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March 2020


Me and Houstie

The Coronavirus has hit us all in different ways.

As a music fan I have been wondering and concerned about how it has hit many of my friends in the music industry. So I decided to get in touch and ask. 

My first port of call was Belfast songwriter Brian Houston. Brian has made a living at music for thirty years, gigging here, touring Britain and America. He even spent a year or two living in North Carolina. He has blended and blurred his songwriting with worship music, bringing soul to the former and everyday realism to the latter. 

How is how he is dealing with these strange times?


What were you working on before the lock down?

I was completing a singer songwriter album.  I have about 20 to 30 songs I need to choose from. 


At what stage did you start thinking about how it would impinge on your work?

The weekend everyone started contacting me to say they felt they should cancel the gigs I had booked. 


What are the way that this all impacts your life as well as work?  

Well my income stopped immediately and the prospects of releasing new material suddenly seemed redundant as everyone’s attention was on much more important things. 


What ways are you using the down time?  

I moved my equipment home from the studio and set it up in a bedroom. Then I started busking on line and asking folks to contribute.  I am also trying to help my wife with her Bristle And Bird Aromatherapy product business. I have also been applying for jobs. 


How easy is it for you to create in these unfamiliar, maybe anxious times?  

Well in some ways this is how I’ve always lived. No idea what’s coming next or how I’ll pay my bills next month. It’s always been a faith journey. So the creativity isn’t really affected too much as there’s always been a certain amount of duress 


What can we all do to help?

Watch my busking videos and send money via 


What plans have you for when we get out of this? New record?  

Yeah. Same plan as I had before it. But who knows when that will be. 


Give us three albums that influenced you that we should all investigate as we wait the Coronavirus to pass?


Bob Dylan - Blood on the tracks 

Brittany Howard - Jaime. 

The White Stripes - The White Stripes


Stocki Tele article

( a new weekly series in the Belfast Telegraph, alternating with Fr Martin Magill... this one was published on March 28, 2020... the photo they used is VERY old!)


“Love your neighbour”. Jesus best refrain. Sadly though it seems to me that these words have become quite sentimental and soft. They have ended up almost the epitome of nice!

Jesus never meant these words to be nice. They were never intended for a quote on a nice photograph of a sunrise on a Church Hall wall.

“Love your neighbour” is a revolutionary statement. A call to a sacrificial life. This is not just a call to help your elderly neighbour across the road. This is a call to deny yourself and take up your cross for the welfare of others.

Jesus talked about it in a plethora of ways. He talked about the love of a father to a rebellious son. He talked about loving not only your neighbour but your enemy too. He talked about loving the hungry, thirsty, stranger the naked, sick and imprisoned.

This call has been lost in a diluted view of Jesus that somewhere down the years has lost his radical edge. Reading the Gospels, it is hard to imagine how!

The original tough call of “Love your neighbour” comes in to its own in a world of Coronavirus. There has never been a time when it was more urgent to set aside our own whims and selfish desires for the good of neighbour and indeed the entire community.

This is a time in our history when “Love your neighbour” actually means DO NOT KILL YOUR NEIGHBOUR. 

This is not so much about protecting yourself from the virus - though that is absolutely necessary. This is about making sure that we do not carry the virus into the presence of the most vulnerable. It is about all of us working together to contain the spread of the virus so that the health service has the capabilities to care for those of us who get it. 

However, “Love your neighbour” is not just about the passive. “Love your neighbour” is an active force looking after the other. Let us make that phone call to someone who might be isolated. When we are at the store let us buy a few things for the elderly person next door. Let us be creative in ways that we can be a presence to people without being present. Let us volunteer at food banks. Let us donate to homeless charities. Let us be full of grace and imagination.

I have heard our political leaders talk a lot about altruism. That is good. Yet, I prefer Jesus’ “love your neighbour”. I prefer it because it has a communal relational heart. I prefer it because it because the guy who said it actually walked the walk. I am not sure I have watched too many of our political leaders giving up self for others! Quite the reverse.

