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November 2013

CS LEWIS OR JFK? STOCKI SURMISES WHO WAS THE BIGGER INFLUENCE!

CS JFK

November 22nd 1963. Quite a day! The day that Aldous Huxley died as Sheryl Crow mentioned in her song Run Baby Run. It was also the day we lost CS Lewis. If he had only written novels, Belfast born, Lewis would have left a legacy that Hollywood would have mined for many a long decade. The Narnia Chronicles have produced some of the most popular films in recent years. Yet, Lewis I will argue below left so much more. Of course the deaths of Huxley and Lewis deaths were over shadowed by perhaps the one of the most memorable, for all the wrong reasons, post war events; the assassination of President John F Kennedy.

As the world’s media have concentrated this week on the 55th anniversary of the Kennedy killing, I have been pondering CS Lewis. Belfast has too which has kept Lewis’s passing in our minds when most of  the rest of the world haven’t heard a thing about him. As I have surmised I wonder who left the biggest legacy? Who changed the world most? Now I am no expert in Kennedy’s impact as I was just past my second birthday when he has so callously taken from us. I have no doubt that he was the first modern day pop star President. I have no doubt that he set in motion modern America and that the civil rights world changers likes of Martin Luther King Jr benefited from his Presidency. Let me state that I am in no way diminishing the legacy of JFK.

Yet, in the world I move in, CS is embedded deep in the DNA. As a Christian minister I wonder how many of my congregation have actually had their spiritual lives shaped by the work of CS Lewis. Mere Christianity, The Four Loves, A Grief Observed and The Great Divorce are among the Christian classics. Then the fictional works like Til We Have Faces, The Screwtape Letters, the Space Trilogy and The Chronicles Of Narnia were deep in spiritual insight and allegory. When I consider generation after generation allowing these works to seep into their souls and then live them out across the world I can only imagine how much impact the life and genius of CS Lewis has reaped. Three of my favourites bands, U2, The Waterboys and Over The Rhine are drenched with Lewis’s influence!

In my own life Mere Christianity was foundational as a 17 year old who like Lewis was surprised by God’s existence. Lewis helped me reason the transcendent interruption of grace that had redirected, reinvented and redeemed my life. I have used and abused his Screwtape Letters, as Bono has done,  in performances to deal with darkness and light. I have read the Narnia Chronicles to my girls and watched the movies with them always loving the fact that God (Aslan) has a Ballymena accent like me. In Fitzroy where I am minister “Aslan is on the move” is our phrase when God turns up and shakes us. Below is my very favourite part of his writing. I have used it so many times in preaching and used it in my introduction to my Dare collection of poetry.

It is that bit at the beginning of CS Lewis’s Magician’s Nephew. It is the first venture into Narnia and this journey was not through the Wardrobe but by magic rings transporting Polly and Digory through a pool into this big new world. Lewis, as a man of his age, becomes a little sexist in that Polly is immediately a little frightened and wants to jump back into the little pond and head back to safety and normality. Digory though, in his macho stereotype role, proves courageous and brave. With an adventurous spirit Digory declares, “There's not much point in finding a magic ring that lets you into other worlds if you're afraid to look at them when you've got there." I love that!

There are a lot of Pollys in the Church. Many people are happy to have the rings to the Kingdom BUT are concerned about safety. They are like the guys in Jesus parable who are given a talent and dig a hole and bury it. The Master returns and is angry with their conservative playing safe. The talent has not been lost and damaged but it is whipped away from them and given to those who were brave and a little risky with their talents.

Safety is not an attribute in the Kingdom of God. There is no one from Genesis to Revelation who plays it safe and gets any credit at all from God. It is the reckless, who risked and at times got it way wrong, find themselves in God’s list of heroes of faith in Hebrews 11.

