Iain and Gary

(This is my Pause For Thought on Vanessa, BBC Radio 2 on 21.6.21... the theme was who would I invite to a picnic on National Picnic Week... I took the chance to wish my mate a Happy Birthday)


Picnic week. My wife loves a good picnic. She loves getting everything ready. Flasks of coffee and plastic spoons and knives. Sandwiches, cake, crisps all in a picnic basket… or two. 

Then its Dunserverick Harbour, on the north Antrim coast, near the Giant’s Causeway. Its off the beaten track, just couple of picnic tables… you can tuck in, while the water laps in maybe a few canoers just out from shore…

I, however, am a grumpy old man. Picnics mean flies, wasps on my sandwich. But even I am looking forward to one in the next few weeks…

Who’d I invite. Jesus is a bit obvious but he’d be great if the food ran out… or the wine for that matter. Nelson Mandela but he’s not available. Barack Obama seems like good company and Janice would enjoy Michelle. Paul and Nancy McCartney would be amazing.

BUT in the end… Today, the longest day of the year 2021 is my friend Iain Archer’s 50th Birthday. You probably haven’t heard of Iain but you know his work. I bet Vanessa has played his songs. Among many others, Iain co-wrote Run with his mates Snow Patrol, Lightning Bolt with Jake Bugg and Hold Back The River with James Bay.

Iain has been a good friend for nearly 30 years and it would be amazing to have him, his wife Miriam and their twins Reuben and Eden up the coast to celebrate. Janice would have birthday cake.

With little live music in 15 months I’d ask Iain to bring his guitar. Miriam plays and sings with Snow Patrol too and the kids are pretty darn good. A favourite song on our Family Playlists is Frozen Lake where Iain sings “I want to be someone who makes you feel beautiful/I want to be someone who covers you with love”.

I love that. Of course it is a love song but it is so much more. It’s like a mission statement, like a paraphrase of Jesus love your neighbour. It’s what I want to do in the day. Make everyone I meet feel beautiful. Cover them with love. 

Happy 50th dear friend.   


Me and dad

(My Pause For Thought with Vanessa on BBC Radio 2; 14.6.21)


The high jump. The Fosbury Flop. Golf. Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. Football. Newcastle United, even though I chose Manchester City. 

These were the things my father taught me. The things we talked about. Even in the early days of dementia these were the words that I used to find traction as a father figure who spent his life as an accountant could no longer add up the figures.

Time is an invisible memory bank. It turns and burns and churns. Time is like a tornado with nothing in control of it.

Time always seems to leak too fast. It breaks and cracks and takes away.

Time has worn my Father out. It has eroded his memories. The words that resonated. Time has brought him down a cul-de-sac with no turning circle back again.

In the last few centuries we humans have spent a lot of time trying to fix everything. This week we heard about a break through in dementia medicine. It would be great if we could fix it.

It’s too late for my dad. Time will not rewind. Fosbury Flops or Jack Nicklaus will never click again. What time has done to my father cannot be fixed. All I can do is be with him. Sit and chit chat. Talk nonsense. Sure I do that for a living.

Rev Sam Wells points out in his book The Nazareth Manifesto that God didn’t fix everything. But he always promised to be with. Wells points out that Jesus spent 30 out of his 33 years just being with people. 90% of God’’s time on earth was not fixing. It was just being with. Jesus even had another name Emmanuel which means God with us.

It’s quite a thought. It is a thought that keeps me going in every difficult visit I have with my father. Just being with him might actually be enough.



Honours List

This morning's Pause for Thought had a little extra drama. I didn't seem to be switched through to the studio so when Vanessa came looking for me down the line I couldn't hear her.

What that meant was that the song that they had planned to play after my Thought was played before my Thought.

Now that song always intrigues me and sometimes fits beautifully but I am not sure any of this ongs chosen for after my Pause For Thought over 10 years was more appropriate than this morning's.

Even more fascinatingly I had never heard the song before. I was taken immediately by the lyrics:

"God only knows what you've been through
God only knows what they say about you
God only knows how it's killing you
But there's a kind of love that God only knows"

They fitted perfectly a familiar Pause For Thought from me. The theme this week was Your Honours List as we wait for the Queen's.


