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April 2017


Bono and Us

Most of us love stars. Sports stars. Film stars. Pop stars. Some people these days have been able to become stars at just been stars. We spend time watching them. We like reading about them. We buy magazines to look at photos of them. We love meeting them. 

I was of the autograph age. We went to the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh in 1970 and my parents bought me an autograph book. I then stalked the stars. 

There’s Ron Clarke, Sheila Sherwood, Robbie Brightwell.. I was a gutted 8 year old when I gathered around Olympic Long Jump Gold medalist Lynn Davies and the stewards whisked us all away just as I got to the front!

I still bring out that autograph book. Since then it has had added to it Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Henry Cooper. George Best… and loads more. Today of course the selfie has taken over from the autograph. We love the stars.

Over the 50 years since I got my autograph book I have changed my view of who the stars are. Most of those whom I now recognise as the stars of this world are unknown and have never been asked for an autograph or a selfie. 

When Jesus told his followers they were the light of the world, I think he meant them to be little twinkling star lights in the darkest places they could find, rather than being big bright shiny things underneath floodlights or spotlights or paparazzi flash bulb lights.

Last week the family watched the recent Disney movie Queen Of Katwe. It is a true story about a young girl in a Kampala slum who is taught how to play chess and how it lifts her from the bottom of the lowest rung on the poverty ladder to being able to provide for her family. 

The star of the movie is David Oyelowo, who also starred recently in A United Kingdom and as Dr Martin Luther King in Selma. 

In Queen Of Katwe he is the one for the selfie but for me the real star is the man he plays - Robert Katende - who works for a Church programme in the slums to better the lives of the children around him. He even gives up a much better paying job with prospects to continue bringing hope to these children. 

To me it is the men and women like Katende who I have met around the world who are the stars. Selfless they sacrificially give who they are and what they have to better the lives of those around them. Twinkling stars in the darkest places… oh to shine like that!



This week's Pause For Thought Drama Episode 1

On Monday night at midnight I realised that I needed my Pause For Thought Script for Tuesday morning so I sat down and by 1.20 was reasonably happy. Before I sent it off I checked the week's theme and... ahhhh!!!!... wrong theme... I sat down again and it was well after 2.30 when I got it sent. Knackered!

Episode 2

On Tuesday night as I went off to bed I Facebooked that I was up for Pause For Thought at 5.45... Night night! In the time it took me to get upstairs my friend David Campton had replied that one of his friends had his date wrong! So I checked and though I had done the Wednesdays before Easter they had shifted me to Thursday. Yes! Lie in! But darn it I didn't need to be up to 2.30am the night before! And... what chances that a friend who was on Facebook for the right 30 seconds had two friends doing Pause For Thought the same week and he knew it! Another positive reason for Facebook!

Episode 3

Michael Wakelin from Pause For Thought phoned to say that this week's series on the Stars were sounding a little similar, could I take a different slant. AGH! It was a busy day and I was weary... where would i find the imaginative energy or time! A wee throwaway at dinner from Janice and we got it... just in time...

Episode 4

Walking past the hall table tonight and I thought to myself that at least the script is sitting ready for tomorrow morning. NO! That was the old script. Had I not caught on I would have been in the studio tomorrow morning with the following script but not the right one!

After all that... here is the original Stars script... Tomorrow's is better but this is important stuff too!

Stars.  I blame the Glitter Band….no Vanessa don’t play it after the thought… who first had me thinking about stars - “Stars, stars that shine bright, they’re all tonight but not for me…” The song Alone Again described my spotty 14 year old lonely self! Aw!

A few year later, my mate and I used to joke that when you are out with a girl you should look up and say “do you know that that star is named after you... It’s called Janice." Not sure we ever used that line!

It sounds corny but the Bible actually suggests that God used the same idea. Almost right at the beginning of the Bible, God takes a guy called Abraham out one night and tells him to look at the stars. "Count them," says God. Abraham must have thought God was mad but it gets crazier. God then tells Abraham that his decedents will be as many as all the stars that he can see. That’s mad in any human respect BUT Abraham and his wife Sara had already given up any hope of having one child never mind a sky full.

Well what God actually meant was that Abraham was not only going to be the father of an actual child but he was going to be the father of an entire faith. Anyone who believes in God like Abraham did would be ever seen as a child of Abraham.

And Abraham is seen as the patriarch of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, so today whether you are a Muslim… or Jewish… or a Christian you can look up at the stars and see yourself.

For me as a Christian there is something quite powerful about the idea. There are moments when I look up and am heartened to know that I am not the only lunatic believing in a transcendent God in a generation that finds that difficult. 