When we are born again into a whole new life and Kingdom, God does not want us to remain in the maternity ward obsessed with that rebirth. He longs for those who enter the Kingdom to head further up and further in. He longs that they would grow up again and head out into that Kingdom, to discover the dangerous terrain that God would long to redeem. There would not be much point of Jesus coming to live and die and be raised to life again in order to let us into a new Kingdom if we are afraid to explore that new Kingdom when grace throws us right into it.

CS Lewis threw us into another Kingdom. He fired our imaginations but kept it relevant to the ordinary. He led us further up and further and will continue to do so every time someone opens a book with his name on it. If in eternity we can look back into time and history I believe that we will see that on November 22nd 1963 the most significant death was that of CS Lewis. No matter what the TV says!


THE WATERBOYS; ROOM TO ROAM - A REASSESSMENT

Waterboys Room To Roam

It has taken me 23 years but at long last I have come to appreciate The Waterboys’ Room To Roam. About three weeks ago my wife told me that Ellie Goulding had covered an Irish song. She thought it might be a Jimmy McCarthy one that Christy Moore had covered. After some days she said that one of the lyrics was “how long will I love you.” I suggested The Waterboys and we had the mystery solved. We needn’t have taxed ourselves over it as it was literally omnipresent on radio and television for the following weeks. Indeed it sits in the UK Top 5 as I write. It is a charity single for BBC’s Children In Need. It took a charity single to send me back to the album where Goulding nicked the song from and re-evaluate it. In 1990 I was a mad Waterboys’ fan. Though I felt the Fisherman’s Blues album was flawed as they pushed the Irish trad just a fraction too far on side 2, I loved side 1 and live they were just imperious! I remember travelling around China for a couple of weeks, waiting patiently for Hong Kong to buy the newly released Room To Roam. I was disappointed. It was too trad again. I have tried a few times to return to it over the years but always the same. Then Ellie Goulding sent me back one more time.

Now a couple of things need added to the Goulding factor. First, the release of the 6CD Fisherman’s Box jam packed with amazing outtakes from that Fisherman’s Blues record has repaired any flaws in the original. Listening to that for a month has probably got my ear in to the period. Add to that the fact that I have been reading Ian Abrahams well researched and fascinating biography of the band Strange Boat. As I am listening to Fisherman’s Box and Ellie Goulding, Abrahams gave me insight into Mike Scott’s intentions for Room To Roam. It seems that the album was shaped while Scott was in a Beatles obsession, having been given a Mark Lewisohn book by Anto Thistlethwaite. It seems that there was depth of reason to Scott’s madness. This was not as I had thought a bunch of folky snippets recorded one spring in a Spiddal pub. This was a man trying to learn the craft of the economical song, and then use the kind of creative wizardry of Sgt Pepper and set it all in an Irish landscape. I had questioned its lack of ambition from the band who gave us the Big Music. How wrong was I?

Yet, realising that he meant to do more than I first thought doesn’t make it a good album. Somehow Goulding and Abrahams had gotten me back to the songs. How Long Will I Love You is a beautiful song and it is hard to believe someone didn’t make it a huge hit before now. It has all the genius that Scott would continue to show for the memorable melodic crafted song. If others wish to follow Goulding surely In Search Of A Rose and The Man Is In Love are ripe for the picking. There is more beyond those accessible poppy love songs. Life Of Sundays is all about the spiritual and wonder, again recurring Scott themes – “...and I dreamed I wandered/wayward as a restless wave/Spanning from here to yonder/most spectacularly saved.” Bigger Picture and the CS Lewis influenced Further Up and Further In are also a searching for the beyond and Room To Roam is about that search ending up in finding home – Room to roam but only one home/For all the world to win”

Soundwise you can be deluded into thinking it is all trad folk but a more careful listening and you get the more eclectic truth. Take the title track and yes there is an Irish waltz feel but it is not too far removed from For The Benefit of Mr Kite. We are back to Sgt Pepper. Certainly Room To Roam is by no means in the league of that iconic Beatles album for and not even in the top 3 Waterboys records but it is a whole lot better than I have thought it was for the past 23 years!


