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April 2021


Come Come Away


Come, come away my love

We'll find a cottage by the sea 

We'll hide from loving everyone

To seek to love you and me

Yes, let us head up north again

Slip off the beaten track

Find a place to rest our souls

And never look back.


And we'll gaze on the Mull of Kintyre

From the pillow of our mid morning bed

While the world is scanning TV stations

We'll walk the seas of Moyle instead

And stare in both daughters' mischievous eyes

And then lavish them with love

Watching them getting to know too much

And never getting to know enough

And we'll open other people's stories

Allow them to delve inside our souls

Reflect on the days of all that's gone

And re-focus on tomorrow's goals

Yes, we'll find a place for us to stop

To look, to listen and to learn

Allow our candle just a little flicker

Instead of that pressurised burn.


Come, come away my love

And let our love have its way

For love is full of satisfied

When it lies full of empty days.


Dylan Revisited

As Bob Dylan cover albums go this might be one of the very best. It comes from a strange source.

I hate free CDs with music magazines. CDs? Surely streaming has stopped any need for a few taster songs from top and coming albums. Mostly, they are not the best songs. Advertising money can be the only reason.

Yet, Uncut’s June 2021 free CD is a revelation. Just a glance suggests as such. I mean it only needs a glance for proof. Cowboy Junkies, Low, Courtney Marie Andrews, The Weather Station, The Flaming Lips, Richard Thompson, Frazey Ford, Weyes Blood… and more.

But even with a strong bill I can still be suspicious of these darn things hanging off front covers of magazines. My suspicions were well and truly smashed by a stunning collection of Dylan’s songs, tastefully done. Even better is that when they brought all these versions together with a certain 

It is the female vocals that marvel most. Courtney Marie Andrews’s To Ramona, Bridget Mae Power’s One More Cup Of Coffee and Frazey Ford’s The Times They Are A-Changing bring a vocal purity that is surely beautiful and Low’s Mimi Parker is only a little short of angelic on the haunting requiem that is Knockin On Heaven’s Door.

There is a special world music shift in the African rhythms and harmonies that Fatoumata Diawara brings to Blowing In The Wind, an assured addition to our next Ugandan Bus Trip Playlist.

Most intriguing of all are The Weather Station and Cowboy Junkies. The former tells us that she has tried to strip away the Christian parts of Precious Angel, “I found a way to remove some verses and reorder others to make it a secular song”. Bless her heart but Tamara’s caricature of following Jesus is a little out of sorts. She might have removed Jesus but the Holy Spirit is still hanging all over what is still very much a prayerful spiritual.

Cowboy Junkies don’t have Lindeman’s seeming queasiness with Jesus and don’t tamper with the Holy Spirit in I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You. The most recent Dylan song here, a blend of Make You Feel My Love and something from Saved they preach it in that gentle Canadian arrogant free way:


If I had the wings of a snow white dove

I'd preach the gospel, the gospel of love

A love so real, a love so true

I've made up my mind to give myself to you


The other remarkable thing is that there is not one duff track here. Richard Thompson thinks he has nailed This Wheel’s On Fire better than anyone before him; The Flaming Lips do psychedelic country on Lay Lady Lay; Thurston Moore get’s closest to the original on Buckets Of Rain; Patterson Hood and Jay Gonzalez from Drive By Truckers bring an appropriate southern crawl and drawl then add a little menace to Blind Willie McTell; Joan Shelley’s purity on Dark Eyes with Nathan Salsburg on guitar; Jason Lytle’s stripped back strum and luscious lazy vocal on Most of The Time reminds how good a tune that is. 

After all that the Musical Excellence Award goes to Weyes Blood for her 11 minute Sad Eyed Lady Of the Lowlands, starting in the same Americana ambience as everything else before building to a psychedelic baroque drama of the most beautiful climactic kind.

All this and I haven’t even mentioned that Bob appears himself in a rare track from the very fertile Infidels sessions. Too Late merged eventually into Food Of Pride and still didn’t make the cut. Here, it is an acoustic lash, echoing Dylan’s early Greenwich Village days and has all the lyrical intrigue you would like. 

