It is time. It is time to begin to leave behind the blessed benefits of Youtube Church or Streaming services. Oh they were a real help during Covid-19. To be able to gather alone together was an amazing gift. 

It is now time to move on. Covid is going to be always around us but we seem to have found the vaccines to dull its impact. That means that it is time to do Church in its proper and best way.

I recently caught, by chance on social media, a Bruce Springsteen interview from 1984 with David Hepworth. When I was 23 this was the most exciting thing I had ever seen on TV. I recorded it on my VHS and watched it again and again. It was nostalgic to see a young Springsteen talking about his work

At one point Hepworth asks him why he had yet to release a live record. Springsteen’s career was a decade old and his concerts where legendary. A live record made sense. Live 1975-85 would finally be released in late 1986 but Springsteen wasn’t keen during the Hepworth interview.

Springsteen’s reason was that the live show was too special. He almost suggested that if you didn’t get to a gig then you shouldn’t hear one outside the venue. The experience is the most vital thing. Being there is essential. 

It didn’t take me long to apply that to post Covid-19 Church life. Gathering is vital. That verse in Hebrews that many quoted, I believe erroneously during Covid, now has its day!


24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.


I did not believe that during the time when Covid-19 was a killer that this verse was as important as “love thy neighbour.” Yet now as we learn to live with Covid it is time to gather once again. 

There is something about being together, sharing a faith misunderstood outside of the Church, that is encouraging. 

There is something about singing together that emits spiritual energy. 

There is something about listening to the text of Scripture and context of the world around us that is spiritually stimulating. 

There is something about praying a congregational prayer that resonates with our hurts and hopes.

There is something about looking in one another's eyes as we pray that benediction over one another that genuinely blesses.

I am not saying that it is going to be easy. Habits need shifted again. Just doing things that we haven’t done for a few years takes courage. Yet, I don’t believe that God is happy as we sit in our pyjamas, with our donuts and coffee. 

We are no longer all alone together. People are gathering together and we are missing it out. Youtube and Streaming is still helpful for many but where you can - gather. Springsteen sensed something about that live experience. The people of God certainly should!

See you on Sunday!


Stocki beach with Jed

I thought I had lost my MOJO.

During the last year I had wondered if my days at Fitzroy were numbered. I wasn't sure what else I could do but I couldn't let a community of faith down by just going through the routines for 5 or 6 years. 

Maybe thirteen years was enough? Maybe I had given my all? Maybe all my ideas were done? It was a shadowy night of vocational soul.

Even returning last week. I remember the days that my last walk on Ballycastle beach was an evening of head bulging imagination and heart bursting excitement to get back. This year no so and I found myself scrambling for ways I could profitably see through my time.

Then... Then in one hour everything changed. I was in my late late night blog writing, imagining time. I started jotting down thoughts and after I had filled a page the head was bulging again, the heart bursting. The MOJO was back. Just like that.

How? I think I realised as I climbed the stairs for bed that I had missed the Covid impact on my vocation. It has disorientated me. I was a little lost. For the past two Septembers Stockman's imagining were curtailed by restrictions. Why plan? Nothing might happen. My vocational strengths and adrenaline release was clogged up with restrictions.

Now that I was much freer of restrictions, the MOJO ignited once more. Phew!

Covid is still there. It is not as dangerous as it was but some friends have suffered with it and many are suffering long after they had it. It is still serious inconvenience. It can cause people to miss tests and surgery and very important family and work events. Yet, there is. different sensibility of liberty to this September than the last two..

However, even in our freedom I would call for caution. Covid has had its impact. We have no idea how? I had no idea about its role on my loss of MOJO. My job was so different in these past two years. Everyone's has been. Make no rash decisions based on them. It will take time for us all to untangle the knots of Covid and get back to a new normal. Let us be gentle on ourselves and one another as we do.


Me in the Covid Garden

SO… I ventured outside. Captive under Ballycastle blue skies is hard in itself. Anyway I took a sit in the garden. Nice to get fresh air. And even nicer to be sent some lemon drizzle cake over the fence.

It seems that the last diary entry for Day 5 should have read Day 4. The first day that you test positive is counted as zero. So today I am on Day 7 and have surrendered to the notion, of a not so glorious kind, that I am in here until Sunday. 

I am learning about the statistical side of Coronavirus! They say after 10 days whether you are testing positive or not you are no longer infectious and can return to the real world. Janice left on Monday so I am looking in the fridge! 

Covid-19 is that virus that goes on… and on. A good old fashioned head cold has similar qualities BUT not the quantity of snot or time as this bad boy. Apologies about too much information but I am sure most of you have had it by now anyway.

It is wearying too. Two weeks ago I was talking about how living through the Coronavirus Years (I used to call them Days but…) is tiring in a similar way that grief is tiring. After my father’s passing at the end of April I was weary. I guess we came up here to Ballycastle to rest over the Jubilee and suddenly another tired filled bomb hits in the actual virus itself.

Weariness, boredom and seeing Ballycastle blue skies and not able to enjoy them. Covid itself still saps energy. My sinuses are jam packed. A moment of breathing arrives and you think the end might be arriving and a few minutes later we are blocked ups again.

So what have I been doing as well as trying to work out how to squeeze what I cannot do this week into the next two!

Well, as my reviews have shown I watched The Beatles’ documentary Get Back and have been listening to Mary Gauthier’s Dark Enough To See The Stars, R S Rowen’s Battery And Electrical and Mavis Staples and Levon Helm’s Carry Me Home. 

