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September 2019

August 2019


Fitzroy Board

It might be a few years since I have been so excited at being back in the pulpit after the summer break. Last winter I was not at full health for a few months and I now feel refreshed. I judge the state of the health by the fulness of my imagination and just now I am pumping not only ideas but working the follow through.

This up and coming year in Fitzroy might be shaping up to be one of our fullest yet. I am excited about our Sunday night programme that I blogged this last week. Biblical study, Christian thought, the arts and worship. In that Sunday night programme you can find the core character of Fitzroy.

In the mornings I am taking on a series that I think will be challenging, inspirational and hopefully energising in our mission and pastoral care. 

I have been taken over the past couple of years by the thinking and writings of Rev Samuel Wells. Wells is vicar of St Martin-In-The-Fields in London. Since 2005 he has also been dean of Duke Chapel in North Carolina and research professor of Christian ethics at Duke Divinity School. His book The Nazareth Manifesto has been influential in reassessing the importance of incarnation in mission followed by the books, Being With The Church and Being With The World.

My hope is that I can apply the theology and practice of Wells work with the mission of Fitzroy in a sermon series through September and at least early October. Who know, we might keep it going right through to Emmanuel comes at Christmas. 

I am going to launch this series on September 8th and would ask Fitzroy to make that a full attendance Sunday. If you want to know what Fitzroy is about then I invite you to give that Sunday a chance. The Sundays after that will see me preach on:


Being With Fitzroy (15th), 

Being With Belfast (in practice, as the Belfast Half marathon goes past our doors) (22nd), 

Being With The World (with our Uganda 2019 Team) (29th) and 

Being With The Other (featuring our brothers and sisters from Clonard Monastery) (Oct 5th)!

and our Harvest Service on October 20th will have guest speaker Jonny Hanson from Jubilee Farm who will tell us about Being With God's Creation

Oh there are many other things on my agenda for the next year - concerts, Conversations, Carol Services, 4 Corners Festival (looking amazing in the plans) etc etc. 

Watch this space…


Fitzroy from across the road

Tomorrow morning is my first Sunday back in Fitzroy since early July and I am champing at the bit to get back to my lectern.

As I am starting a new series on September 8th, tomorrow I am going freestyle! Though I am using the Lectionary texts, Luke 12 and particularly Proverbs 25:6-7, as the Biblical foundation of my sermon, I am going to rid my soul of some of the things I have been pondering over the summer.

I was particularly taken in the past week by a novel written by my good friend Cole Moreton. I have reviewed his book The Light Keeper HERE. I was taken in the book by how the two main characters, who were both lost in dark nights of the soul, helped each other find their way back to the light. It wasn’t the perfect who set them free, the professionals or the experts. It was two souls with the courage to be honest in their vulnerability. 

The parable of the Pharisee and the Publican comes to mind as does that verse in tomorrow’s reading from Luke - “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

The beginning of September is always a time when people can be vulnerable. She of our children are changing schools, some of our youth are starting University, some of our adults are starting new jobs. Let’s look at the strength of vulnerability.

There will also be a little Mary Oliver thrown in.

Chris Blake’s multi talented band are on worship.

I cannot wait to get at it!

Our evening programme begins next Sunday.


Stocki U2 Pop

Due to illness I had to cancel a speaking trip to America last February.

I am delighted to say that I am going to now fulfil most of engagements from that trip in November.

I will be travelling to Delaware, Ohio on November 8th to speak at the Delaware Vineyard on Sunday 10th. Then I will be off to Taylor University in Uplands, Indiana to speak at their Student Chapel on November 11th. Finally I will travel to Grand Rapids, Michigan where I will speak at Calvin College Student Chapel on November 13th.

These are the three venues and main speaking slots. I am sure other events will be planned in and around those venues. More information as it is finalised. 

I am delighted that for the first time in the 16 years of doing these speaking tours, Janice will be going with me! 