Jesus on the other hand is ALL about reaching out to the other, giving to the other and, most sacrificially, dying for the other, even when the other was his enemy. Jesus didn’t just talk about love, he demonstrated it to us. Our most iconic image of him is at the very heart of human suffering, giving himself for the world. Now that is an example! That is love your neighbour.

Let’s do it!



Some Bible readings to think through Jesus example of Love your neighbour.

MARK 12: 28-31

Jesus gives the greatest commandment...



Jesus example of self sacrifice


LUKE 6: 27-36

The extent of Jesus love exceeds our intuitive limits


MATTHEW 25: 31-46

The kind of people that are in God's radar for us to love


HEBREWS 4: 14-16

Jesus self sacrifice gives us access to the throne of God's grace - now!


Steve-stockman-Jim Deeds

When I am with a family who are grieving I usually try to speak a pastoral word to them about the fact that they will all grieve differently. To know this will help them when some of them show more emotion than others, when some go quiet and others want to talk, when the speed of the process is quicker for some than the rest.

I encourage them to be patient with these differences. To graciously understand. To be alongside each other in the differences.

I think this advice has something to say into our Coronavirus Times. 

I have shared before that I quite enjoy the new dispensation. Though I can hold a crowd of a few hundred every Sunday, I am an introvert by nature. I am an only child who enjoys his own company and finds constant socialising to be hard work. That part of this lock down I am dealing with well.

However, I have friends, like Jim in the photo with me, who are not dealing with the isolation well. They buzz around other people. They need that socialising to feel good. For these friends isolation can be a mental health issue.

Indeed, even within our own homes mental health is being stretched in all kinds of different directions. Some of the family are anxious while others are calm. We might be needing different levels of interaction or aloneness. We might be seeking different activities to make it through. That can pull at the seams of family relationships. We need to allow for each other.

Some of you might know where I am going. I didn’t intend to. Yet, it is obvious. U2’s song One. When different melodies played over one another to harmonise, Bono started to sing:


“We're one, 

but we're not the same

We get to carry each other”


It is a good song for Coronavirus Times. In our homes let us play One and then as the apostle Paul exhorts us, in Philippians 2 verses 3 and 4:


Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.


Let us be mindful. We will not all deal with Coronavirus the same. Let us carry each other. 

PAUL IN TEN - Teaching Series by GARY BURNETT


For the next ten weeks Fitzroy TV will be following a series of Ten 10 minute teaching sessions on the apostle Paul. The series will go out at 7pm every Sunday evening but will be available from than on.

What was life like when Paul was preaching and teaching, in the First Century. Few people have been able to take me onto the streets and into the houses and prisons of the First Century world like Gary Burnett. Gary has this ability to bring it alive and then open the Scriptural texts into the vivid context.

The first in this series will prove my point. Gary quickly paints a picture of poverty, slavery, early death rate, violence and opposition to any who would go against the gods of the day.

Into this we find Paul learning in himself, and then teaching the early Christians, to not be anxious but to be content.

Paul in Ten offers encouragement and inspiration as we all try to cope in the current moment.

Gary is an author, blogger, theological reviewer and teacher in the New Testament with particular expertise in Paul.

We invite you to use up some of the extra lock down time by doing us for Paul in Ten. 




Stockman pipes

I was glancing through my poems and thought that this one was appropriate for the Coronavirus Times. These are days of mystery. We will tend to ask God questions and some prayers might not find the answers we hope for.

This poem was written from a pastor's perspective, watching members of Fitzroy watch loved ones in difficult times.

The last verse is Philip Yancey's take on Isaiah 40:31:

They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

Yancey points out that this is in reverse. Flying, running and finally walking. He suggests that the spiritual life starts with us believing we can fly. Everything is possible. Then we land we a thud when some prayer is not answered as we think it should have been. We are still running but soon life's tragedies have us down to a walk. 

Yancey concludes that the mature among us are not the flyers but the realists. Even strong faith in the midst of life's tough times can be a trudge and a crawl. Perhaps we need to reassess why in that verse we always concentrate on the first not the third stage?!

