Previous month:
April 2022
Next month:
June 2022

May 2022


Abba 2

The Fitzroy Musical Collective



with guest PJ (Preach Jockey) TONY MACAULAY

SUNDAY, JUNE 19th 2022 @7pm

Fitzroy Church, 77 University Street, BELFAST BT7 1HL


I find it hard to believe BUT... in our long line of Gospel According To... series we are doing ABBA. 

Now, I never thought that ABBA deserved any spiritual reflection whatever (actually ANY reflection at all) and then one morning on BBC Radio Ulster's Thought For The Day, Tony Macauley did a fabulous spiritual reflection on the band.

It was around the release of the band's first record in 40 years. Voyage had them back in the spotlight and Tony Macauley's first surmises on the new songs were of forgiveness and reconciliation. 

Tony has been a bit of a hero since University days. He was the cool guy working in the New Lodge at the Saltshaker, with a radio show and then started writing books that are now being made into musicals at the Lyric. He also works in peace and reconciliation across Ireland to Rwanda and Uganda. He is a dude but with one chink in his coolness. He is a fanatical ABBA fan!

I am delighted to bring them together. Sadly not Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny and Anti-Frid in person but their songs across 50 years with Tony Macauley on explanation, our preach-jockey for the evening.

The Fitzroy Musical Collective will not disappoint with the music. It will take you back to your Dancing Queen 70s or your Mamma Mia movies and draw out some fascinating spiritual gems too!

ALL WELCOME. Fancy Abba dress optional!







GA T u2

The Gospel According To... Series came about, as many good ideas, by accident. During my days as a University Chaplain we raised thousands of pounds to take students to South Africa to volunteer with Habitat For Humanity. At the launch of my book Walk On we had gotten local artists to cover U2 songs and so we went for it again as a fund raiser. 

Then we did Johnny Cash. Then Van Morrison. As part of these tribute nights I started to “Preach Jockey” them; that is my description of how I link the songs with spiritual commentary. I had created sermons through songs and chat on my BBC Radio Ulster show Rhythm and Soul between 1996 and 2006. 

When I arrived in Fitzroy in 2009 it was a natural thing to repeat the idea and then we developed it. The great advantage at Fitzroy was having an amazing array of talent, not only able to perform the songs but absolutely passionate about doing so. 

The creativity and ability of my congregation has widened the scope of The Gospel According To... Series. We now have not only done the rock music of Leonard Cohen, Van Morrison, The Waterboys, Bob Dylan, Christy Moore and Bruce Springsteen but we have now stretched the canvas to include Harry Potter, The Lion KingNarnia, Les Miserables, West End Shows and Van Gogh. When Jonathan Abernathy-Barkley was our assistant we had other colours in our palette. Dave and Lorraine Thompson have brought the Disney and Pixar movies into play too.

With my penchant for all things U2 we have done a variety of events around their work. As well as The Gospel According To… U2 we have had an evenings on Songs Of Innocence and Joshua Tree. Songs of Experience is being prepared for the autumn, around time the SOE Tour arrives in Ireland.

Not everyone understands the concept. Some say that it is baptising secular music. For me it is not anymore baptising the artist in performing a song than it is to quote a novelist or poet in a sermon. Some seem to struggle with the idea of the Gospel of Bruce Springsteen. Of course it is not called that. It is The Gospel According To… It is seeking out what Springsteen or whoever says about Jesus and faith.

There are six important things that I am attempting to do through these evenings: -


Since I started trying to share my Christian faith in the early eighties I have constantly attempted to cross the gap from Scriptures into the culture by using the arts as a bridge. The use of quotations from all kind of sources has been rife in preaching for centuries. I just felt I could reach a younger, perhaps more secular audience by using quotations they would relate to and maybe be surprised I would use. This has all a Biblical model that from Acts chapter 17 where Pauldoes what I am doing; he takes the art and poets of the city, quotes them and then uses them to draw people to the truth of Jesus. This is an effective way to communicate in a cultural context.


It was Marshall McLuhan who said, anyone who thinks there is a difference between entertainment and education doesn’t know the first thing about either. The ability for people to engage and listen to the entertainment that surrounds and near saturates them is for me a vital part of discipleship. If we think entertainment is just noise I believe we are wrong! The discernment of Christians to understand what they are listening to, reading or watching is a vital part of the job of a pastor. I believe that if Jesus is Lord he should be Lord of our aesthetics. I believe in iPodic obedience! There is art that can give us a healthy soul in a positive way. I wrote my MTh dissertation on this idea. 