UHTCEARE - PRE-DAWN ANGST (by Frances Livingstone)


This is a guest blog by Frances Livingstone. She used this in a morning thought in Fitzroy a few years ago and I believe it has pastoral potency...

I came across a new word recently, courtesy of my daughter, and when I have passed it on in conversation to others, their response has been, to say the least, conspicuous. Not because it’s a beautiful sounding word , which it is, or that its derivation is unusual, which is also true, but because its meaning resonates with the experience of, dare I suggest, all of us. It’s an Old English word, uhtceare, meaning pre-dawn angst,  you know those hours just before day break when we often lie awake, anxious about our own problems or those of the people we love,   or anxious about anticipated problems not yet upon us.

I found myself thinking about this when I encountered the first reading of our Lenten booklet, Psalm 27. David starts off boldly:- “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” and then immediately launches into the various threats that he has experienced or is currently encountering. They are very much to the forefront of his mind. His problems are not minor; the vocabulary makes that clear – he talks about evil men devouring his flesh; foes attacking him; armies besieging him; wars breaking outagainst him. But he insists, in spite of this, that he will be kept safe,that God will hide him, shelter him, set him high upon a rock out of danger. It really looks as though David has it all sorted!

And then we come to the third phase of the psalm and the pace quickens; his mood changes; his confidence is replaced by desperation. So David also experiences the whole welter of emotions. What a relief!    His moods fluctuate; his confidence and faith ebb and flow just like ours.   “Do not hide your face… not turn your servant away. Do not reject me or forsake me”, he begs. “Teach me, lead me. Do not hand me over” he pleads. Maybe David’s pre-dawn angst isn’t so very different from our own;   he too wants a quick fix.

And then it’s as if there’s a long pause between the first 12 verses and the last two. He has poured himself out emotionally and then, in verses 13 and 14, it’s as if a spirit of calm returns and a quiet confidence rises as he asserts. : “I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and waitfor the Lord”…. I think I’ll try to rebuff those pre-dawn demons, that uhtceare, with these words, next time they attack.





I had the privilege this week of making nominations for the Northern Ireland Music Awards. I cannot tell you the honour it felt. Since the days of being involved in the early career of Iain Archer I have been an advocate for local music. On Soul Surmise I am always keen to promote local musicians with reviews. I was delighted that that was recognised and I took my nominations very seriously - ALBUM OF THE YEAR, SINGLE OF THE YEAR, LIVE ACT OF THE YEAR AND Oh YEAH CONTENDER (emerging act).

For me the best part of the whole process was spending a day or two last week listening to the eligible albums and singles. I was astonished at the amount of new music being produced in Northern Ireland. I remember back in the mid 90s when Colin Harper put together two albums called Live In Belfast showcasing the local music scene then. 

The quantity and quality of the music being produced twenty five years later is simply staggering. The variety of acts, the quality of production. From bands like Therapy, Snow Patrol and Divine Comedy to younger acts like Soak, Kitt Philippa and Sam Wickens. Remarkable.

I obviously have always had an interest in all things local so I have already waxed lyrical on Soul Surmise about Snow Patrol’s Reworked EP, Brian Houston’s Hank, Anthony Toner’s Our Lady Of The Wind and Rain, Runabay’s Between The Lines, Ryan Vail & The Elma Orkestra’s Borders and M. Camridge’s Sea Songs: Anatomy of a Drowning Man.

The list reminded me of things I hadn’t listened to for awhile. Kitt Philippa who played 4 Corners Festival a few years ago and supported David C Clements when he recorded his live record in Fitzroy. Her EP Human is extraordinary in its across between Emile Sande and Regina Spector. I cannot wait for her album due on October 11th.

A friend has been pushing Sam Wickens at me for a while and sure enough this young man has a way of playing loose with the songwriter format without losing his songwriting gift in the cleverness. 