This does deserve an official release but if that doesn’t happen, get yourself to a shop now and buy Uncut June 2021 and make sure that infernal free CD is attached!


Stocki smiling in pulpit

As the TV news looks at the different ways that we have engaged with television, streaming and movie watching over this past strange year so I have been thinking again about how peoples' engagement with worship services has been affected too.

For a couple of weeks I have been doing the two sermonic practices of Covid-19 times. One has become too familiar, gazing into camera for the online service. The other is almost stranger, looking out at a small percentage of my congregation all wearing masks which makes connection impossible. As I preach I have masked faces looking blankly at me in a way that makes me feel that I am mad (maybe true, I hear you say!). 

I have worked hard to get used to both and to make the most of them. That is my job and I have always been determined since my first talk in the upstairs room in the Sloan Hall at Harryville Church in 1979 to do the very very best I could, with God’s help, every single time I speak. I actually have a fear of not being good.

In spite of all the masks ( I seem to have been able to ignore the blankness) and empty pews I have come to love the live preach again. I am standing in my five square feet of vocational real estate. That gives me a familiarity and confidence. 

Then there is the live worship. Without doubt there is an adrenaline that comes off our Fitzroy worship bands that fires my inspiration. Two weeks ago it was George Sproule’s guitar solos and this past week Norman McKinlay harmonising with Alison McNeill.

So, if I would be honest and vulnerable enough to share the back stage chatter these past two weeks, I have driven home wishing that the recorded sermon that I, and the majority of Fitzroy, are about to watch on-line had been as good as the live one I have just preached! 

Then something weird. The on-line sermons always sound better on Sunday than on the Friday or Saturday when I record. I am convinced God does some serious editing over the weekend! 

So, I guess as someone with my reason to be on the planet it is good that I have learned to do my vocation in whatever circumstances. My fear though is that when we get back to full gatherings that the impact of the sermon will not reach that of the on-line. 

I have gotten so many more responses to my on-line sermons. Specific ones. Personal. It has been quite astonishing on a weekly basis. If I got one thank you or personal comment per week before lockdown I would have been happy. I now receive messages for most go the week after an on-line service.

There might be various reasons for this. The first is obviously that every single person is in the very same circumstances. When I apply the text to Coronavirus everyone gets it. I also think that there is something about lack of distractions. There is a lot that happens in a crowded Fitzroy on a Sunday morning. 

We might also be a generation, after 60 years of television, more conditioned to concentrating on a screen in our front room. Finally the on-line service is shorter and hasn’t the ”dead air” of people walking up to read or pray or take part in other ways. 

Whatever the reasons, though there are some who do not enjoy the  on-line church experience, I am under some pressure to make sure our ‘new different’ gatherings can be as spiritually potent as what we have been doing, and will continue to do, on-line. I look forward to that challenge.

RICHIE FURAY - DELIVERIN AGAIN (50th Anniversary Return to the Troubadour)


I came to Richie Furay through his solo record I’ve Got A Reason. It was an Album of the Month in a Christian Record Club! I loved it because it wasn’t the Jesus-per-minute formula of the most of the catalogue. In Furay’s songs, faith was all submerged in the everyday, as I so much prefer. 

I then found a Souther Hillman Furay Band record in a bargain bin. I suddenly realised that Richie was a rock star legend. Mr Furay was  one of the three main voices behind Buffalo Springfield with Neil Young and Stephen Stills. He was also a founding member of Poco, almost a feeder band for their contemporary country rock mates The Eagles.

Richie Furay is one of the few Church pastors who is a member of the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame. Since 1983 he has been pastor of Calvary Chapel in Boulder, Colorado. He has kept the music going with worships albums, records of the same kind as I’ve Got a Reason - The Heartbeat Of Love and Hand In Hand - and a brilliant live record Alive.

This new double album with the succinct title of Richie Furay 50th Anniversary Return to the Troubadour or preferably DeLIVERrin Again is in musical terms a follow up to that Alive record. 

