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November 2015


Song For Someone

It was a crystal clear moment in the midst of the bombardment of stimuli that was a U2 show in my home town. Bono is singing Song For Someone and a wee boy acting out Bono’s adolescence is sitting, strumming, walking around that house on Cedarwood Road where Bono first thought through Songs Of Innocence, forty years before he and his teenage mates made those experiences into song. From out of this song of romantic love and spiritual pilgrimage these lines raised themselves into another dimension in my ears:

“If there is a dark, 

that we shouldn’t doubt

And there is a light

Don’t let it go out.”

We are five days on from Paris. Europe felt the darkness that large swathes of the planet feels every single daily but never makes the news. Dark. Evil. Is that why Bono threw a twist on the lyric in Belfast, "I know there's so many reasons to doubt/But there is a light/ Don't let it go out"... Reasons to doubt. But hang on to the light… My soul jumped. A powerfully subtle preach.

It reminded me of my sermon a few weeks ago where I was looking at hope and used that scene in Shawshank Redemption where Andy comes out of the hole and sits down in the canteen. 

Shawshank Hope

How was it? 


How could it be fine? 

I had Mozart with me. 

They let you take records in? 

In here. (points to head and heart) They can’t take it away from you. Do you not have that?

What are you talking about? 


Hope is a dangerous thing.

No. Remember that hope is a good thing, Red, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.


When U2 sing of the light then, be in no doubt, it is the light of faith. Jesus said he was the light. U2 never ignore the dark. They project it onto screens as in the video of a Syrian city on this tour. In the midst of the dark they shine or sing a light. A light that bring hope. For those who believe, the dark can be a challenge. The events of Paris can test the soul. On Wednesday night Bono reminded me like Mozart reminded Andy in Shawshank… “And there is a light/Don’t let it go out.”



S-L photo...

(My friend Sara-Louise posted this on Facebook this morning...I blog it with her permission...)

I have known deep pain in my personal life, losing my father due to terrorism. I also know that "praying for our enemies" is when the rubber hits the road when it comes to Christianity. I have done it with gritted teeth and bitterness in my heart. THIS is what Jesus asks of us because HE KNOWS IT BRINGS FREEDOM.

It's not natural, it's counter-cultural. It's not easy, it's VERY painful. BUT...if we want to move forward into the freedom of LIVING, then we need to do it.

On The Gospel Coalition website I read...

"Jesus in his famous Sermon on the Mount. “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:43).

If you’ve ever wondered why many people refused to follow Jesus during his earthly ministry, you have to look no further than that verse.

In our day, we have watered down the term “enemy” so much that this command has lost much of its shock value. Today, “enemy” is used primarily in reference to people who are rude to us or treat us unkindly. We even use the portmanteau “frenemy” to refer to an associate pretending to be a friend or someone who really is a friend but also a rival."


Stockies Ribbon Cut

So, today has had the title Laughing With God for some time. It comes from that Psalm of Ascent 126 :

When the Lord restored the fortunes of[a] Zion,

    we were like those who dreamed.[b]

Our mouths were filled with laughter,

    our tongues with songs of joy.

Then it was said among the nations,

    “The Lord has done great things for them.”

The Lord has done great things for us,

    and we are filled with joy.

I think we have been feeling that in recent weeks. Renovated, extended halls feels like a restoration. Our mouths are filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Life here on a daily basis has been transformed, energised. Every day is vibrant with people and Fitzroy as a Church is alive. Laughing with God, indeed.

And then Friday night. What terror! What horror! What pain, hurt, heartache. Paris in panic and mourning. How can we laugh in our new buildings in Belfast while others weep in such devastation in Paris. It didn’t seem right.

And yet, the acts of evil in Paris shouldn’t prevent us from giving thanks to God for all the blessings we have been hearing about today. The Psalms are the hymns and prayers and laments of a people who dealt with all of the crisis and dilemmas of life in the context of worship and a worshipping community.