My hope is that The Gospel According To... Series awakens people to think about their art. I also hope that it will exercise the muscles of our imaginations as we connect art and faith. The most positive outcome of this series for me is that my very own children will often say to me that they have heard a song, read a story or watched a movie that we could do a Gospel According To... on. They have learned to look for the spiritual in their entertainment. Success!


In his book The Contemporary Christian, John Stott speaks of not being so caught up in the Word of God that we miss the contest of the world that it needs to apply into. He suggests it is necessary to listen and have a grasp of both. One of the ways to get a handle on the issues of the day is by engaging with the art of the day. It is a window into the soul of the society. The Gospel According To... Series gives us an opportunity to listen.


In the introduction to my book The Rock Cries Out I suggested something more than Stott's Double Listening. I was aware in my own spiritual formation that rock music had played a major part in God's speaking to me, leading me back to the Bible to wrestle with social and personal issues. God was speaking in unexpected places. Of course this wasn't an original idea. From Clement of Alexandria in the Second Century to John Stott again, this time in his book The Incomparable Christ, "there seems to be truth among all men." Again we might here God if we were able to listen and this Series is aimed at helping guide us in this listening.     


What the Series has done is draw many people into or back to Church. For whatever reason many people have problems in coming to Church. They have stereotypes or have been damaged by Church experiences. What we have found is that The Gospel According To... Series has done is to encourage such folk into the Church again and reassess their relationship with it.I often describe it as a Burning Bush, an intrigue that catches people's attention draws them closer to sacred ground.


This was a bi-product that I hadn’t gone looking for. After we had done a few events in the series I realised how fulfilling it was for those who sang or played. Church is often not a place where arts are encouraged and many musicians, singers and performers feel that they cannot easily bring the life of art and faith together. To be allowed to use their gifts for God in these musical ways has not only been a an opportunity to develop and hone their gifts but also to grow in spiritual confidence as they find a role within the Body of Christ.

Fitzroy will be performing The Gospel According To... Abba in Fitzroy on June 19th 2022 with guest commentator Tony Macauley


Robb Elementary

In June 1998 I was in Nashville for the wedding of friends David Dark and Sarah Masen. As I was there over the weekend I was asked to preach at Downtown Presbyterian.


What would you like me to preach on?

What about telling us what it is like to live through the Northern Ireland Troubles? 


As I was pondering what to say I read an article in a local Nashville paper that The Presbytery of Nashville was encouraging their ministers and elders to hand in their guns. 

I had never heard anything so disturbing. I began to imagine a scenario, any scenario, where Presbyterian elders and ministers in Ireland had guns. It was frightening. I was able to get up on the Sunday morning and suggest that even though guns had destroyed our wee country for 25 bloody years that we at last were taking the guns out of our society. America was a much more dangerous society than ours, I suggested.

These last days I am heartbroken again at the news of another gun massacre of children at school, this time in Uvalde, Texas. In my job I have sat with parents who have lost children. It is not the natural way of things. It is viscerally heartbreaking. Parents are never the same again. Nineteen dead children. Two dead teachers. A dead eighteen year old killer. Seventeen injured. It beggars belief. It needs our prayers. And, sadly, it is not an isolated incident.

Listening to the polarisation about guns and gun control in America has bruised my heart even more. It is so difficult for us outside of America to comprehend the attitude towards guns and so I have found myself resisting throwing the trite Tweet into a debate that I simply cannot comprehend.

I have found myself being very grateful that in our own broken land with all of its unique disfunction and mostly outdated ideologies that at least I live in a place where eighteen year olds cannot easily purchase and carry guns; a society that feels the safety of tight gun control.

I am grateful that when an attack took place in my wife’s old school, Sullivan Upper, in 1994 that our gun laws prevented the attacker having such deadly weapons. He had to resort to a flame thrower and though tragically a few students were seriously burned, none were killed. One can only imagine what might have been. Gratitude!