Mystery is an awkward little dancer.


When a loved one’s tossed in turbulence

You watch them smashed whichever way

And God never seems to bring the calm

No matter how hard you pray

May unseen threads of mercy

Weave in, the unravelling doubt

May God grab you by the finger

Before life’s hurting drags you out


Knowledge loves the questions

Cos it has a seamless answer

But mystery shimmies all around

She’s an awkward little dancer

And when she dances out of sight

Leaving the soul that lonely ache

May God send a holy comforter

Before you crack up in the heart break


Lord, we flew on wings like eagles

Then landed with reality’s thud

We ran but soon were walking

Now crawl through this tear soaked mud

We mature in a world that’s broken

Confessing what our part is

We sing these songs to temper grief

And hope in their catharsis.


Here Comes The Sun

On our one permissible escape from the house today, we went as usual to walk Jed around Barnett's Demense. It wasn't us usual though. The sky was blue and even more intriguing was that the sun felt warm! There is one particular 30 metre hill that is worth a 3 mile walk in fitness and at the top I was feeling my body sweat... and I wasn't wearing a coat for the first time since about October.

The strong hint of spring brought a smile to my face and immediately George Harrison’s voice was in my ear... “Here Comes The Sun... little darling...” It is for me the ultimate celebration of sunshine. Harrison's guitar seems vibrant with goodness.

Harrison wrote it at a time in rock history when things were far from sunny. Just two years after they sang ‘All You Need Is Love’, the Beatles were breaking up. It was while Harrison was escaping the managerial backbiting that he found himself in Eric Clapton’s garden, and with the sun shining he found some hopefulness. “It’s been a long cold lonely winter but here comes the sun”.

Winter is about discontent and we living through a metaphorical winter right now. Summer is where we would rather be. We all need songs of hope. We all need hope. It is easy to be gloomy in these Coronavirus days. Listening to the news and rising death tolls across the world it can be difficult to look ahead with any sense of sunny-ness.

My faith gives me an alternative. I look back to a long heritage and find myself part of God's story full of liberation, redemption and purpose. And the Jesus of the story speaks into the here and now with another way to navigate this rocky terrain, looking ahead with the hope of a better future.

Faith in Jesus is not just some ‘pie in the sky when we die’ hope, but a belief in a divine presence that brings strength, grace and wisdom to change what is into what could be. As American activist Jim Wallis describes it, hope is believing in spite of the evidence, and watching the evidence change. That might be exactly how George Harrison felt when he wrote Here Comes The Sun!



I asked Patricia Eaton, a member of Fitzroy and Director of Teaching and Learning at Stranmillis College to give us Prayer Points for the world of education during Coronavirus.


We give thanks for our young people and all they contribute to our church and community.

We pray for them all as they have had their academic year cut short so abruptly and are adapting to an uncertain future.  We pray particularly for

  • Those vulnerable students for whom school provides their only stability, and often the only source of a hot meal, in an uncertain life; that they will be remembered, identified and protected in the coming weeks and months.
  • For those with special needs for whom the lack of school and the loss of routine can be really bewildering, especially with alternative provision hard to provide at home; that they may know your peace and be provided with the care and support they need when schools are closed.
  • For those due to take exams that determine their future; that they will not be anxious about the future.
  • For those changing or leaving school or university who finished in the strangest of circumstances; that they too will know your peace at this time.
  • All our young people as they adapt to life without friends to socialise with in person; that the vulnerable will be befriended and that they find innovative ways to stay in touch with each other in this time of distance keeping.
  • For volunteering and support opportunities that our young people can be involved in; give them creativity in ways they connect with grandparents or other older relatives they may not be able to see for a while, and guide them to find other ways to support those around them.


We pray for parents as they respond to school closure.  Give them reassurance that they do not need to recreate the full experience of school and freedom from guilt because they can’t!  Pray for a new rhythm of living and learning together in families to be established quickly and for creativity for all involved.