Rebekah Fitch is someone I have been trailing for sometime and her single Guns With Guns gives pop a refreshing depth of content. If Taylor Swift loved Brian Eno then she might have this sense of drama and atmosphere.

Beyond all of this there were all the albums and singles that I hadn’t come across. Glass Wing, Conor Mason, Caothan, Buí and Pale Lanterns to name but five. Beautiful written acoustic driven indie pop. I’ll need the rest of the year to explore albums, Eps and singles and back catalogues. One of the things I have determined after this experience is to keep up with what is happening on the local scene.

I haven’t even got to mention Gary Lightbody’s favourite Ryan McMullan, Two Door Cinema Club’s catchy Arcade Fire like Talk single, Soak’s sophomore album, Divine Comedy’s hilarious Norman and Norma and Jealous Of The Birds who I need to investigate more. I was also delighted that friend of Fitzroy and the 4 Corners Festival Andrew Patterson gets a mention with his seasonal single Something In December.

One reflection on that difference between 1995 and now is that back then recording time was so expensive. To get the quality sound to compete with the world was beyond most local acts' budget. You were waiting for the million pound advance from EMI. Now the chances of being massive are slimmer and the therefore artists can be truer to their art. They can also produce much cheaper. Boy are we benefiting from that on our local scene.

Who did I vote for? Well all voting booths should remain secret. I imagine one or two of my choices will get the prizes and one or two might have me as their only advocate. 

The big night is November 11th and Snow Patrol will receive the Oh Yeah Legend Award. 



a Ugandan friend says, "No hope is a terrible disease"... St Ignatius suggested we ran towards our doubts... vulnerability is always better than arrogance... every dark situation needs a response... Today was another day when I felt that we all need to breathe hope into a fragile world... These are the lyrics I wrote for a song written with Jonny Fitch... Breathe...


Breathe in

Breathe out

Run the other way

From all the doubt

Dark beats the light

We push others away

Light blinds the dark

In a brand new day.


We need a breath of hope

In this dying place

In this valley of death

We need a kiss of grace.


Breathe out 

Breathe in

Let’s search our souls

And find we are forgiven

Being right’s so wrong

Confession is so wise

Wrongs can lead to right

From sacrifice we rise.


We need a breath of hope

In this dying place

In this valley of death

We need a kiss of grace


Will I be the dark

Will I be the death

Will I be the kiss

Will I be the breath?


watch Jonny perform Breathe here


Sea Songs

You would never put the East Antrim Coast as a runner to be the next musical hotspot to compare with early 60s Liverpool, late 60’s California, late 70s London and New York or all-the-time Nashville but 2019 sees not one… not two… but three astonishing pieces of work, rooted in the land between Glenarm and Ballycastle and their off shore seas! 

Runabay’s album of haunting beauty has already been reviewed on Soul Surmise and very soon I will be raving about The Orphan Brigade’s To The Edge Of the World. In between, Paul Bowman my colleague in Fitzroy, tips me off about M Cambridge’s fascinating Sea Songs: Anatomy Of A Drowning Man, trawling the same seas and mythical stories as The Orphan Brigade.

Mark McCambridge is the most significant songwriter to hail from my hometown of Ballymena (apologies Adrain Thompson and Del Currie) since The 60s produced David McWilliams who had his name on the side of London buses - America has Dylan, England has Donovan and Ireland has McWilliams!

His band Arborist gained critical acclaim for their debut record Home Buriel (“A staggering debut of death and substance” - Mojo) and before they unveil what’s next McCambridge under the moniker M Cambridge has hidden himself away in the Curfew Tower in Cushendall as rock stars do, and created this endearing unique little concept record. 

A studio in Cushendall I hear you gasp! Well, refill your longs for a bigger gasp as I tell you that it owned by Bill Drummond the Scottish, but born in Transkei a son of a Church Of Scotland minister, main man in 90s band KLF among his many other musical and artistic projects. Who knew? I do now.