CS Lewis's Ghost

CS Lewis Aslan

I wrote this on a trip to Oxford with Janice in 1995. The middle bit is based on my favourite section of the Narnia Chronicles when Diggory and Lucy first find themselves in Narnia.

My mind drifted through your streets

The rich seams between your walls

Thoughts conversed inside your pubs

And pondered in your college halls

I wondered who walked past me

Who read here down the years

Do they alleviate my suffering

Or aggravate my fears

I raised my heart to heaven

In some kind of mystical toast

Wishing to be haunted

By CS Lewis’s ghost.


What would be the point

In finding magic rings

And never then exploring

The adventure that it brings

Stay safe and never dare

To go from where it begins

Or explore with wild abandon

Further up and further in.

 

God influenced by Monet

Impressionistic peachy beach sky

And in all the lessons of history

All the poet can do is sigh

Life can be so avant garde

Love can be an abstract kiss

But when the spirit whispers

Expect our expectations to twist

We shine love into the silence

Touch cheeks in a romantic toast

I’m wishing I was haunted

By CS Lewis’s ghost.


FITZROY 200 - THE 4 KEYNOTE ADDRESSES

Fitzroy 200 a

Last weekend Fitzroy celebrated 200 years of since its genesis and as we gave God thanks he hurled us into the future with like a full force gale, to quote the Van Morrison song sung at my installation into this history. There were four key note addresses over the weekend and I would love to recommend that you give all four of them a listen. They were challenging, inspiring and encouraging, all leaving us believing but aware of the correcting we all need to do!

I led off on Friday night and afterwards someone said it was the best they had ever heard me. I am not so sure but I certainly was challenged in my own soul as I looked at Jesus the Way. Yes, we reminded ourselves that Jesus life, death and resurrection is the way back to God, to salvation and ultimately heaven. There is much more though as that way is not something we wait for until we die. It begins now. In following Jesus. We took a little audit at what Jesus might say in our prayer meetings, BT addresses etc and how we connect with this generation and neighbourhood to guide them onto the way. What most challenged me was perhaps a too familiar verse, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” I have been wondering how much energy we are all spending on all the things that will be added and how much we are spending on the seeking God first. More to come on that.

hear Steve Stockman's Jesus - The Way here

On Saturday evening took on Jesus - The Truth. David is a world renowned academic with a marvellous mind and gift at communicating Christian truth amidst the intellectual challenges of the real world. David took on the two worldviews that are trying their hardest to shape us; scientific arrogance and postmodern anything goes. With well read knowledge, brilliant illustrations and a command of the Biblical context where Jesus said he was the truth David brought out that truth of Jesus as intellectual, incarnation, ethical and beautiful.

hear David Livingstone's Jesus - The Truth here...

On Sunday my predecessor Ken Newell opened up the idea of Jesus as the life. Ken is a wise spiritual sage who has in his own life prophetically lived out his faith on the streets of his city. He shared much of that journey, soon to be available in his Memoirs, and showed us what a life on fire is all about. It was a great challenge to live out the passion that God gives us. Northern Ireland has too many people with small ears and clenched jaws he said. How do we live Jesus peacemaking now. Again we were drawn back to two recurring Fitzroy themes these days - “word made flesh” and “life in all its fullness”.

hear Ken Newell's Jesus - The Life here...

Last, but far from least, Alain Emerson, pastor in Emmanuel Church in Lurgan and a leader in 24/7 Prayer. He is the new generation of young Church leaders, making Jesus as relevant today as he was down 200 Fitzroy years. Alain was my choice to take us out of celebration to the future, with particular reference to our youth. His Sunday night keynote was simply astounding. Alain came into a context he knew little about and set us on the next part of the journey with real Biblical insight and spiritual wisdom. How encouraging for the pastor when Monday morning’s Facebook was alive with quotes from the Sunday night’s talk. Alain took Numbers 13 and inspired us to be Moses, Caleb or Joshua, all generation running alongside each other as we build on the legacy of our past towards God’s desire for our future. “We can certainly do it!”

hear Alain Emerson's Building On A Legacy here...


