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March 2020

PRAYERS POINTS FOR HOSPITAL STAFF IN THE DAYS AHEAD

Ulster Hospital

I asked one of our congregation John Trinder, a senior member of the Ulster Hospital staff, to lay out for me some detailed prayer requests for our hospitals in the days ahead.. 

The prayer points are not only a help to prayer but a real insight into the difficult conditions our medical staff are working under.

If you are the praying kind…

  • Pray for forgiveness that we have not been more earnest in our prayer when others have been affected around the world by other illnesses, starvation and hardships. May this spur us to more action in future.

 

  • That God would intervene to stem this pandemic, to reduce suffering, death and secondary and tertiary effects, including economic hardship, here in these British Isles and all around the globe. PRAY REALLY HARD AND PERSEVERE PRAYING FOR THIS. We need miracles.

 

  • Pray for time and adequate resources for health services to prepare and increase capacity, of hospital beds and of intensive care beds. Pray for hugely expanded facilities and capabilities, including rapid training of staff to gain the necessary extra skills to work safely outside their normal practice. Pray that those who are stepping up to new roles are protected from fear, and put themselves forward for such roles.

 

  • Pray that decommissioned areas can be recommissioned to use for patient care alongside existing areas. 

 

  • Pray that sufficient numbers who are able will return from retirement and that administrative obstacles would be waived or rapidly overcome. Pray that their practice will be indemnified.

 

  • Pray for protection of healthcare workers from severe illness - supernatural intervention alongside ENOUGH PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT and adherence to good practice. Pray that the personal protective equipment works.

 

  • Pray for those in government that they would make good and timely decisions, and not fear difficult ones if they’re the right ones.

 

  • Pray for enough of the necessary equipment, drugs and consumables: ventilators, monitors, drugs, oxygen, pumps, dialysis machines, disposable tubing, oxygen, cannulae, gloves, aprons.

 

  • Pray for creative and successful innovative solutions to reduce mortality and morbidity.

 

  • PRAY REALLY HARD FOR SUSTAINABILITY OF ROTAS AND ADEQUATE NUMBERS OF STAFF AND ADEQUATE REST FOR STAFF. THIS IS A MAJOR CONCERN OVER THE COMING MONTHS. Pray against simple but important things like dehydration, sleep disturbance, nutrition, loo breaks, time away from work to recuperate.

 

  • PRAY FOR WISDOM OF THOSE MAKING DIFFICULT DECISIONS, THAT GOD WOULD LEAD US/THEM WHETHER THEY KNOW YOU OR NOT. GIVE PEACE IN THAT DECISION-MAKING AND PROTECT THE MENTAL HEALTH OF STAFF, INCLUDING AGAINST GUILT.

 

  • Pray for all doctors, nurses, physios, technical staff working to stem and to treat this pandemic.

 

  • Pray for wisdom and ethically worthy decisions as to whom to prioritise in the midst of scarce resources.

 

  • Pray for wisdom as to how to re-organise usually daily activities like ward rounds and note-keeping to make them more efficient time-wise and means to do this outside the usual clinical areas they are practised.

 

  • Pray for timely recognition of deteriorating patients inside and outside hospital. Pray that we would channel patients to appropriate locations and in a timely fashion. 

 

  • Pray for the protection of first responders eg ambulance personnel and for GPs, receptionists, pharmacists and all who will have contact with people to allow continuity of important services, food and other essentials.

 

  • Pray for great medical and nursing collaboration across Trusts, and between Trusts in Northern Ireland, and across this island and the UK, and time in the day to organise, so that we might do the best for the most, not just at hospital level but nationally and indeed globally.

 

  • Pray that there would be a huge reduction in demand for other types of hospital and community services during this crisis.

 

  • Pray that patients would not remain in inappropriate areas for any length of time. For example, pray that patients no longer needing critical care can be moved to other environments quickly so that other patents can access the service.

 

  • Pray for safe prescription and administration of drugs and other treatments, and that complications might be minimised.

 

  • Pray for effective palliation of those we can’t help to survive, and early recognition of such patients and appropriate diversion of resources.

 

  • Pray for many in the community who are anxious and fearful. Pray for those who fear for their loved ones serving in treatment.

 

  • Pray for protection of the vulnerable, including those resident in nursing homes and other institutions.

 

  • Pray for many acts of kindness, co-operation, and Christian witness.

 

  • Pray that many would turn to God and “re-align their lives” with him and his will.

 

  • Pray for the defence of faith in Jesus in the setting of loss, both at individual level and at national/global level.