We give thanks for the dedicated workforce in education in Northern Ireland and beyond.

We pray for our teachers and educators who are facing major changes to the whole education system and being asked to make massive adjustments quickly.

  • For strength and stamina in the uncertainty and the adaptability to provide a supportive teaching environment remotely.
  • For those working in schools remaining open for key workers; that they know your peace and guidance as they provide support for a whole range of pupils.


We pray for education support workers such as classroom assistants, administrative staff, canteen staff and others as they find their role in these difficult times or face uncertainty about their future.

We pray for educational leaders as they make major decisions under the most challenging circumstances that impact on so many young people; for wisdom and guidance and peace of mind.




These are not only strange days for all of us. They are critical days for some of us… and I am not even thinking about those who are ill with the virus, just yet.


I am thinking about businesses. There is no doubt that our 2008 financial crash is going to look like a minor blip compared to what is coming down the road. I feel for workers being made unemployed and also for bosses who have to live with the guilt of lay offs and the possibility that they themselves might not get back on their feet. 


That is why I was delighted to hear that a local bakery/cafe round the corner from Fitzroy was delivering their bread. Aleksandars Bakery use the old Common Grounds cafe attached to City Church on University Avenue. Charmaine who helps run it is a Fitzer.


Anyway they do the most amazing bread and they deliver. So this morning I got a bread drop. A call came. I sent and left my envelope of money on the doorstep. Two minutes later, envelope is gone and lovely fresh bread is there instead.




That lifted the lock-in lunch tastes for sure! It also might keep Aleksandars going through these difficult days. 


This is grace and imagination at work again. We need to be creative about how we love our neighbour. Using local small business delivery services do just that! 


I am also thinking of the homeless. They have come even more vulnerable to hunger. Many cafes and restaurants shutting down has meant that Homeless organisations have lost their supplies of food.


Again, we are hoping to use Aleksandars. We have set up an emergency fund in Fitzroy for our local neighbourhood emergencies. Out of that we hope to pay Aleksanders to make the sandwiches to feed the homeless though Homeplus. 


This allows us to love different neighbours in the one action. 


Thumbnail_Anthony Toner by Andrea Montgomery

illustration: Andrea Montgomery


Northern Ireland singer songwriter Anthony Toner has just released an album of covers called Ghost Notes Vol 1. It is an excellent piece of work and I had the privilege to ask Anthony how he chose the songs and what a covers record might teach a writer about his own work. 


So why now for a covers record?

I’ve been recording at home a lot over the last few years – I have a rudimentary set-up at home, so I’ve been putting down basic things like acoustic and electric guitar, some percussion, etc. And the first thing that struck me was that I’d like to do an album of some of my own songs, stripped right back. I think I’ve over-arranged a lot of my songs in the studio over the years – that’s been a lack of confidence, I think. And I wanted to re-work some of them, take them back to the place where they started. So… that’s been a project on my list, and I think this collection is maybe a ‘dry run’ for that, I don’t know. I’d also love to do an album of all blues, maybe an all-Dylan album, I don’t know… the possibilities are endless. I called it Volume 1, thinking I would hopefully be able to put a few of these out as the years go by!


There must be 1000 songs. What is it in a song that draws it out of the batch for you? For example, of all the Morrison songs why ‘She Gives Me Religion’, of all Neil Young's why ‘Sugar Mountain’ and of Rickie Lee Jones', why ‘On Saturday Afternoons in 1963’?

Songs jumped out at me for the strangest reasons. I de-tuned the guitar quite a bit when I was working on this collection, and found that in one particular tuning (for guitar nerds, it’s Dropped C Dropped G) I could play the little two-chord introduction to ‘On Saturday Afternoons in 1963’. Otherwise, that song wasn’t even on my mind. I’d always liked it, but it wasn’t on the list until that fell under my fingers. ‘Sugar Mountain’ I’ve been playing for years, originally as a lullaby for my daughter… and some of the songs were tunes I would have played for my parents, if we were having a few drinks and a sing song – the Charley Pride track, the Steve Earle song, for example.