Furay has built a beast of a beautiful band around himself. Scott Sellen’s guitar playing is exemplary, Richie’s daughter Jesse Lynch brings strong vocals and current Eagle, once of the Poco parish Timothy B Schmit also makes a guest appearance. Dave Pearlman also guests with delightful pedal steel and dobro.

The evening and album is devided in two. The evening’s raison d’étra is to replay the entire Poco album Deliverin’, the band’s third record which was also live. It is the second half of this set and brings that 1971 record alive with a crisp vitality. 

Before that DeLIVErin’ Again set we get Still DeLIVErin’ which makes a powerful statement that Furay is still writing great songs while he also pastors his flock. 

We scan the last twenty years of Furay songs and some of his most recent like We Were the Dreamers, a biographical song about Poco, Wind Of Change and Someday sit perfectly confidently alongside Buffalo Springfield’s On The Way Home and Poco favourites not on Deliverin’, like Go and Say Goodbye and Hard Country, the latter featuring Jesse Lynch on lead vocal.. The more rousing hoe down hymn Wake Up My Soul sneaks in too.

It is intoxicating stuff. Richie Furay seems a very balanced human being. He doesn’t seem prone to feeling the slight injustice that rock n roll did to him. He was always third genius in Buffalo Springfield and Poco always came second to The Eagles. Any listen to this anniversary celebration should remind you of what a major force Richie Furay was. It rocks in the best of country ways.


Stocki and Jammies

Here are 10 of the things that I will miss most when the 'new different' finally kicks in... 


1. Not worrying about what to wear. I have pretty much worn track suit bottoms, a t-shirt and hoodie for 13 months. I kinda liked it... and as for growing my hair! Yes!


2. Lunch with Janice every single day. We are pretty religious about the family having the evening meal together. For over a year we have been able to have lunch together too… and Janice’s home made chicken broth - yum!


3. Evenings to ourselves. In the “old normal” there were literally weeks without an evening without some meeting. The box sets we have binged on has been glorious... never mind the football seen live. 


4. All the sermon preparation time. In my own restrictions, for health and love thy neighbour reasons, I have not been as busy out and about. That has given me so much more time to ponder the texts for Sunday’s sermons instead of rushing preparations at the end of the week. I believe they have been better as a result.


5. Less people cluttering up my own thinking time. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I long for the stimulation of conversations over cafe tables, in my office, over our dining table or pastorally in Fitzroy homes but I often get caught up in unessential chats that keep me away from reading, writing and preparation. I have so enjoyed that extra time.


6. That when I take the Biblical text and attempt to set it in the context of Fitzroy that it has been universally the same. So many have shared with me how much more they have gotten from the sermons on-line than when we were gathering. I have tried to explain that that is because I know the context of everyone in the congregation. The text should hit the spiritual bullseye every week!


7. Not having to drive to and between meetings. How much time do we waste in cars and buses and trains and what damage we do to the environment? I loved being in Zoom meeting within seconds and out of them the same. 


8. Shopping being an unessential part of life. I am suspicious of the “I Shop So I Am” definition of our humanity and was pleased, personally and socially, that it went on hold.


9. The thriving of birds and wildlife. Without question there was been a breather for our environment during these strange times. With less humans cramming towns and fields and forests and beaches wildlife has been blessed. I fear a snap back to old normal. 


10. My introverted personality has, like the environment, taken a breather in Coronavirus Times. I struggle in crowds. Oh it doesn’t look like it but I have social anxieties for sure. I have enjoyed the break. I fear that as many had their mental health stretched in isolation, that moving back into crowds will be a mental challenge for me.




(As Northern Ireland experience some opening up of restrictions tomorrow I thought I would list ten things that I am looking forward to when we open up fully... No hairdressers...)



We live in a house that comes with the job. Our home is in Ballycastle and that has become a place over the last 24 years that we have come to love. Restrictions have kept us from travelling up there since Boxing Day so we haven’t been for over six months. We miss it so badly. Walks by the river, up in the forest or across the beach and my favourite novel reading sofa. 



Early on in the first lockdown my friend Doug Gay wrote a song called I’m Missing You which breaks into the most hopeful of choruses, “One day there will be such a gathering”. I long for that gathering. I don’t expect us to be full for some time… but one day… no masks… no distancing… songs rocking and singing loud… tea and coffee and a catch up after. Please God, soon.