 

  • Give thanks that we live at a time when it is possible to understand the spread of disease, and to intervene to reduce its spread and to reduce suffering and provide effective treatment.

WHEN LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOUR MEANS DO NOT KILL YOUR NEIGHBOUR

Love Your Neighbour

I have been saying for a week or two that Jesus’ refrain to  “Love your neighbour” is coming into its own. It is no longer a sentimental phrase but a life changing revolutionary act. 

This particular week “Love your neighbour” could actually save people’s lives. 

These Coronavirus days cannot be navigated by our normal intuitions. We need to park our the normal behaviours, that come far too naturally, and think carefully about every action we take.

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. 

There is a famous story of a monk whose monastery was in going through frictions and break down in relationships. He decided to take a break at a neighbouring monastery. The relationships there were so harmonious that after a week he arranged an appointment with the Abbot. He asked the Abbot how he kept such a united monastery?

“Oh it is easy,” said the Abbot, “I have told them that one of them is Jesus.”

If you think that one of your number is Jesus but do not know which one then you will treat everyone as if it is Jesus. That will smarten up behaviour. Clever Abbot! 

I have heard someone say that we should be living these days as if we have the virus. If we knew we had the virus that might make us stop and think about our behaviour. 

Perhaps we would see less selfishness going on around us.

Perhaps we wouldn’t be so blasé about where we go and how many we gather among. 

Perhaps we would take social distancing seriously. 

Perhaps we wouldn't clear the shelves of food.

Perhaps we would only travel when we had to.

Perhaps we would stay put and sacrifice that old life we used to live for a short time so that as many of us as possible might get that life back again.

Perhaps all the decisions we take might be about others not ME.

Love your neighbour is suddenly the most potent refrain in the whole wide world. 

Love your neighbour actually means DO NOT KILL YOUR NEIGHBOUR.

Most medical experts are suggesting that this might be the week that the virus could spread most. There might be no better week in your entire life to love your neighbour!


ANTHONY TONER - GHOST NOTES VOL 1

Ghost Notes 1

At a recent 4 Corners Festival event I was thrilled to be in the room for an Anthony Toner soundcheck. I am ever the fan and hearing the soundcheck is a fan’s dream.

Anthony sang Paul McCartney’s My Love and that Toner voice gave the song a majesty. It was beautiful. I was entranced.

When I heard, a few weeks later, that Anthony was releasing a covers record I imagined that My Love would be on there. Well, no My Love. However, the simple beauty of the cover is right here.

This is perhaps the least produced of all of Anthony Toner’s records and that might be its secret. The uncluttered arrangements are what allows the essence of the song to be lifted out of its more familiar layering.

Van Morrison’s She Gives Me Religion becomes even more spiritual. The Pretenders’ Back On The Chain gang is a revelation to me. The lyrics get to breathe. It has a simpler twist of fate. Young Hearts Run Free gets a weight and credibility that I could never even have imagined listening to Candi Staton’s version back in 1976.

The variety of genres at work here is impressive. From Van and Neil Young to disco to pop to Jim Reeves. 1949’s Scarlet Ribbons into Rickie Lee Jones On Saturday Afternoon in 1963 and Elvis’s Don’t. I mean who could set those songs alongside each other and give them a unity. Toner makes them his own.

Lyrically in these Coronavirus days it is not Morrison or Young or Earle that gives the prophetic lyric. Listen to the aforementioned Scarlet Ribbons:

 

“All our stores were closed and shuttered

All the streets were dark and bare

In our town, no scarlet ribbons

Scarlet ribbons for her hair”.

 

This is certainly a wee delight for nights locked down in our bizarre new world. A song batch of relaxation with much to stimulate the mind. 

Toner has often been lazily called a cross between John Prine and James Taylor. None of those two here or My Love for that matter. Volume 2? Yes please. And hurry up about it.


IF WE GET THROUGH THIS...

Stocki 19

I came down to Fitzroy one Sunday morning particularly frazzled. Now that is a regular scenario. Even after ten years I am still as nervous every single Sunday as I was on my very first day!

Anyway, I am not sure why this Sunday was worse than others. It must have been. A few elders pray with me before the service and as we gathered one of them, June Pat, asked me how I was.

June Pat", I said, "If we get through this, you can be sure that God exists".

As quick as a flash, June Pat replied, "Steve, I am sure that God exists, so we will get through this".

It was simple BUT it was brilliant. Since that morning, I have said those words to June Pat many times. I have even texted them to her from Uganda and America. Her response still brings me some assurance when I just need a word.