Sadly, as I have surmised the American gun debate this week, I have to set lament alongside my gratitude. As America responds this week I have come to pray that God can give me resilience for the inevitable heartaches to come. Open hearts are prone to breaking. I cannot switch my emotions off or grow cold to news of innocent children being gunned down. I ask God to help me as we tragically respond to more places that will be added to Uvalde, Columbine, Sandyhook, Virginia Tech… 

God have mercy.


Worship Grief

On Sunday morning in Fitzroy (11am also streamed) we are going to try something poignant. We are attempting to do a Bereavement service for all of us who lost loved ones since the beginning of Covid.

If you can remember back two years, many of us lost loved ones and were unable, due to the restrictions, to have funerals. For many the thought was that we would do a funeral in a few months time. Two years later and those would be funerals are gone.

It is to recognise this loss, not only of a loved one, but of some of our steps of grieving process that we will dedicate the morning service to catharsis, lament, remembering and hope.

The songs and readings will be as would be at a funeral but with a little more opportunity to reflect on the Scriptures, to pause and to pray.

We will also have a liturgical act where those who have lost a loved one will bring a flower forward and lay it on the Communion Table, as appropriate music minsters to our loss.

Reflection as we partake in communion will be around the idea of Jesus as Shepherd, in Psalm 23 and John 10. 

We hope that this will be a pastoral help to all of us whose grieving was stunted by Covid. 


Celebration U2

In October 1981 I used birthday gift record tokens to buy U2’sOctober album. Someone told me that they were Christians. I remember putting the needle down on the opening song Gloria and… BOOM!

By the time they released the 7” single A Celebration in March 1982 U2 were my band.  I loved the energy and exhilaration of their sound BUT beyond that they really did articulate something of my relatively new Christian faith. That a rock band could do that. My spiritual life had a soundtrack. A soundtrack that would travel with me through the rest of my life. I had found companions for the road.

A Celebration could feel rather hard done by. It has been, it would seem intentionally, hidden away in the annals. It’s first release on CD was 27 years later on the extra disc with the deluxe remastered October album. Even there it is hidden at track 9. In the sleeved notes Edge calls it “our attempt at a stop gap single”. He goes on, “It’s a little fraught, and shows the signs of being put together in the middle of a touring cycle.” 

I am not going to debate the songwriting or recording technique qualities  of A Celebration. Regardless, I will always love it for what it was at that stage of their career. It is the link, musically and spiritually between October and the band’s third album War. 

October was all personal spiritual ecstasy, almost worship. War was a band of young men, three of them Christians, trying to make sense of the world outside their home city and indeed fellowship group. They were starting to caress and collide their faith and the world.

Here on A Celebration they are still celebrating the liberation of Christ, as seen in the video that was filmed at Dublin’s famous Kilmainham Gaol. They are still invoking prayer and praise to the transcendent but they are now becoming aware of world wars and atomic bombs. Yes, the lyrics are a little generic in this “stop gap”song but they are taking more shape than the articulate speech in Bono’s heart on October

Author Philip Yancey, now a friend of the band, once described Christian growth from a verse in Isaiah 40 (v31),

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

Yancey points out how this seems to be the wrong way round. Should we not walk first? Yancey suggests that the early days of Christian faith is full of idealistic naivety. We believe we can make the world perfect overnight. We fly out of the blocks. Yet, later we watch friends get sick and die, we watch the TV news and realise that despite our faith all is not well with the world. We land with a thud. We are still running but later we are even walking because this faith journey is tough.

The repetition of  “I believe” in Celebration sounds like John Lennon’s song God, from his Plastic Ono Band album, where the Beatle sings about what he doesn’t believe in (including Beatlesactually!).  U2 would further develop this responsive conversation with the late Lennon on Rattle And Hum’s God Part 2

It doesn’t seem too contrived, to rush up the road and five years hear… “I believe in the kingdom come… but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

A Celebration is the perfect hinge between the flying and running in the spiritual life and U2’s next few records, maybe their entire career, would continue to live out Yancey’s commentary on Isaiah 40… a verse U2 would actually use on Drowning Man, a song on that next record War.


Gundoganwinner - cropped

“Are you watching that again?” Janice asks at tea time when I am watching Ilkay Gundogan’s winner against Aston Villa that won the Premiership for Manchester City.

“Again… and again.. and again.. and again…” I reply.

As a minister I take Monday’s off and today was dedicated to coming to term with yesterday’s final day of the football season and all its drama. I watched Match of The Day, then the aftermath of the Sky Sports live coverage. I watched various videos on the City website. At tea I am watching that goal… again… and again… I am watching City’s victory parade as I type!