I used to have my own Honours. Every Christmas morning. Santa would bring me new felt tip pens and I would use all the colours to pick my Footballer of the Year - Manchester City’s Dennis Tueart or Peter Barnes, favourite TV show - probably Alias Smith & Jones; Album of the Year - Wings Over America and later Blondie’s Parallel Lines

Honours are the ways of the world. Those who do well get the promotion, the prize, the MBE… The rest of us. Well we have to live with not being the best, not so good.. ah sure it is the world we live in… the first are first… they get the honours… then there are the rest of us… 

Well actually that world of the first being first probably causes all our insecurities, inferiority complexes and keep psychotherapists in their jobs. It is hard to live in such a graceless world.

What if there was another world. What if the Queens Honours were not earned but she just gave them out to anyone. Not because of achievements but just because she valued everyone the same. The world run by grace… almost a mad idea… 

In her novel Gilead Marilynne Robinson writes about grace. She says, “It makes no sense at all because it is the eternal breaking in on the temporal.  Love is holy because it is like grace, the worthiness of its object is never really what matters’ 

Robinson’s words are like a depth charge for the heart and soul while tingling the head on the way through?

Love as something beyond the world, breaking into the temporal. Love, beyond our default comprehensibility.

It is the beast being loved in his ugliness and thus transformed into a handsome prince.

It is amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.

It is like all of us getting named in the Queens Birthday Honours list.


I later discovered that God Only Knows was a song by the American duo For King and Country. I am not sure about that title but hey! 

I was then surprised to hear that the band were a Contemporary Christian band. That is not a common genre on BBC Radio 2. I then realised that they were the Smallbone brothers, whose sister is CCM 90's icon Rebecca St. James (I wasn't a fan but hey...) 

God Only Knows though is a great song. Dolly Parton has even sung it with the boys. It certainly fitted perfectly this morning and perhaps even more perfect for being played first...



(my BBC Radio 2 Pause For Thought with Vanessa Feltz on February 12th 2021... the weekly theme for the weekend that is in it was The Power Of Love)


We live in a world where the first are first. We wouldn’t have it any other way. Imagine some lazy student scoring 27 in their finals and getting a First while a diligent student gets 86 and is failed. We go to court to maintain the justice of the first being first!

Everywhere we look - sport, the arts, politics, business - the first are first.

It is the same in our own lives. If want to find a place, feel accepted, loved if you like. Everything is achieved. Even romantic love is about looks or fashion or sense of cool. The first are always first.

That makes it a graceless world. Gracelessness is powerful. It leads to insecurities, inferiority complexes and all kinds of feelings that could bring us down. The first are first seems right BUT might be the wrong thing for our mental, emotional and spiritual health. 

Imagine though the world that Jesus was conjuring up. He spoke about a world where the first were last and the last were first. Now that is upside down. Perhaps more than a little bit unfair but maybe a real relief to all our striving and struggling.

There are many kinds of love. My fellow Belfast man CS Lewis named 4 and I am not sure he got them all. For me the most powerful is Jesus idea of grace. In his radical way of looking at the world you don’t need to achieve or be first or best looking to be recognised or loved. You are loved. Just as you are.

Grace fuels forgiveness, energises compassion for the poor, can break down barriers with enemies. Grace forgives.

Before all this it is personal. Grace is that Christian idea that God’s love is a gift, not earned. It loves us as we are and in that has the power to transform us into who we can be. 

It is not just a Christian idea. Disney believes it too. In the classic film Beauty and The Beast the Beast only becomes beautiful when he knows that he is loved in his ugliness. By grace the last became first. Powerful!


Stocki and Jani (long hair)

(My Pause For Thought on Vanessa on BBC Radio 2 on February 5, 2021... the theme was I Am Who I Am...)


I am who I am has got me into some scrapes. 

You see I have a great radio face. Some people’s image of Rev Stockman down the line from Fitzroy Presbyterian probably doesn’t include a five day stubble, long hair (I got 4-6 inches off last week), perpetual rock band t-shirt and worn out denims. Let’s say I am careful to look as careless as possible.

In my 20s and thirties, add pony tail and ear ring and I had some serious trouble getting through any kind of customs. 

A ferry from Dublin to Holyhead was the funniest tale. As we disembarked and walked through customs I was pulled aside. Nothing new there. My then girlfriend, now wife, Janice stopped too.

The customs lady looked at me, then Janice, back to me, then Janice and says in utter disbelief “ are you together?” We laugh and say yes and she goes, “have you just met on the boat?” Oh her consternation! We have laughed ever since.

I remember another at Heathrow. She took my ticket that had been bought by the Church so it had Rev on it. REV always raised their suspicions. 

She hands back all calm and says, “what do you do for a living sir.” 

I smile knowing her game and laugh by saying “I am a minister”. 

“Not many look like you” she adds. 