FITZROY 200 - THE 4 KEYNOTE ADDRESSES

Fitzroy 200 a

Last weekend Fitzroy celebrated 200 years of since its genesis and as we gave God thanks he hurled us into the future with like a full force gale, to quote the Van Morrison song sung at my installation into this history. There were four key note addresses over the weekend and I would love to recommend that you give all four of them a listen. They were challenging, inspiring and encouraging, all leaving us believing but aware of the correcting we all need to do!

I led off on Friday night and afterwards someone said it was the best they had ever heard me. I am not so sure but I certainly was challenged in my own soul as I looked at Jesus the Way. Yes, we reminded ourselves that Jesus life, death and resurrection is the way back to God, to salvation and ultimately heaven. There is much more though as that way is not something we wait for until we die. It begins now. In following Jesus. We took a little audit at what Jesus might say in our prayer meetings, BT addresses etc and how we connect with this generation and neighbourhood to guide them onto the way. What most challenged me was perhaps a too familiar verse, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” I have been wondering how much energy we are all spending on all the things that will be added and how much we are spending on the seeking God first. More to come on that.

hear Steve Stockman's Jesus - The Way here

On Saturday evening took on Jesus - The Truth. David is a world renowned academic with a marvellous mind and gift at communicating Christian truth amidst the intellectual challenges of the real world. David took on the two worldviews that are trying their hardest to shape us; scientific arrogance and postmodern anything goes. With well read knowledge, brilliant illustrations and a command of the Biblical context where Jesus said he was the truth David brought out that truth of Jesus as intellectual, incarnation, ethical and beautiful.

hear David Livingstone's Jesus - The Truth here...

On Sunday my predecessor Ken Newell opened up the idea of Jesus as the life. Ken is a wise spiritual sage who has in his own life prophetically lived out his faith on the streets of his city. He shared much of that journey, soon to be available in his Memoirs, and showed us what a life on fire is all about. It was a great challenge to live out the passion that God gives us. Northern Ireland has too many people with small ears and clenched jaws he said. How do we live Jesus peacemaking now. Again we were drawn back to two recurring Fitzroy themes these days - “word made flesh” and “life in all its fullness”.

hear Ken Newell's Jesus - The Life here...

Last, but far from least, Alain Emerson, pastor in Emmanuel Church in Lurgan and a leader in 24/7 Prayer. He is the new generation of young Church leaders, making Jesus as relevant today as he was down 200 Fitzroy years. Alain was my choice to take us out of celebration to the future, with particular reference to our youth. His Sunday night keynote was simply astounding. Alain came into a context he knew little about and set us on the next part of the journey with real Biblical insight and spiritual wisdom. How encouraging for the pastor when Monday morning’s Facebook was alive with quotes from the Sunday night’s talk. Alain took Numbers 13 and inspired us to be Moses, Caleb or Joshua, all generation running alongside each other as we build on the legacy of our past towards God’s desire for our future. “We can certainly do it!”

hear Alain Emerson's Building On A Legacy here...


TOMORROW IN FITZROY... AND TONIGHT! FITZROY 200 WEEKEND

Fitzroy 200

This weekend Fitzroy celebrates 200 years of existence. Way back in the year that Pride and Prejudice was published and Belfast witnessed its first sectarian riots as a result of a 12th Day parade marching in a Catholic neighbourhood, a few Presbyterians decided to set up a new Church. The issue that provoked it was a Burgher oath that required holders of public offices to affirm approval of the religion "presently professed in this kingdom". Those who started the sixth Presbyterian Church in Belfast had Burgher sympathies and broke away from the anti-Burgher Seceeder  Berry Street congregation. This little humble band of convicted believers were homeless for the next nine years and then after worshipping in buildings in Alfred Place and Alfred Street finally moved to Fitzroy Avenue in 1874. Two hundred years later, we are delighted that Fitzroy is not only a vibrant Church but planning a building project to take us into another 200 years. Who know? Well, God only and we will leave the future to him.