When I shifted my focus from a light morning of thanksgiving and laughter to ask how to bring in the Paris tragedy to this short sermon I came to see that actually those events are an urgent reminder of what this opening is all about.  

These buildings are a sanctuary in the midst of a dark world. This is a place where within the community of living stones we can find solace, healing, forgiveness, restoration and redemption.

These buildings are a sanctuary where we can come together and in find our place in the universe as people created in the image of God and redeemed by Jesus life, death and resurrection. In finding our vertical connection with God redeemed in Jesus we can then make some sense of the horizontal relationships with each other, with neighbours and even with enemies. We gather together after nights like Friday and in worship we somehow find in Psalm 46:

4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

the holy place where the Most High dwells.


5God is within her, she will not fall;

God will help her at break of day.


6Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;

he lifts his voice, the earth melts.


7The Lord Almighty is with us;

the God of Jacob is our fortress.

These buildings are a sanctuary but not a passive one. These are not halls to come into as some escape from the horrors of our world. Yes we can see them as a place for retreat, a soul space in the tragedy to breathe deep the breath of God but ultimately these buildings are a grace driven sanctuary that propel us out from them into the neighbourhood. It’s what the power of their new windows does, opening our connections with community. These halls are not an alternative to the world out there. They are a mission station to transform the world out there. 

May these buildings never be a place for our self indulgence or our self righteousness. May these buildings always be about God’s Spirit infusing us to feed the world’s needs… for food, water, shelter, well being, peace, justice and salvation.

May these buildings be the Word moving into the neighbourhood, as John described Jesus in the prologue of his Gospel.

May these buildings be the salt of the earth like Jesus called his followers to be in the sermon on the mount. Into a world that throws us Paris may we be what David Gray sang… “into lies, ruin, disease… into wounds like these… let the truth sting…” may we be salt in the city of Belfast to bring the salt of healing.

May these buildings be the light of the world that jesus called his followers to be in the Sermon On The Mount. May we shine light into this city. May we be particles of light in our vocations and neighbourhoods right across Belfast. May we be a cluster of light in a university area, a commercial thoroughfare, a residential area. 

John’s prologue also declare that “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it…”

John reminds us about this overcoming a world of Parises later in his Gospel. he records how Jesus told the disciples, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Brent van Der Linde Facebooked yesterday those great words of Martin Luther King - Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that” 

May these halls be beacons of light and love driving out darkness and hate. 

In and from these halls may we hold this belief but carry it gently and without arrogance. May we shine and scatter grace with servant like humility.

As we thank God for his goodness to us I am reminded of Psalm 116



What shall I return to the Lord

    for all his goodness to me?


I will lift up the cup of salvation

    and call on the name of the Lord.


I will fulfill my vows to the Lord

    in the presence of all his people.

So today we thank God for these new halls…

their artistic beauty…

their ambience of grace…

their near luxurious comfort…

their ability to boil two kettles at once…

the morale lift that it has given us as a community of Jesus followers.

For me the thanksgiving is not that we have new halls that gives me a lovely new office or a lovely new Welcome Area where we can chat and sip coffee and eat Blythman Bread or Trinder Traybakes.

These halls is our gift to offer back to God. So we ask…

What does this area need?

What artistic beauty?

What ambience of grace?

What deep comfort?

What is equivalent in the community around us to us needing to be able to boil two kettles?

What can we do in this community to lift morale of a city?

Another social media message yesterday said, “We need to have a life giving presence in our cities.”

May these halls… and Onialeku Primary School in my beloved West Nile… and us the living stones within them… and our pouring back out from them be that life giving presence… and we are back to John’s prologue… 

Through these new halls Lord… may we, Fitzroy, be… The Word becoming flesh and moving into this city and across the world…

Lord, Let It Be!