I had much bigger dreams for Janice and my 25th Anniversary. I had Cape Town, Hout Bay, Camps Bay, The Winelands, in my dreams but that’ll have to wait. A lovely meal looking out over our favourite piece of Antrim glen, north Antrim beach, the Seas of Moyle with Rathlin with Scotland beyond. Of course the most beautiful part across the table! 



Should we wear masks? Should we not? Should we open Churches? Should we not? Should we sneak around the restrictions? Our different personalities have dealt with the virus differently and I have found more tension on should churches be open than anything else I have faced in parish ministry. I have found it all stressful. It will be great when those divisions are eradicated.



I am no shopper. Since record shops closed even less. BUT I’d love a walk down Botanic Avenue, into No Alibis for a few signed copies of great northern Irish books and a wee browse in the record shop across the road, if it opens again. 



There are so many conversations at planning meetings or on social media when in ‘normal times’ I would say. “Hey let’s get a coffee and a good yarn next week”. I long for those long lazy chats about what seems trivia but never is and about issues we know are deep to begin with. Whether back in my office or in a cafe on Botanic Avenue. Oh yes.



I did an entire series before lockdown about the importance of “being with”. As in Emmanuel - “God with us”. It will be great to be back with people in their times of most need, to touch an arm, hold a hand and give people hugs at funerals. 



We have been saying for years that the 4 Corners Festival comes out of a monthly afternoon of laughter. Where Zoom meetings have been suitable for Directors’ Meetings, Planning Meetings need that banter and bouncing off each other. That has been difficult on Zoom so I look forward to catching up on the laughs and inspiration.



I am not a prolific concert goer but it will be nice to get to the SSE to sing Run with all of Northern Ireland at a Snow Patrol gig or enjoy Glen Hansard or Declan O’ Rourke at the Ulster Hall. Over The Rhine and Martyn Joseph in Fitzroy would be cool too. 

Our daughter Jasmine has started the University of Reading this year and it would be great to take her to a Reading match. Promotion for Reading might make that against City!



I am fascinated about how the “old normal” will transform into a “new different”. I don’t think we will just snap back but we will have some courageous decisions to make if we are to use this year of sabbatical to reset our ambitions, priorities and desires. I am looking forward to seeing how brave I am, and we are, at following that silver lining out of this dark cloud.


Stocki BBC

(My Thought For The Day on BBC Radio Good Morning Ulster on April 22nd 2021)


Gary Neville played for Manchester United. I support City. I was never a fan. I actually thought he was overrated. It is probably my City bias. I did love seeing him getting sent off in a Manchester derby!

This week though I declare Gary Neville a hero. On Sunday afternoon news broke of A European Super League for football. The news set off what was described a Nuclear War in the sport. A mere 48 hours later the 6 English teams withdrew from the said League.

This was a sensational turn around. Business greed usually backs down to no one. 

Gary Neville’s contribution has been seismic. Maybe two hours after news of the Super League broke, Neville made a pundit speech that was incredibly powerful. Emotional. Angry. Articulate.

Neville set in motion an impetus that was picked up by everyone who loves the beautiful game. It set a tone and like a depth charge hurled ripples that became tidal waves crashing against the big soccer liners and sent them back to port.

Greed on an epic scale is not confined to the Football Super League – it’s all around us squeezing the last drop of profit no matter the consequences.

On the same  fans were protesting the Super League songwriters were challenging the greed of big music streaming multi national corporations who give very little to the artist whose songs they stream. 

As Bob Dylan sang “Money doesn’t talk it swears.”. The rich have been getting richer and the poor poorer for a very long time. The Old Testament prophets raged against those in big houses who trampled roughshod over the poor. Sadly the gap has widened during the pandemic.

The end of the Super League in days is a huge victory for the ordinary football fan. May it be a warning of business greed and maybe a model of how a united force of ordinary people can change the world. Thank you Gary Neville.