The range of genres is obviously intentional?

Not really. Actually, in musical terms I’ve always loved everything, with the possible exception of death metal, musicals and free jazz – and even then, I’ll give it a go. I grew up listening to my mum and dad’s rock and roll and country records as a small child, before discovering pop, hard rock, disco, singer songwriters, rap, jazz, folk, soul and classical in my teens and young adulthood. I once got slagged off for buying AC/DC’s Highway to Hell and Bach’s Violin Concertos on the same shopping trip. With this project, I think I wanted to test that old saying that a good song will survive any treatment, so I was trying to reduce everything to its barest bones.


Were these all favourite songs at different parts of your life? 

Not all of them – some of them just worked in this context, but others have been big songs for me for various reasons. ‘Back on the Chain Gang’ still breaks my heart the way it did when I first heard it in the early 80s - I was already nostalgic at the age of 22 – where does THAT come from? ‘She Gives me Religion’ was such a stately, beautiful thing when I first heard it, and I just loved the chorus. Loved that whole Beautiful Vision album. And I always adored ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ – I first heard it as a devil-may-care dancefloor classic, and then one day, listening to the lyrics, I saw what a heartbreaking message lay behind it. I always love it when songs work on a couple of levels like that.


Were there any songs that you wanted to do that just didn't work?

That’s an interesting question. I had an idea that I would do some ‘proper’ acoustic folk thing, like ‘The Parting Glass’, but I abandoned it pretty quickly. It just sounded really corny – it used to be an interesting choice, but it feels like everyone does ‘The Parting Glass’ now, and my approach wasn’t very exciting. I also considered some James Taylor – but he’s such an influence on my playing and delivery that it just sounded like… James Taylor. And there’s no point in doing that – he already does that, better than anybody else.


As you begin to live with these songs a little deeper did you find anything out about them that you didn’t know?

Songwriter Chris Smither has a great riff that he shares about ‘sturdy’ songs – songs that will survive any kind of treatment (he sings Chuck Berry’s ‘Maybellene’ in a minor key, for example, and it works wonderfully well) – and I realised how sturdy these songs are. In some cases the melody is where the strength is, in other places it’s a lyric – it’s interesting to see where the supporting walls are, from song to song.


Do you find anything out about your own writing that you didn’t know?

Following on from that last question, it struck me as I went over them and over them, that I need to think about those structures and strengths when I sit down to write my own songs – Does this song hang on the melody? Does it hang on this chorus? Am I giving that melody enough room to breathe? Are the lyrics strong enough to support that chord progression? All too often, we follow instincts in the songwriting process, and it pays sometimes to also have construction in mind, to be aware of the techniques at work, the same as joinery or cookery. You know… the really good painters look at a million paintings by the masters before they start on their own work. The great poets tend to have absorbed a million pages before they grab hold of their own masterpieces.


Again spending such time with these songs, in your writing just now are their influences from the songs seeping in?

I don’t know – is the short answer. It will be interesting to see if that happens – I’m always struck by how simple the really good songs are, so it also reminds me not to be too clever. I'm also certainly encouraged by how much everyone likes the ‘stripped back’ sonic approach on this album, the lack of layers and overt ‘production’. I take that very much to heart as I move onto the next project.


At 4 Corners Festival you sound checked with McCartney's ‘My Love’. I was surprised it wasn't on here. Vol 2? 

Yes, I think so – it’s a beautiful song, and I’ve been playing it for years in a kind of folky, quickstep sort of approach, so it was such an obvious one to do, and I’m not sure why I didn’t include it.


As an independent songwriter how will Coronavirus impact you?

Well the immediate impact is that the diary empties out, and you start to scramble to get things postponed, pushed back in the year, rather than cancelled altogether. But I’m lucky that I’ve just come back from a short tour, so I had a chance to bring in a little bit of income before the shutters came down. And I have this project to talk about for a while, and reactions have been good. The enforced isolation is perfect for getting some work done of course, but I miss the sociability of playing live, connecting with people, meeting other artists and so on. But there are new original songs in the pipeline for hopefully another album in the summer, so I’ll be happy to sit down with the guitar and the terrifying empty page for the next few weeks.