June Pat reminded me of our little mantra this morning. In these uncertain days of the Coronarvirus our little back and forth might be worth hanging on to.

 

"June Pat", I said,

"If we get through this

You can be sure that God exists"

"Steve," said June Pat,

I am sure that God exists 

So we will get through this".

 

 

 


TWO SILVER LININGS IN CORONA'S DARK CLOUD

Stockman 4C Launch

My friend recommended a new book The New Testament in Its World by NT Wright and Michael F Bird. It arrived this morning and looks thick enough to fill a few weeks of isolation!

As I flicked through it I stopped at some notes on 2 Thessalonians and was taken by a phrase about the verses 3 and 4 in 2 Thessalonians 1 - “Paul immediately launches into thanksgiving for the Thessalonians perseverance in their faith despite adversity.”

“Despite adversity”. I have been saying it a lot recently but the Corona months might be when we begin to read the Bible in the context that it was written in and indeed the context that the first readers read it in.

Most of the Bible is written at times of adversity whether in slavery, wandering in the desert, at war or in exile, under oppressive Pharoahs Herods or Caesars.

Paul is impressed by how the Thessalonians dealt with their adversity. Here’s Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of these verses:

 

3-4 You need to know, friends, that thanking God over and over for you is not only a pleasure; it’s a must. We have to do it. Your faith is growing phenomenally; your love for each other is developing wonderfully. Why, it’s only right that we give thanks. We’re so proud of you; you’re so steady and determined in your faith despite all the hard times that have come down on you. We tell everyone we meet in the churches all about you.

 

I love “Your faith is growing phenomenally; your love for each other is developing wonderfully.” 

This might be a time for such growth and such developing. Perhaps this time in lock down might be seen as a spiritual sabbatical. 

Let us use it to grow our faith. Let us re-align with God, remember who he is and realise our place in his order of things. Let us trust God more. Let us pray more and ponder God’s word more.

Then let us develop our love for each other. I am heartened by people’s response in offering their time and gifts to help get us through this adversity. Nothing develops love like exercising that love. Love your neighbour has never been a more urgent call. It is a sacrificial revolutionary act that might save lives. Let’s do it! 


OFFERING (IN CORONAVIRUS TIMES)

Ways-to-Give_Blog-Header

In Fitzroy the offering is the most important part of the service but it is not about money. Oh we lift a monetary collection but the offering is about what we are offering to God. We offer ourselves every week. 

Last Sunday we had no offering plates as that was another way to pass the coronavirus so the offering was at last separated from money. I finished my sermon with it. It was a rough mix. This is slightly better put...

 

Offer yourself

To let go of the familiar script

To imagine a whole new way to be

 

Offer yourself

To realign with God

To in-sync with God’s order of things

To this sabbath seemingly forced but maybe gifted

 

Offer yourself 

To sensible actions

To selflessly protect

To sacrificially serve

Family, friends and strangers

 

Offer yourself 

To be a boredom breaker

To be a hope breather

To be an anxiety reliever

To be a conduit of being with

A contributor of love.

 

(I believe the image is from Foodbank Canada which seems appropriate)


STOCKI'S ST. PATRICK'S DAY PLAYLIST 2020

Music_shamrock_516_560_80

(St. Patrick's Day 2020... never been anything like it... Coronavirus has quietened the world... so here's what I have been listening to as I celebrate my Irishness... be it that you will notice that it leans towards ny Northern Irishness)

 

I THINK OF HOME - SNOW PATROL

(from Reworked)

 

NORTHLAND - BOBBY SPEERS

(from Northland)

 

LAST TRAIN TO LIMERICK - JULES MAXWELL

(from Songs From The Cultural Backwater)

 

SHIPYARDS FROM BELFAST - ULAID & DUKE SPECIAL

(from A Note Let Go)

 

YOU I KNOW - RUNABAY

(from Between the Lines)

 

IN A HEARTBEAT - RYAN MCMULLAN

(single)

 

I’M STILL ALIVE (live) - DAVID C CLEMENTS

(from The Sound Of The Forest Choir (live))

 

TALK (single edit) - TWO DOOR CINEMA CLUB

(single)

 

KNOCK ME OFF MY FEET - SOAK

(from Grim Town)

 

DOWN DAYS - ROE

(single)

 

SUGAR ISLAND - THE 4 Of US

(from Sugar Island)

 

I’LL BE ALRIGHT - MALOJIAN

(from this Is Nowhere)

 

TELL THEM ALL - CIARAN LAVERY

(from Let Bad In)