Looking back it was almost predictable. As I sat down with my mate Boyd, with Monty and Philip on our WhatsApp Match Day Support Group, we were nervous. We all remembered QPR from 10 years ago. Lightning surely wouldn’t strike twice. We couldn’t save ourselves in injury time again. 

If we went one down… we did… if we we went two down… we did. We were there again. It was almost unbelievable but we had almost felt we would. Against a team whose season was over and should have been on the beach we find ourselves huffing and puffing with no real threat and we’ve conceded almost two similar goals to that game ten years ago.

As we said… it couldn’t happen again. Our heads were down. Our hearts were sore. It is hardest to take losing the title when you throw it away in the final game. 

We were starting to ask the what ifs? We were starting to question Pep’s team selection in big games. We were starting to complain about having no out and out striker. We were starting to say how Liverpool can get themselves out of these games but we struggle…

And then Sterling gets the ball. What’s he doing… that shimmy to the byline… that cross… GUNDOGAN… goal!

Wait a minute… well a couple of minutes and Zinchenko cuts inside like a tricky winger… precise pass… Rodri with pace and perfect placement… goal! 

What is happening? Can it happen again. It is the hope that kills you… loose ball… watch Kevin De Bruyne beat three defenders to the ball… pass… GUNDOGAN again… GOAL! Boyd and I are on our feet screaming with every sound that our bodies can release. 

What just happened. It will go down in Premier history as the magic mad five minutes but… stop… stop Stockman… surmise…

Stop questioning Pep’s big game implosions. Pep fixed it. Today he changed it at half time. Zinchenko on the left and Sterling on the right. Instead of cutting in where Villa had more than matched us, take them wide. Then Gundogan. He has been our most natural midfield striker. He seems to know just where to be and when to arrive. Today he knew that to perfection. Pep got it right.

Stop questioning the character. Not only were we two down this weekend. We were two down last weekend at West Ham. Two games in a row we needed to show courage and resilience and belief.

Start remembering this decade. 4 titles in 5 seasons. 6 in 10. As a City fan I couldn’t have dreamt this 15 years ago. Oh and I know that is the cue for people to talk about money from the Middle East. It sits very uneasy, I will admit. I wish it didn’t have to be like that. 

I wish it could be 1975 but it isn’t. And you can’t buy it. United have spent a lot of money and got worse. We bought Rodney Marsh in 1972 and it cost us the title!

I feel for my Liverpool supporting mates. They’ve topped 90 points twice recently and we’ve sneaked it. Maybe all teams that get 90 points should be given the title! They are also on for a possible treble though I’d say don’t assume anything at any time against Real Madrid!

In the 44 years between our 1968 and 2012 titles I thought winning once would be enough. Winning regularly could get boring and less emotional. I’ve had to rethink that surmise too. When you win it with all the drama, nerves, pain and utter euphoria of yesterday it is not at all boring. 

So let us see how Haaland makes us better next season? Whether Grealish can come into his own? How good Foden can become? And… if we can hold Liverpool off one more time! See you in August. All to to play for… and in the meantime… CHAMPIONESE! 

Now... Match of the more time.


Derry Girls

The Derry Girls. What a phenomenon. It is easy to see it as a lovely wee funny show about 4 quirky Irish girls and a their English cousin. 

Maybe that was the intention at the outset but by the time we got to the big one hour long finale at the end of series 3 this has turned into something so much bigger.

The production, the staging, the writing and the guest stars. It was an epic show. Yes there was that near slap stick conversational humour but somehow alongside it writer Lisa McGee worked the personal and the national into something magnificent, almost prophetic.

Derry Girls was always about teenagers coming of age. The genius that finally came to ultimate fulfilment was setting it in the 90s. The nostalgia of Catholic and Protestant school kids going on overnights to meet and understand each other sounds uninviting but McGhee wrote it well. 

So, the big finale. It is easy to understand teenage girls falling out. No contriving needed there. To link their reconciliation, compromise and forgiveness with the Referendum over the Good Friday Agreement lit a spark.

To make such a seismic political moment into comedy could have all gone very very awry but again McGee created it beautifully. 