Gary Neville was a red. I was never a fan. I actually thought he was overrated too. One of the many players that Sir Alex Ferguson made look  a lot better than he was! I know. It is probably my City bias. I did love seeing him getting sent off in a Manchester derby!

As a pundit I have liked him more. I love the way that Sky have made their pundits a little partisan as well as having a general sense of fairness in their post match comments. Neville and maybe Jamie Carragher led that delicate balance.

Tonight though I declare Gary Neville a hero. A mere 48 hours into the setting up of a European Super League Manchester City and Chelsea are already opting out and Neville’s contribution in that cannot be underestimated.

Make no mistake that this is a sensational turn around. Even the commentators tonight are disbelieving at the early unravelling, thinking that these Super Rich teams would have seen out the storm. 

For me this has been about wealth and big business and I have seen very little that has ever suggested that protesting ever works when the the rich get greedy enough. I wasn’t sure that the owners of these clubs had anything on their mind but a rise in the share price. Not much a poor customer has been able to do in the face of that over the last 100 years.

Yet, it seems that fans and players and managers have done just that. They have threatened the owners of their clubs with becoming socially reprehensible, like drunk drivers. They have made them think again. It is an extraordinary victory that should be cheered by every fan in every stadium much more than their team’s next goal, win or trophy.

Gary Neville’s contribution has beens seismic. On Sunday afternoon, a very short time after news of this Super League broke, Neville made a pundit speech that was up there with any political speech we have heard in recent years. He was articulate, argued well, nailed everything that needed said. It was emotional. It was angry. It was clear.

Tonight I have no doubt that that outrage and how it was shared set in motion an impetus that was picked up and run with by everyone who loves the English game. It set a tone. It shone a bright light. It was a depth charge hurled and ripples became  waves that crashed against the big soccer liners and sent them back to port.

We need more of the Gary Neville model in soccer. This war is not done if the victory in the battle can be heralded. More reform is needed. The game and the fans need to be more important than big business. 

We need more of the Gary Neville model across the wider society. Where the greedy ride roughshod over the common man and woman we must vent our anger with articulate words and a joined up outrage. 

We need more Gary Nevilles. We are seeing before our eyes that they can make a difference.


European Super League

The European Super League. What a reaction that created. How articulate was Gary Neville on Sky Sports yesterday in the midst of his anger? 

It seems that the world of football and outside of football are against this daring elitism… until a Manchester United fan on the BBC Northern Ireland news showed the sad and inevitable chink, “I am sorry but I will support them wherever they are playing.” That might be the most honest response. We’ll come back to it.



Sadly, this didn’t happen overnight. Money has been ruining the game for decades. I remember my father pointing a finger at United trying to buy the League back in 1972 when they spent a fortune on Ian Storey-Moore. Comedian Mike Yarwood put it better - “We didn’t need Ian Moore, we needed nine more.”

Chelsea and more recently City have been accused of buying success. Who can doubt that it has helped. Not me. Money has pretty much limited the potential winners of the Premier League to three teams. It is why we were so excited when Leicester City won it without all the money in 2016. Having said that there was an injection of money into Leicester after 2009 when they were two divisions down.

Let us make no mistake that the big money in football argument was lost decades ago. Leicester City was a blip. I long for the 70s when a QPR or Burnley or Derby could have given it a good go but in 2021 for most teams to compete for Premiership titles they need big money investment. 



This is no different than what is happening in our wider society. Super Markets have been putting butchers and bakers and candlestick makers out of business for 50 years. 

As Bob Dylan sang “Money doesn’t talk it swears.” The Mafia don’t use guns any more they use the Stock Exchange. The rich have been getting richer and the poor poorer for a long time. 

The Bible has warned against such greed for millennia. I am simply amazed that a Super League and not Super Markets caused the most reaction!



Most of the talk in the past 24 hours has been very England-centric. It has all been about the damage done to the long history of the game and the tier system and finances dripping down to the grass roots.

I agree with all that and the damage that will be done BUT the owners of our big soccer clubs do not come from or live in England. It is not only the system that they do not get; it is the tradition.

The European Super League seems to me to be very much a model taken from all American Sport. American Football, Baseball, Ice Hockey and Basketball, even Soccer are based on Super Leagues. It is a different tradition and very much a different economic model. That is what the owners are used to and honed by.