A recording studio in an iconic historical old tower quite close to the sea is a perfect space for McCambridge to tease out his work. Mark traveled across the islands of Britain and Ireland in his research. Stan Hugill’s Shanties From The Seven Seas (Martime) seems the most influential text book. The documentary of loofa this is available HERE 

In the end Sea Songs gives a wee history of the sea shanty - work songs that give a workers social  history and shouldn’t be sung on land - and wider Ulster too - The Weaver poets and The Glens Of Antrim’s Francis Turnley.

McCambridge comes across as a musicology archivist, a soundscape imaginative, a crafted poet and a fine songwriter. Sea Songs is an eclectic mix of songs and spoken word.

My Sailor Boy, Serafina, A Sailor’s Lament and the haunting Of Water are crafted songs; gentle and haunting In between there is the hilarious story of sea shanty collector Jim Corr, from the west of Ireland, being asked to go and rig, a man he’s never heard of, Neil Young’s (yes, that Neil Young) schooner. Mark’s poem about Francis Turnley, who financed the Curfew Tower in the19th century, could sit with any Weaver poem.

All this makes McCambridge some kind of renaissance man; a musicology archivist, a soundscape imaginative, a crafted poet and a fine songwriter. Sea Songs is an eclectic mix of songs and spoken word and fits together perfectly. That my hometown and county should be producing this kind of art is unprecedented. Like the Glens, location of their creation, we are on a roll.


Fitzroy Offering

Our God we give you thanks

That we can come to our service of worship

We remember our brothers and sisters

In other parts of our world

Who are meeting in secret

Or even those who are meeting in public 

But with security on their doors

For fear of terrorist attack or religious persecution

God we are grateful for the freedom from fear that we have

As we gather today

We thank you to for all the resources we have

To help us in corporate worship

The musicians, the prayers, the Scripture readers, the preachers

Who lead us week by week

We thank you for this weekly discipline

That you have called us to

Of gathering together as community

To remember our place in your design 

Creatures before the Creator

Children in the arms of our father

Servants in the service of our Lord

We thank you for the space for this weekly habit

Forgive us when we misuse it

When we come and sing and pray and listen

And then when the music fades

Our souls get lost in the clamour

The clutter and the concerns of the week ahead

Lord as you forgive us, purify us

Send your Spirit that our liturgy of worship

Might spiritually renew us, refresh us and realign us

Lord may we see this weekly worship time

Not as a Sunday morning cul-de-sac

But as a highway into the week ahead

As the apostle Paul urged us

May we offer our bodies as living sacrifices

Holy and pleasing to you

May that be our spiritual worship

Not being conformed to the pattern of the world

But transformed by the renewing of our minds

To send us into our everyday lives

To make every connection accidental or diary scheduled

An act of worship

Lord, imitation is the highest form of worship

So may we be like you in every engagement

In our homes

On our streets

In our places of work

And of leisure

Across our city

Even reaching beyond, to our enemies

Lord by your Spirit, 

May we find in our times of worship

The energy of resilience and imagination

So that we might live the lives that you require

To act justly 

To love mercy 

And to walk humbly with your God

God, may this service of worship

Make service our worship in the week ahead.



Light Keeper

Lyrical, pastoral, warm, emotional, challenging and spiritually insightful. 

Cole Moreton’s debut novel is an astounding success. It took maybe 20 pages but once I had put on the bits of the characters I was in, enamoured by those characters and fascinated by where their journey would lead. 

The Light Keeper is not an easy read. The light is taking a hammering and desperately needs kept. Moreton leads us into hearts sorrowing with one’s man grief and another couple’s infertility. He sets us up on the edge of Beachy Head. The shadow of suicide is all around us. People who are finding any light elusive are drawn to there - you don’t need to jump, you just take another step.

Moreton has such a way with words. He is a songwriter, a journalist and, though this is somehow his first novel, he has already published four books, Hungry For Home and The Boy Who Gave His Heart Away being my personal favourites.