Paris Attacks

My friend Martyn Joseph has a song called Not A Good Time For God: -


“It’s not a good time for God

It’s not a good time

atheists deplore him

hedonists ignore him

men with bombs adore him”


It came to mind again last night as I watched the tragic and unbelievable news from Paris. If this has been done, as is expected, in the name of Islam then religion is to blamed for more human carnage. As I as a believer think of it as a godless event, many will think of it as a god-filled act. It’s not a good time for God. Let us be careful not to damn all Muslims as the same as these militants, anymore than all Protestants and Catholics  should have been stereotyped by the atrocities of The Troubles.

It is difficult as a pastor to make sense of such an inhumane act. What does the minister say into such senseless horror? How can we equate belief with unbelievable killing? One thing Martyn goes on to sing is that it has actually never been a good time for God:


“empty churches lost him

close friends double-crossed him

the crucifixion cost him

it’s never been a good time for God”


This morning I am reminded of a television interview, a few days after the Virginia Tech shooting in 2008, when American novelist Lionel Shriver gave me a window to deal with the inexplicable. Shriver challenged a tendency we have to rationalise such tragic events. Shriver dismissed such a pursuit and declared the event as “a mystery of evil.”

This made total sense to me. I have no idea whether Shriver shares my Christian faith or not but it has been my concern for many years that in the age of rationalism we have lost the mystery of God. We tried to seamlessly explain him. As we scientifically sowed up all theological thought we lost the awe of the mystery and took control back from God. We did not need to trust anymore because we knew as much as God. To quote a David Gray line, “We were trying to spell what the wind can’t explain.”

Most of our intellectual responses to the Paris Terror Attacks will be trying to spell what the wind can’t explain. We will attempt to take control. What Shriver is telling us is that we cannot because we are dealing with something beyond us. With all our human progress and knowledge we just can’t grasp this one. This is the mystery of evil. 

We sit as tiny specs in a vast Universe but think we should, with our finite little brains, be able to take all of it in. This morning I sit under the vastness of that cosmos and hurl my questions at God. I no longer attempt to be God, with all the answers, but seek a space where that mystery of evil collides with God’s good grace.

We have questions that we will ask in our outrage, heartbreak, grief and tears. At such times I am reminded of the song of another friend, the late Rich Mullins. Rich warns us that having all the religious answers will not solve our problems nor will it erase our hurt.


“And I know you bore our sorrows

And I know you feel our pain

And I know it would not hurt any less

Even if it could be explained…”


Indeed, the entire lyric of that song Hard To Get is a helpful thing for me at a time like this…


You who live in heaven

Hear the prayers of those of us who live on earth

Who are afraid of being left by those we love

And who get hardened by the hurt

Do you remember when You lived down here where we all scrape

To find the faith to ask for daily bread

Did You forget about us after You had flown away

Well I memorized every word You said

Still I'm so scared, I'm holding my breath

While You're up there just playing hard to get


You who live in radiance

Hear the prayers of those of us who live in skin

We have a love that's not as patient as Yours was

Still we do love now and then

Did You ever know loneliness

Did You ever know need

Do You remember just how long a night can get?

When You were barely holding on

And Your friends fall asleep

And don't see the blood that's running in Your sweat

Will those who mourn be left uncomforted

While You're up there just playing hard to get?


And I know you bore our sorrows

And I know you feel our pain

And I know it would not hurt any less

Even if it could be explained

And I know that I am only lashing out

At the One who loves me most

And after I figured this, somehow 

All I really need to know

Is if You who live in eternity

Hear the prayers of those of us who live in time

We can't see what's ahead

And we can not get free of what we've left behind


I'm reeling from these voices that keep screaming in my ears

All the words of shame and doubt, blame and regret I can't see how

You're leading me unless

You've led me here

Where I'm lost enough to let myself be led

And so You've been here all along I guess

It's just Your ways and You are just plain hard to get.