They also see that the TV viewing numbers are bigger than the numbers at stadiums. If they lost the local Manchester fan base who all went off to support Stockport County they could get millions more in China or wherever. It is a world game, not an English game.

Finally, on this one. The Premier League is the only interesting league in the world. Ask Rangers and Celtic fans about a European Super League and how they would love it. Italy, Spain and France too. They didn’t have the same fascination and competition as the English Premiership. Then if English teams don’t enter how will they entice the top players to England. That is a dilemma!



The fans have spouted enough opposition. The action will be much more difficult. Will these angry disgusted fans, myself included, follow through or end up like our Northern Irish United supporter and cave in to whatever?

It is very difficult to change allegiances after 50 years of grief and joy, reading and memory collecting. When that club is in your own city, even harder.

Yet, fans need to act. Is that boycotting? Maybe not watching on TV and stop buying shirts. Or literally changing clubs. It will very difficult. 



We haven’t yet heard from players and managers. Certainly they have been thrown into it and it is not their fault. There are all kinds of wild suggestions about them being banned from World Cups etc. 

Whatever, they have decisions to make. When it is your financial future and career that is tricky but maybe showing the intention of not re-signing after contracts end would make a point. Would they then be willing to take a pay cut and play for Everton, West Ham or Leeds? Players and managers are being unfairly tested too.


It will be interesting to see what happens. I suggest that this needs more thought than just whether this Super League goes ahead or not. Soccer needs to look at itself and into its soul and ask some questions that have been ignored for too long but have now rumbled up and exploded in the sport’s face. 

Me too. The League Cup on Sunday has lost its shine, the Premier league too and as for that European thing… Can I really at 59 after… 52 years… fall deeply in love with another club. I have also, for over 50 years, followed Plymouth Argyle though!



After months of lockdown, we are opening up and I am amused and fascinated by what people are wanting most. “I need my hair done so badly”. “I want three families in my garden.” “I cannot wait to get to the holiday home”. “I want a meal in a restaurant.” I want a game of football.” “I just want to walk into a book shop and browse.” 

If we have been watching and listening through this Coronavirus year then there are many things there for the learning. One is just how different that we all are. 

We have all dealt with lockdown differently. Some of us have loved church on-line and some of us have hated it, longing for a gathering even with masks and no singing or fellowship. Some of us have played as loose with restrictions as we could, like bikers racing as close to the cliff as they can, while others were ultra cautious not even getting on the bike. Different. All different.

Jesus knew that everyone is different. He let Nicodemus come to him in the cloak of the night. He sat down with a Samaritan woman at a well in the heat of the day. He invited himself to Zacchaeus’s house for dinner. He gave a man his sight back but didn’t tell him who he was until much later. All different.

My life experience is that we humans are not good at understanding this or acting accordingly. We lazily think that we think everybody else thinks like us, will respond like us, emotionally react like us. We find it hard to understand when they see things differently or react differently. 

I know that in communities and churches and families these differences have caused difficulties. All of our misunderstandings and relational friction is a result of not recognising that we are different.

We have all dealt with Coronavirus differently. We will all deal with coming out of it differently too. Like Jesus we need to see each other’s differences. We need to understand. We need to allow for it. We need to be patient and generous towards one another.

I am coming to believe that this is an act of love. That we need to stop to listen and watch and understand one another and allow the difference to live alongside us. 

I am committing myself to a daily action, a daily discipline to climb out of my version of the world, my reactions, my responses, my perspectives. I need to cast off my intuitive idea that everybody reads the world like me. 

Such a posture of humility and patience and grace is the very essence of Gospel, of God, of Jesus life, of the Kingdom. God is all about relationship and redeeming broken ones. Jesus was the word become flesh so that he could relate to us in our in all our foibles and eccentricities. The Holy Spirit gives us those things needed to understand the other and to love - “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

In these next weeks as we find ourselves wonderfully exiting lockdown let us be alert to the different speeds and ways that we will and let us treat one another with the patience, mercy and grace to our differences.