The scenes of The night Keeper are set in the most poetic prose of sea and sky. Beachy Head is on the English south coast with white cliffs and the green Seven Sisters hills rolling all around. The Tourist Board of East Sussex could use swathes of The Light Keeper to advertise its sea side wonder. 

Then the characters. Moreton forms them so preciously. He shows a gift for words certainly but his strength is in his love for human beings. All of these characters are flawed but you end up finding sympathy with most of them.  More than sympathy you want to know what has gotten them in these dark corners and you find yourself praying that Moreton somehow finds them a way back to the light.

I say praying. That might be freudian. There is a spiritual layer to The Light Keeper and it should all be filed under pastoral. I found myself as a Church pastor, listening carefully to the insights in the conversational text. If you want to know the wretch on the soul that grief or childlessness is then here are the real emotions. It is very sore in places. Frustrating. Confusing. Angry.

As the two characters who seem most lost in the dark serendipitously fall into each other’s sphere they somehow help each other to nudge towards the light. Can their vulnerability be the key to salvation? That and resilience that comes from those who have loved us well. Love well in this life and that love can change worlds after you’ve gone. 

I could philosophies on. If this is all not enough Moreton has revealed a penchant for plot surprises. In a book that is set in a very confined space of land with very few characters Moreton throws shifting sands all across it. The pace is gripping at times and you are never quite sure where it will all end. All of that leaves you turning page after page with no desire to put it down.  

A debut novel. Goodness me. The Light Keeper is some start.


Uganda Team 19

Short Term Mission is an exciting thing. You get to visit the most interesting of place. Short Termers are stretched. They have to come to terms with a new environment. They find out what their gifts are. There is an intensity about being with a team for a short time in very close quarters. Camaraderie is strong. Friendships are nurtured. Then there are those you are working with. If, like us, you work in a Primary School then relationships with pupils are strong and emotional. There are tears on the last day.

Short Term Mission is over too fast (there’s a clue in the title). The adrenalin is still running. The excitement is high. That emotion is palpable and, before you would like to, you are going back through customs to the flight home. It’s a flight that seems longer and less comfortable and more boring than the outgoing journey because there is nothing to look forward to at the end.

When they arrive home the most natural human thing happens. Their parents, brothers, sisters, friends and members of their Church ask them how their trip was? Short Termers are full of it. Full of all the new experiences. Full of all that it meant to them. They want to talk about it, rave about it, wax lyrical. They want to share the experience of a lifetime, wide eyed and from the depth of their soul. BUT…

One of the things that Janice and I were trying to tell our Fitzroy Short Term Team before we left them at Entebbe airport was not to be disappointed when people just want a quick “I had a great time” when they asked about their trip. “How was your trip” can be very like a throw away “how are you?” When we use “how are you?” in a greeting we really are not inviting someone to open up about their physical, emotional or psychological concerns. We are just saying hello before we move on to the weather or the football or the latest gossip.

I understand. It was our Short Term Mission. You don’t need the details. We might get out the photos and now with smart phones there are a lot of photos! There are actually thousands! The football season has started and so much happened when we were away. Apparently the weather was amazing!

This is where I want to encourage the parent, brother, sister, friend or member of a Short Termer’s church. I am not asking for polite listening. I am asking for almost a wee ministry in itself. Some Short Termers are looking for, needing indeed, someone to listen with a little bit of depth.

They do not want to boast about their time. They do not want to bore you with it either. They long to share it in order to help themselves make sense of it. The Short Term Team experience usually has ten to fourteen days of full on stimuli for the soul. Something happens then the next thing leaves that first thing behind.

As summer ends there are a lot of ripe Short Termers all around us. It would be a wonderful thing to invite someone you know who has been a way this summer for a coffee, ask them about their trip and invite them to unpack it with you. I imagine you might learn all kinds of wonderful things about mission and places and about your friend too. You will make their day and perhaps be a real contribution to them fully understanding what just happened to them.