U2 SOI&E photo 1


performances by Chris Wilson, Dave Thompson, Jonny Fitch, Shannon Clements & Andy Patterson

unpacking the Belfast gigs by Steve Stockman (author of Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of U2) and Angela Pancella (

in Fitzroy Church (on the corner of University Street and Rugby Road BT7 1HL)

on Sunday November 22nd 2015 at 7pm

This next week sees U2 play in Belfast for the first time in almost 20 years. The band have had a political relationship with the city since December 1982 when Bono introduced the new song Sunday Bloody Sunday and told the Maysfield crowd that if they didn't like it they'd never play it again. That they are still playing it over 30 years later tells you the response. 

Bono always said that, though they didn't grow up where the bombs were going off, U2 grew up where the bombs were being made and that that gave them the right to comment. Of course the bombs did go off one black Friday in Dublin. On May 17 1974 bombs tore Dublin apart. Bono could have been there but made a decision to change his plans. His friend Andy Rowen wasn't so lucky and the 11 year old was caught up amongst the debris and dead bodies with bombs going off around him. On Cedarwood Road where Bono lived across the street from Andy that would have ben their closest childhood encounter with the horror of the Troubles. It is now a song called Raised By Wolves.

U2 are meticulous in what the day do on stage. This particular tour is getting rave reviews from fans and those harder to impress because of the theatrical visual nature of the set. When they arrive in Belfast on Wednesday night, for a two date stay, you can be sure that Bono will have thought it through. Where do these songs connect with the Northern Ireland peace process as it stalls just now? What way can these songs be used to make a prophetic contribution? The man who stood between John Hume and David Trimble, in that Bob Marley like way, in April 1998 to support the Good Friday agreement has a vested interest in our peace process. How will this band respond?

I have now seen the show and it is spectacular in staging, visuals and raw emotion. Belfast is all over it. Our political murals, the debris that falls during End Of The World was a pointed comment to our brand new agreement. many of the atrocities of the Troubles were named in remembrance... What excited me most was that the heart of this show is a song cycle that we in Fitzroy had spotted a year ago and we will return to perform those core songs and reflect this Sunday night. 

Fitzroy players and singers will perform the songs and Steve Stockman will unpack what U2 with their songs. Fitzroy is renowned, across the world, for its evening on Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springteen, Bob Dylan, Christy Moore etc. They recently built their entire morning service around the hymns and songs of Van Morrison, the day before his Cyprus Avenue concerts. They have done U2 before but this evening will be a very specific look at these Belfast shows. New voices and new thoughts will be added to the mix. We are thrilled to have Angela Pancella contributor to with us to compare and contrast the North American and Belfast shows!

All welcome...

MARTYN JOSEPH in BELFAST 2015 - Errigle and Fitzroy

MJ and Me

I was just a few songs into Martyn Joseph’s set at the Errigle Inn when I realised that I had already moved in my mind from writing a review to being involved in a therapy session. Martyn has said for years that songwriting is cheap therapy but it during this gig that I understood that the best writers are those who give cheap therapy sessions to their audiences.

This passionate and compassionate Welsh songwriter has been therapy for my head, heart and soul for twenty years. That Errigle gig had me thinking about children, parents, the male condition, the sad state of the world. Riven through every detail was this underlying strength of hope. A surprise outing for Sunday’s Coming, from way back on the An Ache And A Longing live record of 1989, gave some substance to my question as to where Joseph finds this hope, but throughout the evening he has constantly looks right into the eye of the world’s darkest most damnedest corners and somehow finds a hopefulness that shines redemptive light.

At the Errigle I was particularly struck by the juxtaposition of a song about his mother Her Name Is Rose and his old song about the Yugoslavian conflict, The Good In Me Is Dead. This is an outrageously good song and about an outrageously harrowing situation. A man at a border with his village destroyed waits for his mother. This is a very different mother/child experience than the one with his own mum. Powerful. Joseph explains that it is back in the set because it sadly fits so well with the refugee crisis in Syria and the pouring into Europe of such people whose good is being bashed out of them. It’s one of his gifts, to take big political issues and focus them in on the personal to one up the trauma. 