Anyway, this weekend we celebrate by going back to the source and what has sustained us down two centuries. We will be spending the entire weekend looking at Jesus. Based around Jesus own description of himself as The Way, The Truth and The Life we will give thanks to Jesus and seek his challenge and inspiration for the next steps in our journey as His followers.

After last night's look at Jesus - The Way in poetry, drama and song we move on to tonight (7.30) when Prof. David Livingstone will look at Jesus; The Truth. This will be a more lecture/seminar style and will be open to discussion.

On Sunday morning (11am) we welcome back our former minister, Ken Newell who will look at Jesus; The Life. This is also our Gift Day and will be a service of real thanksgiving and dedication.

Can we also invite you to a Gift Breakfast hosted by Fitzroy Elders at 9.45. Pick up a home made scone among other delights before worship!

On Sunday evening (7pm) we welcome Alain Emerson from 24/7 Prayer who will send us off on the next part of the journey. We will also welcome Richard Spratt from Fields Of Life who will launch our Uganda school project. Again, wrapped around with intimate worship.

EVERYBODY WELCOME!


THE STREETS OF THE CITY THAT MADE VAN MORRISON A FREEMAN...AS MADE SONG BY VAN MORRISON

Cypress Avenue

As a music fan I have imagine romantically about the places referred to in the work of Springsteen, Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon among a plethora of others, though a cancelled flight at Newark airport took me onto Simon’s New Jersey turnpike and the reality wasn’t too exciting! Belfast is blessed with our own contemporary music name place dropper Van Morrison. No matter where you go in the world someone has heard of Cyprus Avenue. As a Presbyterian minister I used to think I would be called to the Church with the Cyprus Avenue street sign outside. It never happened! Then a day or two before I was installed as the minister of Fitzroy I was listening to Madame George and there it was, “Ford and Fitzroy”. Confirmed!

In his poem/song Hyndford Street Morrison travels to Fuscos in Holywood for Ice Cream, name checks Beechie River, Abetta Parade, Orangefield, St. Donard's Church comes down from the Castlereagh Hills through Cregagh Glens, “to Hyndford Street, feeling wondrous and lit up inside/With a sense of everlasting life..." It is what Morrison has been doing since that iconic first solo record Astral Weeks, finding transcendence in the everyday familiar. In what he does and how he does it he is heading back past Irish poets like Kavanagh and Yeats to the Celtic Christianity centuries before; revealing the extraordinary in the everyday ordinary.

Morrison’s Astral Weeks is mentioned in the same breath as Sgt Peppers’ Lonely Hearts Club Band as maybe the best record of all time and where The Beatles in 1967 were singing about places in their native Liverpool, Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields, Morrison created Astral Weeks’ incredible piece of poetry and sound, vast and magical, from a tiny house in a gray and claustrophobic little street in East Belfast. Though it would take him a few decades to name Hyndford Street specifically, Astral Weeks gives us Cyprus Avenue, Fitzroy and Sandy Row.

Through the years Morrison has added many other spaces and icons to his catalogue of Belfast memories. Cherry Valley in the aforementioned Hyndford Street, the Orangefield of his school days appears on Got To Go Back from No Method No Guru No Teacher and then gets an entire songs called Orangefield on Avalon Sunset. In the title track of Sense of Wonder, a song in which Van sees himself as a bringer of a firey vision he is finding wonder in Gransha, Ballystockart Road, the Castle Picturehouse on the Castlereagh Road and the man who played the saw outside the City Hall. There are also mentions for pastie suppers down at Davy's Chipper, gravy rings, barnbracks, wagon wheels and snowballs, all vivid and vital memories for Morrison himself and many of us who have called this city home.