I find it inspiring to feel that I am part of something much much bigger than me. Something that has been going on for thousands of years. 

Most of all believing in a loving God, as I do, that star in Abraham's sky that represented me tells me that I am loved with the eternal love of a loving God.

It’s like an antidote to the Glitter Band actually… the stars remind me I’ll never be alone again!


QUEEN OF KATWE - Film Review

Queen Of Katwe

It is Disney so we are not much likely to have trauma or an unhappy ending. Take that all as read and we find ourselves in a movie that has few white actors and 80 Ugandan kids who had no acting experience given the thrill of an acting boot camp to play their part. Of the stars David Oyelowo, fresh from his Dr King portrayal in Selma, and the young Madina Nalwanga who plays the Queen of Katwe do a convincing job.

The Queen of Katwe is a teenage girl, in the lowest rung of Ugandan slum poverty who against all the run of play becomes a Woman Candidate Master in chess. The child of a Kampala slum dares never to dream of being involved in a Hollywood ending, never mind it being her true story. Phiona Mutesi is a real life Disney story and that story deserves telling and is told well.

For me though this would always be subjective. Having spent the last two summers in Uganda, taking a team again this summer, and trying to expose my congregation to that country and our connectedness there, a partnership work similar to the one that Phiona benefited from, I was licking my movie watching lips on this one.

On May 6th we will show the film in Fitzroy and it will do everything I hoped it would. Viewers will be transported to Uganda. The contextual research is near perfect, down to the very words that Ugandan's use. The bustle of the Kampala life, the bleakness of the poor in the slums and the near impossibility to better themselves is all laid out.

Then, into such hopelessness, there are those who give their lives to improve the lives of others. Oyelowo’s character sacrifices his own betterment to improve the children that he teaches chess and other sports to... as does his wife.

Chess is such a fascinating game to play among Ugandan children or any other African child. With little play time at a young age and education done in a very rote manner, chess, that uses problem solving and imagination, is more than a game. It teaches about life and how to deal with the knocks and be creative about how to dream beyond the situation. One great spin off of Queen Of Katwe would be chess clubs springing up all over the continent!

So, if you haven’t seen it, or even if you have, come along to Fitzroy on Saturday May 6th at 7pm and see a real life Disney and a whole lot more within. No spoilers on the ending!



Chris Wilson photo


(back from Indiana)

with Special Guest Jonny Fitch

Saturday May 13th at 7.30pm

Welcome Area (use Rugby Road Entrance)





music by Radiator Blues Band, Andy Peterson, Dave Thompson, Jonny Fitch, Caroline Orr, Shannon Clements, Chris Fry and more...

pondering by Steve Stockman recently commentating on U2 on BBC Radio Ulster and RTE Radio 1 

Sunday June 11th at 7pm

Fitzroy Church



On September 19th we remember the tragic passing of the singer Rich Mullins... Fitzroy players will perform the songs of Rich Mullins and Steve Stockman (who brings personal stories to play) will bring spiritual surmise

Sunday September 17th @ 7pm 

Fitzroy Church



Thursday November 16th @ 8pm




YOU TOUCHED YOUR CHEEK (for Lindsay Emerson)

Lindsay and Alain

Friends have been remembering this weekend the passing of Lindsay Emerson, ten years ago today at the age of just 23.

My last visit I had with her was about a week before she left us. She was very ill, lying very still in her bed. My dear friend Alain, her husband, was loving her in the tenderest and most incredible of ways and he chatted to her. Even as a pastor I am at a loss in such situations and stammered a few words.

I went to leave and as I looked down to say goodbye Lindsay touched her cheek, her eyes lighting as bright as they could. It was a second and I continued to leave. As I got into my car I thought back and realised that Lindsay was speaking to me in that motion. I am convinced she was asking for a kiss. How I regret that I missed her last goodbye.

I wrote this soon after she passed away.


You touched your cheek

Being you, so understated

Like so much we came to realise

And me, I hesitated

You touched your cheek

So quickly the moment went

It made my sadness tender

When I untangled what you meant.


And now, you’re bathed in forgiveness

You are submerged in no regret

Laughing in your wisdom

At all we still can’t get

And now we’re hung down in memories

All that we failed to recognise

Missing all the life that radiated

In the light of your dimming eyes.


You touched your cheek

And moved your neck

I smile, and then I left you

And I never went back

Oh to go there now

To catch what then I missed

Whisper how we love you

And give you that one last kiss.