As I walk away I say “you don’t think Jesus had short back and sides now do you” 

It was at a big Church event. I had just been ordained. I responded by getting my hair cut, buying a pair of chinos and a golf sweater! I was getting a photo taken with all these ministers in all their gear. In that moment I heard God say

“What are you doing

Don’t conform

Be the you I made you to be”

Jesus once said I have come to give you life in all its fulness. I have lived my life seeking that out every single day. It seems to me that no matter what customs officials think or church leaders for that matter. That fulness comes in my being who God made and redeemed me to be. I am who I am. And we’ll laugh at the stories that brings!



(my Pause For Thought On Vanessa on BBC Radio 2 on January 29, 2021... The theme was Musicals as that was a them for the entire BBC this week...)


Amanda Gorman. Since the inauguration of Joe Biden I have been utterly captivated by that young poet. Was she not amazing?

And above all her wonder she got me some cool cred with my daughters! 

You see, I am not going to lie, I hate musicals. I am a huge massive music fan but musicals are too contrived, to unrealistic. Just not a fan.

I am no fan of musicals and My daughters love them. Both are huge Hamilton fans.

Well… within minutes of Amanda Gorman’s poem I was speaking at a public event on Zoom. I was so full of her poem that I quoted her. Within an hour a friend had complimented my little speech and added and told me I had quoted Hamiltion without even realising.” 

What? No I didn’t.

Turns out I did. I texted Caitlin and Jasmine all chuffed with myself!

You see I quoted Amanda Gorman quoting the Old Testament prophet Micah with the same quote that is quoted in Hamilton.

"Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid"

I have loved this verse of Scripture since I used to regularly visit a Fair Trade Vineyard in South Africa. In most other South African vineyards the grape pickers have few rights, they live on the vineyard and can be sacked and thrown off at any whim of the owner.

This image of the safety, security, ownership and equality of everyone sitting contentedly under their own vine. I love that sense of shalom. That is the world that I long to live in.

I can see why it is used in a musical about a man’s ascent out of poverty. I can see why Amanda Gorman who described herself as a skinny black kid, descended from slavery and brought up by a single mother would use it. Apparently George Washington used it a lot.

"Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid"

Personally, I want to give my life to see such a day… and I’m delighted that it makes my daughters think I’m a musical quoting dad!



(My script for Pause For Thought on Vanessa on BBC Radio 2 on January 22nd 2021. The theme was The Power of Prayer)


I remember once I absented myself from the power of prayer. I was doing prayers in the church I belonged to. As I walked up to the lectern I was debating if I could pray the prayer. I had my notes with me. It was written on my notes. But I wasn’t sure I could say it. Did I believe it enough to pray it. Should I? Do it Steve. Hope. Faith. Believe. 

I didn’t say it! It was April 17th 1994. 9 days before South Africa’s first post apartheid elections. BUT there were not going to be elections because Chief Buthelezi’s of the Inkatha Freedom Party was refusing to stand and if he didn’t it was all heading to the ditch.

I copped out. I didn’t want to pray what wouldn’t happen. My faith was too weak. I can’t remember what I did pray BUT I left Buthelezi off my notes.

A couple of days later, I walk into my office and my colleague David greets me with a “So Buthelezi’s in.” WHAAAAT?!?! I froze, not only in disbelief but in horror of my lack of faith.

A couple of years later I discovered that on the day I didn’t pray Buthelezi was at a prayer rally in Durban. It was at this prayer rally that he decided to stand for election. 

Darn it. This was a major moment in history and when I decided not to pray for it I bailed out of the power of prayer that shaped it. 

After 50 years of praying, Prayer is for the most part still a bit of a mystery to me BUT it seems to me that it puts us in some kind of partnership with God. 

It is firstly a conversation with God, potent in itself. BUT then, I believe, there is this other power to it, a power that seems to be able to look on the inevitable and somehow interrupt it with transformation. After the Buthelezi moment I am keen to go for broke! Not being involved in the power of prayer taught me a lesson about the power of prayer.



(This is my Pause For Thought on BBC Radio 2's Vanessa Show on January 12, 2021... the theme was Winter Pick Me Ups...)


Goodness it has been cold recently. Of course I am further north than the majority of you.

Last Saturday I went out for the afternoon dog walk. After fifty yards the cold wind cut so deep that I told my wife I might have to get back to the car. I have a mild asthma condition that can be quickly effected by that freezing winter air.