 

MY ISLAND (feat. Stephen James Smith) - RYAN VEIL & ELMA ORKESTRA

(from Borders)

 

ST. PATRICK ON SLEMISH MOUNTAIN - THE ORPHAN BRIGADE

(from To The Edge Of The World)

 

MY LAGAN LOVE - THE CHIEFTAINS & LISA HANNIGAN)

(from Voice Of Ages)

 

CARRICKFERGUS - BRIAN HOUSTON

(from Songs Of My Father0

 

GREEN GLENS OF ANTRIM - BEN GLOVER

(from The Emigrant)

 

FROZEN NORTHERN SHORES - IAIN ARCHER

(from Frozen Northern Shores)

 

GOING DOWN TO BANGOR - VAN MORRISON

(from Keep Me Singing)

 

BANGOR TOWN - FOY VANCE

(from Wild Swans)

 

BELFAST - JOBY FOX

(single0

 

BELFAST (PLACE OF MY SOUL) - BURNING CODES

(single)

 

BELFAST TOWN - KAZ HAWKINS

(from Feelin’ Good)

 

SHAKE THE DUST - KATHLEEN TURNER

(from Like A Lion)

 

HUMAN - KITT PHILIPPA

(from Human)

 

SHANDY BASS - ROMANTICA

(from Shadowlands)

 

ONE FOR THE BLACK BOX - ANTHONY TONER

(from Our Lady of The Wind And Rain)

 

HOMEWARD BOUND - STREET LIGHTS

(single)

 

COME, COME AWAY - STEVENSON AND SAMUEL

(from Gracenotes)


DO NOT BE AFRAID

 

Do not be afarid

"Sometimes a wind comes out of nowhere
And knocks you off your feet"

These Bruce Cockburn lyrics from his song Whole Night Sky, beautifully covered by Elbow, describe well our Coronavirus disorientation.

In some ways we now find ourselves closer to understanding how to read the Bible than we have in a long time. The Bible is written and read by people going through intense shifts in their reality. It is not so easily understood in the prosperity of a middle class western stability. We might well get some of it now!

The most repeated command in the Bible is "do not be afraid." God knew that the world would throw all kinds of fearful events our way. The words are often spoken in Scripture at times when something very frightening has happened. It could almost always be followed by a faltering, "are you having a laugh... I'm petrified!" Yet, that is the point. At times when the very earth seems to be shaking we are to trust in a God who promises to be with us.

I re-wrote this from a Communal prayer I used in Fitzroy heavily influenced by Isaiah 43 and Psalm 46 both of which I use a lot in pastoral visitation. As the earth shakes... let us hear God's words...

 

Do not be afraid

Even when you are struck dumb by God

Even when an angel sits down beside you

Even when you are told you will have a child without ever being with a man

Even when the pitch black night is ripped to shreds by blinding light

Do not be afraid

 

Do not be afraid

When you pass through the waters

When you walk through the fire

Though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 

Though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

Do not be afraid

 

Do not be afraid

When the news declares pandemic

When they close down big events

When they warn you to keep your distance

When they tell you to isolate for weeks

Do not be afraid

 

Do not be afraid

Because you have found favour with God

Because you are precious and honoured in His sight

Because God is our refuge and strength

Because God will always be with you

Do not be afraid.


CORONAVIRUS AND FITZROY - LETTER FROM THE MINISTER

Stocki in Dark

Dear Fitzer,

Fitzroy’s Session and Staff have been giving a lot of thought and prayer to how we best respond to the Coronavirus Pandemic. We have set up a small group to help us respond to an ever changing situation. 

We are considering the immediate response and are putting together an imaginative plan for worship and pastoral care going forward.

We are prayerfully considering how to make decisions between the writer of the Hebrews call for believers to not stop meeting together and Jesus call to love our neighbours. It is likely that we will have to make a call that sacrifices our gathering together in order to responsibly protect the vulnerable among us.

Let us remember that even if we feel we are strong enough to get through the virus that we should be determined not to carry the virus to those who might be vulnerable.

 

This Sunday morning’s service WILL take place as usual at 11am BUT Sunday evening is cancelled.

The morning service will be a shorter service.

Children and youth will go to Sunday school and Bible Classes from the beginning.

There will be NO order of service

There will be NO offering plates

There will be NO tea and coffee after the service.

There will be NO prayer ministry after the service

Stewards will open doors and we will try to have doors ajar to save us having to touch door handles.

Please keep your distance and resist the normal practices of hugging and shaking hands..