Fitzroy Board

Tomorrow morning (11am) in Fitzroy we will be continuing to realign our perspective and refocus our vision after the tumultuous events of Resurrection Sunday. After my walking about on the road from Bethlehem through the Soul Wash of Easter and out the other end through the doors to the welcome area last Sunday, I will be again seeking some insight into what happens now. We'll be looking at the new community that Jesus is birthing and whether this Thomas guy is a waste of space and the rest are so frightened to be of little use. At least the women are up for the next phase! 

In the evening (7pm) the New Testament expertise of Gary Burnett begins a new series in Romans. He entices us with the following blurb...

"Women, Leadership and Kisses." Was the apostle Paul a hopeless, sexist, woman-denier? What light might a look at the last chapter of Paul's longest letter throw on this? And what about that kissing?

Doubting disciples... women... and a bit of kissing. It can only be Tomorrow In Fitzroy!


U2 Leap

I had the honour last night of bring the interview on RTE Radio 1's programme Leap Of Faith.

The host of the show Michael Comyn came to our house in Belfast and we pretty much chatted U2 for half an hour. The intentional theme of the programme was to look to se if there was a Christian influence on U2's music. In the end we probably got more of my personal commentary on why I believe them to nee companions on my journey of faith. 

Michael asks when I started following the band and I get it wrong. In the speed of an unrehearsed interview done with no research or notes I fumble my figures wrong and suggests that I bought October in 1982. It was of course 1981. 

Michael also asks what is their most Christian statement and what three questions I would like to ask if i got to meet them. 

The ad lib nature of the interview gives it energy and the Michael and his team have done a great job at editing the chat into U2 songs across their career. 



Lins Table Mountain

Ten years ago, this morning, I got a call I didn't want to receive. It was my mate Alain's dad telling me that Alain's wife Lindsay had passed away. She had been ill for some months. She was 23. Janice and I were heartbroken and drove immediately to be with Alain. 

It is hard to believe that it is ten years ago. I think about Lindsay a lot and when I do she is always the girl on the edge of the photograph. I am not sure whether my favourite photo of Lindsay, taken in Cape Town in 2004 inspired me to think about her wider influence and therefore write this poem or not. Gordon Ashbridge's photo is a gem! 

Alain once introduced the poem in the following way... it reads beautifully to me. Remembering Lindsay, Alain and the Emerson and Anderson families today!

"Stocki continues to be inspired by Lins life and in turn, with his gift with words, inspire us all. He told me that as he sifted through his photos Lins was always on the edges of photos. He told me that he believed this was an analogy of her life. Even though she could have carried of the centre screen so easily, she chose the edges, the margins - seeing the things many of us, who were too busy looking our photograph taken, missed; silently doing the ordinary stuff extraordinarily well. She was kind - simple as that." - Alain Emerson

Girl on the edge of the photograph
Who always seemed so distracted
The gift of your mischievousness
Was what left you so unaffected.

Girl on the edge of the photograph
Who could have been centre screen
The beauty about her beauty
Was she knew what beauty means.

Girl on the edge of the photograph
A heart with peripheral vision
The strength of your contrariness
Touched the corners of this world’s derision.

Girl on the edge of the photograph
Who you could so easily miss
But not by those who watched you bow
To give their soul a kiss.


Cole Heart

Cole Morton’s new book is based on his imaginative documentary series  The Boy Who Gave His Heart Away for Radio 4 that was was awarded Audio Moment of the Year at the Radio Academy’s Arias awards in October 2016. It is the true story of two families about to lose their sons at 16. One does but the other doesn’t because the one who dies donates his heart to the other. Organ donation is close to our hearts…

November 2007. My daughters were 9 and 7 and with their friends Lucia and Alice, they danced at our Chaplaincy In-house Weekend X Factor. That evening a conversation about their friend Lucia’s yellowy eyes led to liver transplant a week later in Birmingham Children’s Hospital. I remember Janice and I getting the news that she as in theatre… crying… praying… and not telling the girls. 

Ten years later and Lucia has had two more liver transplants. The third is never more familiar. It is even more fretful. Eighteen months later and Lucia has never been better. She is studying for A levels and training for the Transplant Games in Malaga this summer. 

During all of this Lucia has started a campaign to gain publicity organ donors and her Live Loudly Donate Proudly work won her All Ireland Young Volunteer of the Year just last month.

That is a long introduction to a book review. Yet, it is all relevant. When I heard about Cole Moreton’s book on a heart donation, I didn’t need any sales pitch to pre order but I guess my expectations were higher than usual. This was a story I have paddled in. He needed to get it right for all kinds of reasons!