I had one of these magical moments at a concert in Vancouver where a Canadian singer encored with Morrison’s Into The Mystic. There are no specific place names in this song but when he sang about hearing of the fog horn blow and knowing that it meant he would be coming home I was on Belfast’s Lough and tears started to seep. Thank you Van Morrison for giving our city streets a wonder that resonates in our own souls and across the world.


THE RADICAL JESUS - WOULD THE CHURCH CRUCIFY HIM?

Radical Jesus

In 1966 John Lennon made a throwaway, non theological comment to journalist Maureen Cleeve that his band The Beatles were "more popular than Jesus". Beatles albums became the fuel for mass bonfires across America's Bible Belt. Why I am not so sure, Christians who believe so much in truth and honesty could hardly quibble with someone accurately describing a truth that was too easily defendable. There was no questioning the fact of the statement what I want to ask is how could it have become a fact. How could four guys from Liverpool with long hair and guitars, singing "She Loves You Yeah Yeah Yeah" be more relevant than Jesus Christ the Son of God who came to bring us life in all it's fullness. As I read the Gospels I am more and more convinced that Jesus is as relevant if not more so today than he was in 30 AD.

Jesus once asked his disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" I have a deep conviction that we who claim to represent Him at the beginning of the Third Millennium need to urgently ask that question again because I believe that we are a long way off revealing the real Jesus to our world. Tozer once said that "what we think about God is the most important thing about us" and I believe it to be vital that we reassess what we think about Christ.

I believe that if Jesus came back into our evangelical Churches He would end up in the same place on Good Friday. He would not be your middle class boy, nicely dressed and spending all his time at Prayer meetings. He'd tell us some crazy things in Northern Ireland like "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you." And he'd probably say it on the Sunday before the Twelfth, even with Orangemen or Residents Groups in the congregation!

He'd probably look at the dreams we have for our children. The best education so that they get a well paid career with promotion prospects, a beautiful and wealthy spouse, a house in South Belfast with two good cars. Then he'd probably tell us that the lilies of the field are better dressed than all your Credit cards can buy in Hollister and say something like, "Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

He would perhaps ask perceptive and probing questions about what we live for. Does our first world decadence seek solace, sustenance and soothing in our leisure time and our vocations? Do we serve God, the Church and others when we’ve fitted in our weekend activities for ourselves first. After all, we are busy, stretched at work, under pressure. It is a stressful world in the 2000s. Would he ask us to seek first God’s kingdom and see everything else added to us. And would we?

He'd probably sit in on our Prayer Meetings and be glad that we realise that where two or three are gathered he is in the midst. He might make the meeting a little less cozy by telling us that if we don't feed him when he is hungry, give him a drink when he is thirsty, visit him when sick or in prison, invite him in when he is a stranger clothe him when he is naked then we will cursed into eternal fire. When we ask when he is like that he'll conclude, "I tell you the truth what you did not do for one of the least of these you did not do for me." Yes he may ask us when we last met him in the face of the hungry tramp or imprisoned terrorist.

Yes, Jesus would say exactly the same things today as He said back then. His message would not have changed.

His company may be much the same too. He might not have too much time to go to too many Church meetings and may indeed attract a dodgy bunch of friends rather than those we vote in as elders. You could see him walking through the inner city and seeing a rather short drug dealer perched up a tree to get a view. He'd walk through all the religious people who had the roast already on the timer and ask this social outcast to make him his lunch. Would his Zacchaeus, up a tree in Belfast, be a paramilitary from the other side? He'd probably attract all kinds of down and outs and good for nothings and he'd have little time for the religious.

Yes, Jesus would hang out with exactly the same people today as he did back then.

Prostitutes. Yes, he'd bump into a few of those. Befriend them actually. They'd maybe be the very first to get in on some important theological truth.

