

 

Not all easy

Everyone wanting you in their image

Everyone thinking they can do your job

Creating community you can’t be in

Feeling the isolation 

Laying your insecurities on the line every Sunday

Limping with your inferiorities

And the family not called like you are

But still having to be called

Learning who you are

Learning who you are not

Learning that it will pass

Learning to trust

Being vulnerable enough to learn

 

The night before my licensing

In the Portstewart sand dunes

Alone with God in his vastness

Another Larry Norman song

“I am a servant getting ready for my part

There's been a change, a rearrangement in my heart

At last I'm learning, there's no returning once I start

To live's a privilege, to love is such an art

But I need your help to start

O please purify my heart, I am your servant”

Servant

Like Jesus

60 years in 

And still tumbling and stumbling after

Seeking forgiveness

Grace

Equipping

For 10:10

In the next 10

As it has been in the last 60

God willing.


ALWAYS CAPE TOWN - REFLECTING ON STOCKI'S 40s - REACHING 60

Capetownship

(As I arrive at my 60th Birthday... here is part 5 of a series of 6... as I try to express each decade in as few words as possible...

 

At 40

Wonderful wife

Two lovely daughters

University Chaplain

Weekly music show on BBC Radio Ulster

Live sessions

Concert on the Lagan

A popular website

Only review of Radiohead’s Mandela Hall gig in the world

 

And then

Walk On - a book on U2

Number 99 on Amazon chart

85,000 sales

Touring America

Calvin College

Festival Of Faith and Music

Taylor University

Messiah College

Ohio Wesleyan

Westmont College

Kenyon College

Cathedral of Advent in Birmingham, Alabama 

Then back to earth

With students who didn’t care much

An album - Gracenotes

With Sam Hill 

And gigs where I learned the importance of monitors!

This really is life in all its fulness - 10:10

 

Cape Town

Habitat For Humanity

A mission trip to mark the Millennium

Money left over

Go again

And then again and again and again

Bible study on the field

Poverty of Khayelitsha to Century City’s marble mall

HIV visits in Guguletu

Fair Trade Vineyard with unjust trade on other side of the fence

Peace and reconciliation with Alex Boraine’s ICTJ

Even FW De Klerk met in our tiny hostel

Capetownship

Hair cut for 3,500 to fund a house and a half

Concerts

Poetry books

Photographic book with Gordon Ashbridge

Hundreds of thousands raised

150 students taken

Over 40 house built

And lives changed 

Especially ours

Mine

Janice’s

Lynn's

Chris’s

Even Caitlin and Jasmine’s

A year to prepare to go

A year to respond to having been

Always Cape Town

 

Always Cape Town 

In my mind and heart and soul

“Ubuntu”

I cannot be me without you

"All because of you, I am” U2 called it

Loving God and neighbour as self, Jesus called it

“I wake up every morning

And thank God that I am Black South African and a Christian

Because every day I get a chance to forgive my enemy”

Wow

“If you are are serious about peacemaking, two things

First, check your motives to the very marrow

And second check them again in case you have missed anything”

Wow

“Don’t leave your money

Leave your heart”

Indeed.

 

Ballycastle

Come come away

Allowing the candle to flicker

Instead of the pressurised burn

The beach

The being still to know

The empty days

Sorbet

For the next thing

 

And then

Discomfort

Uncertainty

A nudge to something

“I am a little fearful Fitzroy might phone”

“You wouldn’t go there, they talk to Catholics”

“Hello Steve, would you consider Fitzroy”

Fitzroy weren’t looking for a minister

I wasn’t looking for a Church

And we found each other

 

Fifteen years before

Ken Newell the minister of Fitzroy said

“Steve, when you get to 50, know who you are

Most of my peers have no idea

Looking over their shoulders at their peers

Be your own person”

Fifteen years later

A year from 50

In my dining room 

The same dining room Ken shared with me

On the cusp of 50

Fitzroy…


ALWAYS STUDENTS - REFLECTING ON STOCKI'S 30s - REACHING 60

Stockies on Jazzi's first day

 

My 30's

Always students

 

Dublin 91-94

Youth Development Officer for the Republic of Ireland

26 Counties

Me, a car and a CD walk man

Playing CD after CD

Writing poems and lyrics for songs

Written with Sam Hill

The Angels and Ghosts of Vienna

Donegal, Mongahan, Limerick, Cork

Adventuring with the city of 1000 bands

 

78 Eaton Wood Green

Neighbours called us Community

Meeting strangers

Like Rich Mullins 

On the landing in the middle of the night

Friendship

And off to America

Redding California to Ivan Hoes, Indiana

Right side of the white lines

Yosemite, Vegas, Grand Canyon, Indian Reservation

Rich Mullins and an out of tune choir

First last for last to be first.

 

South Africa to visit Janice

Africa for first time

Seeing Apartheid’s last days

Uneasy to be white

Would need to be black to come back

And we would…

 

Sunday nights in Abbey Basement

Weekends in Lucan Youth Centre

Turning the Living Room cafe into early 60s Greenwich Village

Discovering Juliet Turner

Developing Iain Archer

Wishing, I am wishing, I am wishing you were mine

Jonny Quinn on percussion

Pioneeering with Arklight at Ovoca

The Irish invasion of Greenbelt

Announcing Cockburn

Leading Communion

Joining the Board 

Booking the bands.

 

3 years that packed in 10

 

Then back to Belfast

To the same city as Janice

To love

To marriage

To Caitlin and Jasmine

 

To live with students

58, then 88

Creating community

The fertile soil of lifetime friendships

Inquisitive minds about following Jesus

Finding where deepest gladness meets world’s deepest need

If you are not spending every waking moment changing the world

Don’t be good, be God’s

 

Always students

At our wedding

At the door

Partying in the room outside our bedroom

Playing American football in the car park after the Super Bowl

Whispering outside Jasper’s room

 

Art and Soul

Galleries and music

Poetry

Sport

Worship

Quiet reflection

Interesting people talking

About interesting lives in their fulness

 

While watching a growing up and in and out

A faith beyond the surface slogans

Deeper than the bingo numbered shallow cliches

Where God changes us in a call to change the world

 

Janice and I watched 

Romance spark

Love on fire

And heartache and betrayal

You don’t need soap operas

When you live with 88 students

Always students.