Janice went on and I turned back but suddenly a young man with a shock of curley hair stopped and excitedly said “Steve”. He reminded me who he was. Lorcen. His sister was in my daughter’s Primary school class and we bonded as Manchester City fans… just before the glory years. 

It was great catching up. He was clocking some great 800 metre times. We were hopeful city had found their mojo again. 

BUT as he ran on I realised that if I went back to the car I might never thaw out again. Even with the heater. I suddenly realised that  My winter pick me up was to pick myself up and get moving. I set out to meet my wife and Jed.

It reminded me of the film Frozen 2. Anna is in very dark spot. Olaf is dying in Anna’s arms. It seems that she has now lost Olaf and her sister Elsa. She feels that she has no reason to go on. In a film called Frozen it is a cold moment of the soul. If ever someone needed a winter pick me up. 

Anna hears a song. 


”You are lost, hope is gone

But you must go on

And do the next right thing”


Go on. Do the next right thing!

In winter moments of the soul don’t go back to the car and freeze. Move. Do right things. It is why Jesus was always encouraging his disciples to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty a home to the homeless and visit the prisoner. 

In my winter moments I discovered on Saturday that it is best to keep moving although maybe not at the same pace as my young friend of Lorcen. BUT… Pick yourself up Steve and make the next right move. It’ll save from me from freezing and maybe save others from the cold too. 



(This was my Pause for Thought on Vanessa on BBC Radio Ulster on September 22, 2020. The theme was Lessons Learned)


It was 35 years ago and I was on the Stranraer to Larne ferry.  We found seats and were quickly joined at our table by a man who looked like a tramp. He was dishevelled from head to toe, a little dirty and the loudness of his voice hinted that he had been drinking.

He started swearing loudly about British rail and soon everyone sat around us was focused on our table. I eventually leaned in and asked if he would mind stopping the swearing.

“What would you know about swearing?” he asked. “I am a great Irish poet and I know the power of words. What would you know? Where did you go to University?” 

When I proudly said Queens University in Belfast he shouted something derogatory about it being a sausage factory. 

Then… he walked off throwing some books on the table. People started gathering round to see what the books were and indeed the books were his - Padraic Faicc was a great Irish poet.

The Bible talks about entertaining strangers well… because some have entertained angels without knowing it. It is a small lesson in a Bible full of the preciousness of every single human being. Everyone, even the dishevelled tramp whose language is a bit strong. 

After a few minutes Padraic came back to the table and eventually shared with us about his brokenness. Born in Belfast he grew up in the poverty of Hells Kitchen in New York city. He returned to Belfast in 1969, his wife left him and his best friend was a victim of the troubles. It played havoc with his nerves.

As we left the boat I had one of the great privileges of my life as a great Irish poet asked me to pray for him and all those issues of brokenness that you can read about in his poetry. 

That boat trip was maybe as good a seminar as I ever attended. Don’t judge a book by the cover or the poet by his clothes.


New Normal

(my Pause For Thought on Vanessa, BBC Radio 2 on September 15th 2020... the theme was the New Normal...)


40 years ago this week I went off to Sunderland Poly to do a 3 year degree in journalism but lasted only 3 days. 

It just wasn’t for me and within days I was back to NORMAL.. BUT… In the few days outside normal… I had been convinced by a mother and headmaster to go back to school and give journalism a miss and choose a career in the Church. 

I was home with everything around me the same old NORMAL but the experience in between had created a NEW NORMAL that changed my choice of career.

There is a story in the Bible about Joseph. You might know about his technicolour dream coat. He was daddy’s favourite and his brothers were so jealous that they sold him into slavery and told his father he’d been killed by wild beasts. 

Joseph ended up in Egypt and after a few years actually became Prime Minister. Fleeing from famine his brothers ended up in front of him. Would he avenge their treatment of him? No he forgave them and helped them in their hunger. Something that happened in his time in Egypt had prepared Joseph to make the right choices when he went back to what might have been the old normal of family life.

These last months have ripped the old normal away from us. Oh how we’d love to not have to wear masks, be able to hug our friends and go to gigs and football matches. 

Yet, I don’t want to just snap back. I want to carry with me the many things I have learned in these strange days. 

For me I’ve enjoyed time with family… or not having to shop to somehow feel human… or trusting in God more than I do when all seems well around me. 

When all the choices available in the old normal return… I hope that I will have changed… just as I did in those few days in Sunderland in 1980 I hope I have changed enough to make the right choices… that I suppose is the new normal that awaits.


(This was a 3 minute mix of Sunday's sermon in Fitzroy... WATCH IT HERE)