Cole Moreton got to right. Well, at least from my perspective in the shallows. I bought it for my friends who have swam in the depths and they confirmed my initial review - “He got that right. Powerfully!” (David Quinney-Mee) 

Cole Moreton has a few things going for his writing. He is a journalist by trade but not just any journalist. In 2016 he was declared Interviewer of the Year at the Press Awards in 2016. As well as writing short articles about the big news on our planet, Cole also writes books. His debut Cry For Home about the Blaskett Islands off the west coast of Ireland was shortlisted for the prestigious John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. As well as all of that Cole is a songwriter, though the Grammy nomination remains elusive.

The Boy Who Gave His Heart Away benefits from all three of these feathers in Moreton’s quill. The story is built on interviews, meticulous interviews. Moreton actually meets Sue Burton, mother of the boy who gave his heart away, on a television show. He goes beyond interviewing those close to family who gives the heart and receives the heart, he talks to doctors, nurses and anybody anywhere near the story.

We then find Moreton adding, to the in-depth research of the interviews, his ability to tell a tale. There are moments in ambulances and even a plane where you can literally feel you are travelling inside. The detail and the drama that the story brings, without contriving it, makes this a riveting read. I believe that Moreton’s songwriting also adds lyrical flourishes time and time again.

So the story is told well. It is not-put-down-able. You feel that you know the people involved. You feel their pain and there is a lot of tear welling sadness in this story. There are hard pages. You share in their ecstasy and there is some of that. You are emotionally connected. 

It has to be said at this point that the Burton and McCay families are the great door openers to this. Had this story happened with less warm and engaging people Cole would have found it hard to achieve this wonderful book.

Yet, after 660 words of this review I haven’t got to the crux. How does it deal with organ donation? Well, that is the most triumphant bit. As someone who dipped his toes in the edges of the organ transplant story I found myself finding answers to all the questions I had about Lucia’s story and learning things I had never thought of.

Lucia’s dad said at one point during the ailing of Lucia’s second liver and her third transplant that there should be 1000 words for “waiting”. There is the “wait” for the organ to become available, the “wait” through a long day of surgery, the “wait" as your loved one comes round after surgery and the “wait" to see if the organ functions. There are no doubt hundreds of other “waitings” but I got those four. 

Moreton gets those four. The “wait” for the organ is a much more rushed job in Marc and Martin’s story. Yet, Cole gets the most awful bit of being on the need an organ side of the story. You are “waiting”… “waiting” for someone to die. That is a tough one. My wife and I have uttered those words and felt bad but knew that tragically it had to happen. We were “waiting" for it. Cole has us on both ides of the story. A mother losing a son, another mother needing that loss.

Then there is the donor’s story. I have often marvelled at Lucia’s achievements; the night she gave a speech at her Live Loudly Donate Proudly Gala Dinner; the medals from the transplant games; or that recent All Ireland Young Volunteer of the Year award. When a tear slips down my cheek I find myself wondering about the donors of those three livers that have kept her alive. I have this desire to want the donor families to see this. Lucia has written about how she thinks of them when she is swimming for gold.

Marc thought about it when he scored his first goal after the operation but amazingly in The Boy Who Gave His Heart Away the families meet. They share their lives. It is not guaranteed that such connection will work. It is not encouraged. Moreton’s book benefits from the fact that it really works on this occasion. We all benefit from the book.

Where Cole goes the extra mile for me is his inclusion of the nurses, doctors and surgeons. Yes, I have been aware of the incredible care that Lucia has had but Cole took me into the lives and families of those who give their lives tirelessly and full of compassion for their patients. It is quite a testimony. I was ever more thankful for the NHS.

And finally, my greatest lesson from Lucia and particularly her Live Loudly Donate Proudly campaign has been why there are not more organ donors. Cole Moreton himself says that this story has changed this views on organ donation. There is a page in the book where he asks how there can be so few organs donated with so many deaths occurring around us. It is a big question that I hope the story of The Boy Who Gave His Heart Away will cause many more to ask.

And lingering after the last page is done... a thankfulness for another day that life gifts us and an increased compassion for the compassionate humanity around us.




A short liturgical reflection to bring us out of our informal Good Friday communion tonight in Fitzroy... and lead us very very gently towards a hope in something Jesus kept saying about "rebuilding it in three days". During communion we will play Let It Fall by Over The Rhine (give it a listen before you read...)... I have changed, blatantly stolen, from that song and even audaciously changed "confidence and grace" to "confidence IN grace"... seeking forgiveness for that for sure. 


IT IS FINISHED… Let it fall

With confident IN grace

Let us, the broken


Let us start over.


IT IS FINISHED… Let it fall… 

All the trying too hard 

And holding too tight



With confidence in grace

Let us, the broken




Let us stop caring how it ends

Feel the imprint of the ground on skin



With confidence IN grace

Let us, the broken


Let us start over

Let us pick it up again

… In three days