But there’s more. Nowadays Martyn does not only sing and psyche his audience up to transform the world, with his challenging songs of humans' inhumanity. Before you leave the venue you can now have literally made a contribution to change. During Martyn’s experience of a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank, in which he wrote Cockburnesque Luxury Of Despair, he decided that he needed to do something about these unjust situations he has seen. He set up Let Yourself Trust to help fund small life giving projects. So on the way out, as well as buy the latest CD, you can contribute to a better more hopeful world! They have now funded projects in Palestine, Gautemala, Uganda and Swansea! For those of us listening to Martyn for many years it makes total sense.

The Errigle set list was weighted heavily on the new album Sanctuary. Of those Are You Ready, When Will We Find and I’ve Searched For You were instant Joseph live staples. The struggle of being human, vulnerable, believing, doubting, failing but seeking for something and reaching for love and peace and justice torpedo to your soul with quick fire couplets. Land Of Evermore is the only co-write with old partner Stewart Henderson on Sanctuary and on this one Stewart's poetry is particularly pastoral and of place in this remarkable lyric.

There were Springsteen covers of course. Land Of Hope and Dreams in Martyn’s acoustic setting becomes more personal than E Street’s big sound. His breaking down of One Step Up not only threw light on Springsteen’s genius but revealed most clearly why Joseph feels such kinship.

As if this was not enough the thirty five or so fans or songwriters who called into Fitzroy Church Welcome Area the next night at teatime for a Q & A got a few extra treats. In this setting Martyn relaxes so wonderfully and can be so intimate and giving. As I asked him about influences, inspiration and his journey of life and songwriting he made himself vulnerable.

How remarkable to hear Ballad For The Children Of Ireland from way way back in the early 80s, Don McLean’s Vincent and a version of Springsteen’s The Promise with help from Lydia Coates on smart phone shooting him up some lyrics! 

His clues about songwriting were very helpful, the honesty to be true to yourself in what you write but still to keeping in mind your audience. It was wise and mature as indeed one feels Martyn Joseph should be at this time of his life. Those 180 gigs a year and all those records have given him a depth of knowledge of his vocation that he is happy to pass on. 

So, 24 hours of soul therapy and political insight with a few lessons in art plus a few places on earth better off as a result. Hard to whack!


Cross and poppies

“I've seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah”

          From Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen

These words drift into my mind every year around Remembrance Day. They are a sombre prayer on a day that should never be jingoistic. 

It is a good thing to remember the war dead. It is not such a good thing when that becomes an excuse to wave flags in the face of the vanquished. 

It is a day to remember those who, caught up in war, lost their lives because humanity, in all our progress, intelligence and advancement, could not work out ways to live together 2000 years after Christ.

It is a day to remember the horrific way in which 1,000,000 soldiers were killed or injured at The Battle Of The Somme in 1916. There were 3,500 Irish deaths in that battle, almost exactly the same number as were killed in the recent Troubles.

It is a day to remember the wars that still rage, the soldiers who still put their lives on the line and the refugees who run from the horror of the war today.

It is a day to pray that we might learn from our wars. That we might not send our youth into such horrors again. And yet we do…

It is a day to ask what they fought for and, in our poppy wearing, our moments of silence, our gatherings around cenotaphs, are we honouring the dead we remember by making the better world that they gave their lives for.

It is a day to listen to Jeff Buckley’s poignant and beautiful version of Hallelujah and shed a tear for the cold and broken hallelujah that our remembering invokes. 

It is a day to remember the words of Jesus… 

LUKE 6 - 27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.



 PSALM 126

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
    our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
    and we are filled with joy.