I lived for a very short time in the centre of Belfast in a block of flats outside which the prostitutes hung out. For a good wee Ballymena boy it was a little unnerving if a little repulsive too. Walking out past them every night I eventually longed to be able just to say hello. Give a little dignity into their day. I couldn't. Good Christian discipleship. I thought. Then I thought again. Bad Christian discipleship. I realised that in all the discipleship classes I'd ever goneto, no one had ever told me how to speak to prostitutes. How to read my Bible twice a day, how I had to go to two services on a Sunday, the midweek and summer beach missions but no one told me how to speak to prostitutes. No one had taught me how to follow Jesus.

Another very influential songwriter Jackson Browne recently described his song "Rebel Jesus" as being written about "his allegiance to Christ but not Christianity". As a follower of Jesus Christ in 2013 and someone committed to His Church I find myself labelled as part of Christianity. My life is therefore committed to getting back to First Century Palestine to meet Jesus and to follow Him and not the Jesus that is filtered through 2000 years of circumstance, ideas, culture and traditions. I do not want to be a reflection of a diluted Jesus, whether that comes from early Church Fathers and Creeds, monks and Popes, Reformers, Anna Baptists, Social Revolutionaries, travelling evangelists or revivals, liberal theologians or charismatic house Churches . There may be many good things to be learned from all of these but it is Jesus not these traditions that I am called to follow.

I may be wrong but I believe that to follow Jesus, undiluted, would turn my world upside down just in the same way as it did in The Acts of The Apostles. That is my daily devotion and struggle. My allegiance like, Jackson Browne's, is to Christ and not Christianity. He says to me still, "as the Father has sent me I am sending you" - now "who do you say that I am?"


THIS WEEKEND IN FITZROY - FITZROY 200 EVENTS

Fitzroy 200

This weekend Fitzroy celebrates 200 years of existence. Way back in the year that Pride and Prejudice was published and Belfast witnessed its first sectarian riots as a result of a 12th Day parade marching in a Catholic neighbourhood, a few Presbyterians decided to set up a new Church. The issue that provoked it was a Burgher oath that required holders of public offices to affirm approval of the religion "presently professed in this kingdom". Those who started the sixth Presbyterian Church in Belfast had Burgher sympathies and broke away from the anti-Burgher Seceeder  Berry Street congregation. This little humble band of convicted believers were homeless for the next nine years and then after worshipping in buildings in Alfred Place and Alfred Street finally moved to Fitzroy Avenue in 1874. Two hundred years later, we are delighted that Fitzroy is not only a vibrant Church but planning a building project to take us into another 200 years. Who know? Well, God only and we will leave the future to him.

Anyway, this weekend we celebrate by going back to the source and what has sustained us down two centuries. We will be spending the entire weekend looking at Jesus. Based around Jesus own description of himself as The Way, The Truth and The Life we will give thanks to Jesus and seek his challenge and inspiration for the next steps in our journey as His followers.

On Friday night (7.30) Steve Stockman will look at Jesus; The Way. There will be poetry and drama, there will be worship and two songs from Rich Mullins’ Jesus Record.

On Saturday night (7.30) Prof. David Livingstone will look at Jesus; The Truth. This will be a more lecture/seminar style and will be open to discussion.

On Sunday morning (11am) we welcome back our former minister, Ken Newell who will look at Jesus; The Life. This is also our Gift Day and will be a service of real thanksgiving and dedication.

On Sunday evening (7pm) we welcome Alain Emerson from 24/7 Prayer who will send us off on the next part of the journey. We will also welcome Richard Spratt from Fields Of Life who will launch our Uganda school project. Again, wrapped around with intimate worship.  