 

We encourage anyone with any cough or fever symptoms to stay at home. Please check latest government advice at https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/news/pha-advice-new-coronavirus-guidance and remember to wash hands regularly.

If anyone is feeling in the category of being vulnerable please do no feel that you have to come to Church. This is a time to be safe rather than dutiful.

If anyone would be returning, after the service, to people who might be vulnerable we ask you to again be sensible.

 

Going forward, all extra Fitzroy events are cancelled for the foreseeable future and we will reassess Sunday services and our youth work as the days unfold. 

If we cannot gather together we will have other options for communal activities.

We want to assure everyone that in a situation that might cause us to not be able to gather or even cause some of us to have to isolate that we will be doing our best to make sure that everyone feels connected. Isolation MUST NOT mean alienated, forgotten or lonely.

This is a time for grace and imagination. As well as a crisis it is an opportunity to follow Jesus in loving our neighbour. Members of our Fitzroy community will need words of encouragement and practical help. There will also be demand for volunteers across our neighbourhoods. Let us be on the front foot and ready to respond to the needs of family, neighbours and even strangers. (Read my blog on a Grace and Imagination response HERE)

 

I am drawn to that favourite pastoral reading of mine from Hebrews 4: 14-16

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

The Bible is mostly written in tough and dangerous times. God is not out in space somewhere with no understanding. God came to live among us in Jesus. He can empathise with our humanity. He invites us to approach a God who understands and offers us mercy and grace in this time of uncertainty and anxiety.

 

Let us be in prayer for one another, the wider community and indeed a frightened world.

Grace and imagination,

Steve


THE CORONAVIRUS - GRACE AND IMAGINATION

Coronavirus

The coronavirus has become all consuming. Who thought the Irish would stop talking about the weather! Of course it is far from funny, though some black humour might help us through the days and weeks that lie ahead.

I have spent most of this week considering what I might do to traverse this untravelled terrain as minister of Fitzroy.

My initial floundering was all negative. Who were vulnerable? Where were we vulnerable? What should we stop doing? What should we cancel? What instructions did we need to put up? How would we meet the pastoral needs of those who would have to isolate?

I sought the thoughts of others and one of the best snippets of wisdom I found was posted by my friend Karin Bergquist. Karin posted a poem by Lynn Ungar.

Lynn threw a very different hue across the gloom. She suggested that we saw the pandemic like a Jewish Sabbath, ceasing things, giving up things, singing and praying. Being forced to stop might give us time to be still and reassess. 

Lynn was not belittling the danger. Seeing it in these spiritual terms she was advocating that from from the stillness we can reach out. I was particularly taken by her words:

Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Going back to Karin. With her band Over The Rhine she released a record last year called Love and Revelation. The title is a phrase stolen from her friend, songwriter and producer, Joe Henry who signs his letters with that phrase.

I used to sign mine Grace but after hearing Joe’s I have occasionally added Imagination. Grace and Imagination!

For me those are the two things most needed over this next period of time.

We need to be people of grace who show a costly self denying love to those around us. I have heard altruistic used a lot in the media. “Love your neighbour” is better, more descriptive and direct. 

In the weeks ahead we are going to come across family members, neighbours and even strangers who are in difficult situations. Perhaps they will actually be ill. Or perhaps their need to self isolate will push them into difficulties. Or they might be stranded, unable to get home due to travel restrictions. 

Jesus call to love our neighbour really needs to kick in. Oh to conquer this virus will need strong leadership, good medical response and an antidote but the world also needs grace. Actual living, breathing, active grace. 

Our decisions should not be about ourselves but about what our actions do that might make others vulnerable and how we can minister best to the most vulnerable.

In these coronavirus circumstances that grace will need imagination.

I have spent today working out how to do Church when Church might not be able to meet. How can I reach my flock with God’s word of comfort and hope for such times when they won’t be out in front of me at 11am on a Sunday morning. Today’s technology makes that more possible than ever but it’ll take creativity across my congregation. Some won’t get streaming or Youtube. How do we reach them?

That active grace I spoke about will need imagination too. Back to Lynn’s poem. Compassion will have to move invisibly and without touch. That is going to need imagination. Yet, do it we must and I believe we can. 

This is no time for an apathetic, passive, running on the spot Church going. This is a time for the Jesus idea to come into its own as something that our society needs and might respect if we can fully unpack the effectiveness of Jesus birth, death, resurrection and ascension. 

Let us head into what is unknown and without doubt dangerous on the front foot. These are dark days. It is time to be the light of the world. May God give us an abundance of grace and imagination.