(my review of 2020... there is good news and bad news... first the good...)
2020 started well. The 4 Corners Festival was a good one. I got to interview both Ken Haddock and Gary Lightbody to full houses in Fitzroy. Both were powerful evenings. I am not quick to give myself positive reviews but I was so pleased with the interview with Gary. We had never met. We were quickly at ease. My respect for him as human being grew even more. It went exactly as I dreamed it would and people seemed to enjoy it.
This is what I had wanted to do in my teens. Journalism but not just the written kind. I wanted to be Bob Harris, John Peel and Lester Bangs all rolled into one.
I guess in a strange way I got to be all three and added pastor as well. Of course the pastor is the main bit. The others are just hobbies though I am vocationally thrilled that those hobbies have fed into the main roll.
Yes, this year I got to do all my regular journalistic stuff and more. I still feel blessed to be doing regular Pause For Thoughts with Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio 2 and Thought For The Days on BBC Radio Ulster. I also loved contributions to Radio Ulster about Van Morrison and John Lennon and a soon to be aired contribution on BBC Radio 4 about David Bowie.
As well as all the radio stuff I got to do some writing this year. There was the poem in the 4 Corners Festival poetry book Building A City Of Grace as well as an article in Freckle magazine. Since Coronavirus started Fr Martin Magill and I have been writing a Christian weekly column in the Belfast Telegraph.
Best of all was the publishing, at long last, of the book I have been privileged to be involved in for the past three years. 2020 was all about meticulous editing and cover design. It is now wonderful to know that people are reading Trevor Stevenson’s memoir, From Killing Fields to Fields of Life, about founding Fields Of Life. Some are even saying nice things!
All of this happened around a year when my journalistic leanings became an actual part of my ministry. Oh I have always felt that my vocation was wider than being a preacher and pastor but this year more than ever my journalism narrowed into the preaching.
Coronavirus sent church life on its head. Suddenly we were not able to gather as a congregation and very soon we related that this wasn’t just for a week or two. Congregational services had to go on line. We had to do what could not be done but get as close to it as we could - keeping a community together while they watched in their homes alone.
I realised that if ever the Biblical text had to caress and collide with the contemporary context it was 2020. I was constantly seeking God for what I call “grace and imagination”. The services in worship, prayers, songs, sermons and other additions had to build resilience and give hope, as well as the challenge of being disciples through tis unique time.
This is where God had pre-blessed me with all my previous journalism experience. Radio shows, Melvyn Bragg panel shows on the South Bank, live Sky News interviews about U2, U2 documentaries, putting together radio shows. All of that gave me experience that I needed to get to work with. How to relate to a camera and what worked a screen as opposed to a building.
I was even more blessed to have a techie team in Fitzroy who had the skills but also quickly work out the equipment needed, the programmes needed and the deep gladness to do it.
Add to this musical families who could record worship songs from their own homes as well as prayers and readers in abundance and we were in a very fortunate place to deal with the Coronavirus challenge.
As well as reaching Fitzroy we were able to stretch out across the world and find regulars from north west Canada to Australia and so many places in between. We were able to add video work and original songs ( I got to write a few with Jonny Fitch and Gareth Black) and a brilliant series on the apostle Paul by Gary Burnett called Paul In Ten. Gary’s series will be published as a book in 2021.
If I look across 2020 and look for a sense of vocational satisfaction, there are many places to find joy. The best one though came around Christmas time from a member of the congregation. It read, “Ironically this was a year when we could have been most disconnected as a church family and yet I feel the opposite”.
Whatever Janice and I attempted to do in this bizarre year that was our aim. I am sure we didn’t hold everyone in but the response suggests we did alright. Now we need to ask how to reach deeper and higher and wider in 2021.