In the midst of the laugh out loud - Ardal O’Hanlon! - the questions were asked about amnesty for those who murdered, the bitterness that needed swallowed and all the what ifs it went wrong.

In the end though there was a positivity about the vote as there was about the Derry Girls coming of age. As they find the maturity of compromise in their own friendships McGee is suggesting that perhaps our society might grow up too. 

The finale of Derry Girls leaves us with an amazing potential of a so much better future. It left me laughing, sad that it was all over and wondering if almost 25 years after the events acted out if we have made the most of the positivity of ’98. There's still work to do.

MEETING THE POPE (with The Catholic Chaplaincy at QUB) - FITZROY; May 29, 2022



This Sunday night in Fitzroy we will welcome students from the catholic Chaplaincy At QUB to Fitzroy.

At a slightly earlier time of 6.30pm we will welcome Fr Dominic McGratton (Catholic Chaplain), Shannon Campbell (Director Of Campus Ministry) and the Catholic Chaplaincy Pilgrimage team who went to visit Rome with Janice, myself and Fr Martin Magill. 

I will asking the students what it was like to have a private audience with Pope Francis and other highlights of their trip. I will go a little deeper to ask Fr Dominic and Shannon about the purpose of the trip, how the private audience came about and maybe even what it was like having a couple of Presbyterian interlopers! I hope I might draw in Fr Eddie O'Donnell and Fr Martin Magill too!

We will also be privileged to hear Canticle the little choir that sang for the Pope and at other events during the pilgrimage. Led by Marcella Walsh formerly with the Scottish Opera we are talking quality! 

 Come along and enjoy. 



Knit PK

(Janice and I handing over 4 Corner's Festival knit items to Damian McNairney of The People's Kitchen) 


A few years ago Irene Jovaras and Janice Stockman got yarning around the edges of the 4 Corners Festival about their love for knitting. It didn't take too long for their love of wool and the Festival to spark an idea for a knitters event.

So in 2019 the first 4 Corners Festival Big Knit took place. In 2022 they welcomed The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, though he didn't have time to do any knitting himself!

This knitting event has become a poplar place for people across the corners of Belfast to gather and chat and share their love. While they do all that they actually do knit. The idea has been to knit items useful to the city. The idea for hats and scarves for the homeless was the creative ambition.

So the knitting was not only good but good for something and today Janice got to deliver bags and bags of hats and scarves to The People's Kitchen.

It is months later you might say. Well that is life and busyness but also because The People's Kitchen have been moving to their new premises at 1, Antrim Road. They have taken over an old bank, the safe vault doors are still there(!!), and are renovating it into a place for the homeless, the isolated and those caught in poverty.

It was great to see around the building, meet some of the volunteers and give a small contribution to helping those sleeping rough on the streets of our city for all kinds of tragic reasons.



Trespasses is another fabulous novel from yet another new, if not young, voice in Northern Irish fiction. Louise Kennedy has been a chef for 30 years and suddenly arrives among us as this very assured, poetic writer of compulsive fiction.

Trespasses is just that. A compulsive read. It’s another love story across Catholic Protestant lines. Yet, as you read you could be forgiven for thinking that you had never read anything like it. Kennedy gives it this unique twist and an intriguing web of relationships and plots.

Cushla is the centre of the yarn. A 24 year old teacher, living with a drinking mother and helping her brother in the family owned pub. They are Catholics but the drinkers are mainly Protestant. She’s lovely in every way, particularly in how she looks after a pupil Davy who needs a little help particularly when his dad gets beaten up.

Cushla’s weakness is an affair with Michael Agnew, an older man, a barrister and married. It all takes a tragic Northern Irish moment, one of those morning headlines and the aftermath is sad and messy and again utterly compelling.

Enough spoilers! Kennedy has arrived as a gifted writer. She sets it in 1975 with a real eye for detail. That detail is in every scene in every page of every swing and turn. There is a feeling that you are there, involved wanting to give an opinion, whisper advice, scream!

It’s hard to not make comparisons with Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast. Perhaps a film version could be called Holywood, Co Down! It’s six year after Branagh’s. Northern Ireland is less romantic in every way. So there is much more realism. 

There’s also Kennedy’s priest Fr Slattery who seems the equivalent of Branagh’s Presbyterian preacher. Both have make fleeting appearances but somehow don’t give a good impression of the church’s contribution at helping our wee place as we went through those dark dark days.