Is there anything a fan can do to help you?

Of course – just making a connection is always helpful. The new album is available as a physical CD for mail order from the website at, and orders are very much appreciated – most of the back catalogue is also available there. You can also sign up for my mailing list on the website, to receive the regular newsletters. And if you feel like contacting any of your favourite radio presenters and requesting any of my songs, that would be most useful. Otherwise, feel free to share, stream, download or just spread the word. And hopefully we’ll get the chance to physically share some space together again in the near future.

STRANGE DAYS INDEED - A Personal Reflection On How I'm Coping

Stockman head

“No one told me there would be days like these

Strange days indeed

Very peculiar mama…” 

            - John Lennon


What do we make of such times, these Coronavirus Days?

The Stockmans are pretty much locked down. We are being very careful to protect Janice’s father who is with us for the foreseeable and to love our neighbours by taking all the measures that might stop the spread of this killer pandemic. We have had a couple of scares of being too close to someone with the virus but so far we are well. Thank God. 

We have been out to walk the dog, keeping our two metres apart from those we meet. I do believe that people are ironically more communal in our time of social distancing but when you walk past someone there is a new suspicion. It is probably not of the person so much as the virus.

Work for me is in some ways easier. There is one focus. It is a little like being on Mission Team in Uganda. I don’t have lots of plates to juggle, just one. I tired if I am juggling too many plates and if my schedule is too full! This is not as strenuous. 

Even better for an introvert I can do it all I do without the energy sapping big gatherings. Social media is a wonderful gift for the introvert and I am enjoying that. Staying in touch with people in all the ways available is easier for me. It is also very satisfying when people respond.

I remember the very first day I was on Facebook back in 2006. The conversations I had in the first 24 hours had me telling Janice that Churches should consider a Social Media Chaplain. We are pretty much all such Chaplains now. 

Oh… and do your remember those days when people were suspicious of social media. "It breaks up community and human relationships", they said! I always thought the opposite. Oh it has to be used discerningly. It sharpens discipleship for sure but we all need it now!

Then there is the creativity. The blogging I do has become more vital. Trying to create video messages and church services. It is my grá to use my favourite Irish word. I am buzzing with it. I even started writing Haiku poems! 

It does mean developing new skills. It is a very different thing speaking a message into a Smart Phone on the mantlepiece than writing a blog. This will be a new rhythm I have to learn.

That is the same with Sunday Service. Speaking to a phone sitting on a Joshua Tree box set, on a music stand is a rather different environment than a packed Church. I am not usually someone who looks at his notes while preaching but in this new practice I feel that eye contact is vital and not buzzing on congregational interaction means a slower adrenalin and perhaps the need to look down. Practice will make perfect… or closer to it at least. 

I was very satisfied with our first virtual service. Dave and Erin Thompson did a great job on the worship and a shorter service has proved popular with just short of 600 views so far. The little Thompson bloopers at the end were good too. People need that little laugh too. I need to be less professional next week to make you all smile!! 

There is another side of me filling up with concern about the days ahead. Some of my congregation have been and are very close to the virus. We have been following up some in isolation or with possible symptoms. My constant concern is people’s anxiety and their mental health. Then what might be up ahead in the way of real illness and potential death and grief. Particularly if we are in lock down. That will add to the grieving trauma.

I pray to God and try my hardest to trust God in ways I have never had to. Oh we think we have but really we know nothing about trust. Our wealth and health care have diminished our need to trust a transcendent God.

Yet, I must take a crash course in trust because in many ways that trust is all I have to share with others. So, I need it myself. I am constantly seeking the Bible passages and verses that I will be able to share as we go forward. 

So, as another week begins we will wait, fearing the bad news that might come in. God help us know how to respond. We will also try by all the means available to be a presence to all of those that we cannot be present with. I pray over us all the God given grace and imagination we will need.