14 DAYS DOCUMENTARY SHOWING IN FITZROY - Best Sermon You'll Ever Watch

14 Days

(this is an edited version of a review I wrote when 14 Days was aired on BBC in March 2013. On November 20th at 7.30 we will be showing it in Fitzroy as part of Fitzroy 200. We hope that showing it in a Church will add to the spiritual potency)

I have always found the challenge of following Jesus to be one that needs courage; if we live it out it is bound to lead us into danger. Attempting to follow Jesus in the midst of Northern Ireland’s divided and often violently bloody context makes it even more precarious as a life option. “Love your enemies” has always been a phrase of Christ’s that haunts me, jolts my prejudice and pricks the conscience when I opt for comfortable Churchianity! Since the moment I took a decision to follow Jesus in 1979 I have lived under the authority of that phrase though the majority of my fellow followers have never encouraged me and, indeed, anytime I have attempted peacemaking I have been made me feel like a heretic.

Watching 14 Days on BBC Northern Ireland last night was the most powerful sermon on following Jesus I have experienced in a long, long time. In March 1988 Belfast was on the very brink of becoming a bloody war zone. Murder followed murder, many of them televised. Tensions were higher than maybe ever in an already murderous twenty years of Troubles. In the midst of the darkness, a candle flickered. One man was not prepared to let go of the hope he believed Jesus came to bring. One man was prepared to literally lay his life on the line to change the circumstances he was living in. That man was Fr Alec Reid, a Redemptorist Brother from Clonard Monastery on the Falls Road. 14 Days followed the news bulletins of those days and in between followed this courageous follower of Jesus as he... followed Jesus!

When Michael Stone opened fire and threw grenades into a crowd of mourners at an IRA Funeral, Fr Reid was standing beside Gerry Adams, who was perhaps the target of Stone’s bullets. As angry mourners chased Stone Fr Reid felt they would kill him and told Adams he wanted to get down and stand between them. Adams told him he was mad. Whether he was mad or not wasn’t what concerned Fr Alec Reid. If following Jesus was mad then mad was what he had to be. A few days later he was back in the funeral cortege of those whom Stone had murdered. During this funeral, two members of the British army found themselves in the midst of a tense crowd and when a gun appeared the crowd thought that another Stone incident was about to go down and dragged the soldiers from the car and murdered them. Fr Reid tried to get between the angry crowd and the soldiers, was threatened with his life but ended up in a back alley giving one of the dying men the kiss of life and last rites. It was mad in its bravery. It was what Jesus would have done but only one follower that I know did. In that moment when death reigned, Fr Alec Reid had in his hand a now blood covered statement from Sinn Fein of what would be needed to bring peace. He had been given it at the funeral. He delivered it to SDLP leader John Hume and the peace process was given life. The flicker of the candle that was Fr Alec Reid lit up Northern Ireland towards the bright new dawn of the cease fires some years later.

The BBC’s programme was brilliant; poignant and moving. For those of us prepared to relive the horror of those 14 days we got to find hope. I found myself realising that I was now in the story. Two of the contributors were my predecessor in Fitzroy, Ken Newell, and a colleague in the Clonard/Fitzroy fellowship, Fr Gerry Reynolds. That Clonard/Fitzroy fellowship became such a part of the peace story that they received the Pax Christi, Vatican Peace Prize. I found myself speaking at the Clonard Monastery Novena a couple of years ago. There were no bloodied dead bodies around me and no gunmen in sight but it only happened after twenty years of building up the courage.

In 14 Days Fr Reid suggests that it is too easy to just be a Church leader who does liturgy. He felt that if there is violence on the street and people were being killed that it was the job of a Priest to be involved in stopping it. Fr Gerry Reynolds quoted the Beatitudes as the reason to be peacemakers. I grew up in a place where Catholics like Fr Reid and Fr Reynolds would not even have been recognised as Christian! When I told a friend that I thought Fitzroy might ask me to think about being their minister he replied, “You wouldn’t want to go there; they talk to Catholics!” In the book of Acts people are called Christians by those who watch them and see Christ in their actions. How dare anyone suggest that Fr Alec Reid shouldn’t be called a Christian? It is the rest of us who need to reassess! When I visit Clonard I feel privileged to walk where Fr Alec Reid walked, I feel embarrassed at my efforts at peacemaking but I feel inspired by the example of one man who was prepared to deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow Jesus.

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