Fitzroy night 2

Two years ago we celebrated Fitzroy 200. It had been 200 years since a small group of families with "burgher" sympathies left Belfast's Seceder Meeting House in Berry Street and met in temporary premises in the Commercial Courts. At our Anniversary service on November 17th 2013 we launched our fund raising campaign for renovating and extended our Church halls. They really  needed fixed up and made fit for purpose. That morning a very generous congregation put a quarter of a million pounds into gift baskets to get us going. We were overwhelmed with thanksgiving.


This weekend, exactly two years later to the same weekend, we will officially open those renovated and extended halls. They are quite beautiful. Already they are increasing the vibrancy of the congregation and are becoming a resource to the community and the city. We are thrilled too that as we raised money for our own buildings we gave £75,000 to build a Primary School in Onialeku on the outskirts of Arua in north west Uganda, through Fields Of Life. That will feature in our celebrations too!


So, this is the weekend of events we have lined up. These events are so that anyone can come along and see what we have done, share in our joy, bask in the beauty and maybe see whether the halls can be a resource for something you are doing.


THURSDAY 12th @ 5.30pm - 7pm




With wonderful wall space in the newly renovated and extended Fitzroy Church Halls we were keen not to just fill them with second rate posters. The idea is that we will give artists a shop window for their art and change that art every few months. We are delighted to have Julie-Anne Richmond do the first exhibit. Her work is vivid, imaginative, mystical and beautiful. Julie-Anne also does commissions. 

Attend launch and meet the artist for free.


FRIDAY NIGHT 13th @ 6.45 - 10.15.


Our Friday night Youth Clubs invite you to drop along and see what is happening. If you are a parent and you drop off, go home and come back, then why not stay and have a coffee and chat in our new Welcome Area. You can see what the Clubs get up to too.


SATURDAY MORNING 14th @ 10am - 2.30pm


Drop in when you can and leave when you must, grab a coffee and no doubt tray bake. Have a good yarn and take a look around the new halls.


Fitzroy Welcome Area Jasp


SATURDAY AFTERNOON 14th @ 2.30pm - 4pm

TEDDY BEAR’S PICNIC with Jump, Jiggle and Jive

Here’s an exciting event for the little ones. For the ages 0-4 comm along and have an afternoon of real fun. There will be a slot taken by Jump, Jiggle and Jive and a Teddy Bear Hunt with Fitzroy original knitted Teddy Bears to take home. 

Teddy Bear's Picnic


SUNDAY MORNING 15th @ 10.45am


Fitzroy is not a community where anyone is any more important than any other and so it was decided that EVERYONE would open the new building. Therefore at 10.45 sharp (!!!!), rain, hail or shine, the entire congregation will gather around the building and cut the ribbon all at once. Don’t forget your scissors!


SUNDAY MORNING 15th @ 11am


As a community, Fitzroy will gather to give thanks to God for all His goodness to us as a community and particularly for the new buildings here and in Onialeku, Uganda. This will be a short punchy service when we will hear what a few people want to give thanks for and sing worship, thanksgiving and praise. Expect vibrancy! 


Refreshments will be provided!



An Tor ar Lasadh

Adhradh Phreispitéireach as Gaeilge Fáilte roimh Chách

Presbyterian Worship in Irish - Everyone Welcome




Our Opening Day Festivities will continue in our final event;  Meet The Neighbourhood. This will take the form of a chat show event and we will be meeting Prof. Tony Gallagher (Pro-Vice Chancellor QUB), Ednar Nyakaisiki Adyeeri (Executive Director, Fields Of Life, Kampala), Steve Cartwright (Wildflower Alley) and Jason McMahon (Mornington)


That will all be gathered up in top quality music from Fitzroy singers - Chris Wilson, Dave Thompson, Shannon Clements, Caroline Orr and Jonny Fitch.


After this event we are thrilled to have Right Rev. Dr. Ken Newell, our former minister to open the Newell Room and Ednar Nyakaisiki Adyeeri from Fields Of Life in Kampala to open the Onialeku Room. 


Again refreshments will be provided!

Fitzroy MJ



Please come to what you can… events are always better when you are there!


Ulster Rugby Poppy

They sacrificed their lives for our freedom. That is what we believe. Those young men went to war so that we would be able to believe what we wanted to believe, think what we wanted to think and wear what we wanted to wear. Totalitarian states around the world, even up to this day, curtail free thought, freedom of religion and regulate life that is ordered from the top. The soldiers we remembered yesterday on Remembrance Sunday fought to keep us free from such authoritarian regimes.

Yesterday in Fitzroy we remembered our war dead; those from our wee Church who gave the ultimate sacrifice. As in my liturgy stated yesterday (read it here) I always surmise with poignancy who would have gone, and likely have lost their lives, had we been worshipping in 1914 or 1939. 

Yesterday we welcomed new communicants, the same age as the youth who went to war a century ago. One of our teens sang a song from the perspective of someone who didn’t come home. As well as remembering the dead, we remember that war is not of God. We remember that are called to fight to make peace. We also asked if we are creating the world that those young soldiers fought for.

This morning’s Belfast Telegraph front page headline, that spoke of anger at the Ulster Rugby team who didn’t wear a poppy on their shirt, disturbed me in the light of what we remembered yesterday. It seems to me to be an assault against what our military died for.

The first memory I have of a sports team wearing a poppy on their shirt was when my beloved Manchester City did it, during Stuart Pearce’s reign. They sold the limited edition shirts after the match for the British Legion Appeal. I thought it was a great idea but it is a relatively recent and not in any sense a deeply engrained tradition. There were other English Rugby teams who didn’t have poppies on their shirts yesterday either. 

There is nothing in the Holy Bible, the Magna Carta or the law of the land that demands a person, or a team, to wear a poppy. Indeed the bullying against people who decide, with the very free thought that the war was fought for, not to wear one seems to have taken us into the very fascism that the soldiers we remember by wearing one were fighting against. The same applies to sports teams, maybe more so, as individual players should also have the freedom to think for themselves. That the Ulster team happen to have a War Memorial at their stadium makes this an even more scurrilous piece of sensationalism.

When I led a minutes silence between the Last Post and Reveille yesterday morning in Fitzroy I was praying that the new world that our Fitzroy war dead gave their lives for would be full of tolerance and freedom and peace. That would be a more fitting remembrance than forcing traditions, no matter how worthy and good, upon other people.


Shift our focus


There’s a bird on the roof below me

Knows nothing about buying things

About looking good and successful living

Or the ads that the pop star sings

There’s a tree, blowing in there breeze

Waiting for its buds to bloom

There’s life confined to what life’s about

Contracting in a mother’s womb


There’s two magpies feeding their families

That’s supposed to prophecy joy

But there isn’t three, there isn’t four

I don’t know if you’re a girl or a boy

And they’re oblivious to the sounds of the city

They live far from the clutter and fuss

These noises we’ve made to distance our souls

From these things that are happening to us


There’s you and me and someone else

And the knotting of the ties that bind

There’s awe and wonder and fascination

And the blessing of this life of mine

I’m waiting on the world’s most beautiful face

I’m leaning on the promises of Jesus grace

I’m never comprehending eternal love

But licking my lips with just a sprinkle of its taste.


Matthew 6 (THE MESSAGE)

 30-33"If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. 

 34"Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. 



From your own efforts to gather more

To the birds who have enough

From your own attempts to look good

To the roses in their springtime magnificence



From the feeble efforts to change who we are

To opening up to what God’s grace longs to make us

From waiting until we are good enough for God

To having his strength made perfect in our weakness




2 Corinthians 4 (NIV)

16Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.



From the selfishness of being stuck in a moment

To the usefulness of living for the eternal

From the slavery of the things that we see

To the freedom of living in the Spirit unseen



From the love we are craving to get

To the mercy we are passionate to give

From a holiness that feeds our self righteousness

To a Godliness that feeds the world