Elsewhere the Playlist has included:


The Head and The Heart - Every Shade Of Blue

These guys have become big favourites of mine and here the songs Virginia (Wind In the Night) and Hurts But It Goes Away are as catchy as anything of Lets Me Still and the eponymous debut. 


Chagall Guevara - Halcyon Days

Not released yet but out to the kick starter fan base I got a chance to listen to this the follow up to the legendary Chagall Guevara’s 1991. It is not let down. It rocks with typical Steve Taylor drama, poetry and spiritual depth charges.


Memorial - Memorial

My daughter Jasmine discovered these guys when they supported Amber Run in London recently. Oh my I love it. Like quiet lo-fi Wilco and at times Simon Garfunkel, this is a late night album to surmise the early hours.


The Head and The Heart - Every Shade Of Blue

These guys have become big favourites of mine and here the songs Virginia (Wind In the Night) and Hurts But It Goes Away are as catchy as anything on Let’s Be Still and the eponymous debut. 


Graham Nash - Live: Songs For Beginners/Wild Tales

Nash, the N in CSN and CSNY, had all these songs that didn’t make those super group records and made these albums. Last year he took them out and gigged them. Here are live versions. They have a new warm energy and sadly are still relevant, the likes of Military Madness. 


NEEDTOBREATHE - Live From Bridgestone Arena

Another band that Jasmine got me into. I love the spiritual joie de vivre of these guys. It’s always celebratory and faith burns bright even in the darker corners. I love Washed By The Water/Lay Em Down, Jon Foreman’s guesting on Carry Me and the heavy workout collaboration with all of Switchfoot and The New Respects on Led Zeppelin’s When The Levee Breaks.  


Dawes - Live Time On The Rooftop (Los Angeles, CA 28.8.20)

Discovered this recent live recording and it saves me doing a playlist of the best songs. They are here and they have so many - Things Happen, Crack The Case and All Your Favourite Bands. 


Covid cave

I think the first few days of Covid isolation were about filling the boredom. What will I read? What will I listen to? Daughters, can I get Disney Plus on my lap top!

So I read very quickly David Park’s new novel Spies In Canaan which I will no doubt review soon. The man gets better and better with every novel. The thought rooms that he opened up in this tale set in Vietnam and the Mexican/American border with a quick drop into to Northern Ireland. Oh my!

I have been wanting to catch up on record reviews. Mary Gauthier’s new record dropped on my second day in captivity. Brilliant as expected. Quick review done!

The Mavis Staples & Levon Helm record has been waiting my surmise for a while. Done… and on Pentecost Sunday - perfect!

Another review, this time R S Rowen's Battery and Electrical will be posted very soon.

Then, thought I, The Beatles Get Back film. That’s why I need Disney Plus! There was no way in my life that I would get time to watch all seven and a half hours of that. BUT here was the time. I am now two episodes in and waiting patiently to watch the Rooftop concert! Review soon!

There was some resting done too. Boy, I needed the rest. 

So, I was filling my time. 

Then I started asking if I was using the time profitably. Oh I never read or listen or watch without spiritual critique that gets used in sermons and in my own personal soul feeding but could I be more intentional.

I always looked on Lockdown in 2020 as an invitation for retreat. A time to put away schedules. To stop all the mad hurry. I have indeed come out of Lockdown holding some things learned on the overfilled diary front. A full diary might salve my Protestant work ethic conscience but did it mean that the important things in my week were done as well as they could be.

Maybe this Covid Cave Intensive Retreat was an opportunity to reassess lessons learned in Lockdown. I often say that we just never learn what we had learned! 

This retreat though cannot be confined to that. The Stockies have come through a heavy few months, the suicide of a friend; my dad’s passing; now this. I have actually come to see these Coronavirus years as a kind of grief. It works like grief. Invisible but heavy to carry. We are weary and wonder why. Maybe this is my God given time to make some sense.

I have decided for these next days to still watch The Beatles and listen to some good tunes. 

BUT… I am shifting up my pile Charles R Ringma’s new book A Fragile Hope. Charles was my main man when I did my sabbatical in Regent College Vancouver in 2005. I went to his three hour, two weeks of every weekday morning class on Mission. WOW! I also visited his study and he handed me James Cone’s Spirituals and The Blues that became the linchpin for my Masters Dissertation. 

A Fragile Hope is about Charles coming out of a number of months in a friend’s hermitage. Coming back to the real world Charles asks if it possible to build a hermitage of the heart in the everyday. Very applicable for these strange two years either forced upon us or gifted!

So, a few precious days… thankfully precious because I got a very mild dose of Covid. I am every remembering friends who died or other friends who have been in hospitals on ventilators. 

Mine is so ordinary in comparison. It has been like all the colds I have ever had. Not much worse except it is not only an unwanted guest this time, it is that unwanted guest that doesn’t know when to go home! Thank you again to vaccine makers and the God who gives science their ideas! 

And thank you to all of you who have sent messages and prayers and wishes and care. I have appreciated all the advice and love.


Covid Isolation

So I am in my third day of isolation, probably wishing that Janice and I had got this together but for her father’s sake I have taken to my Covid cave.

Those who journeyed with Soul Surmise through the more intense Coronavirus Days will know that I loved the lockdown. Janice and I are both only children and in our natural habitat introverted so we loved those 100 days in Spring 2020, resting from the hard work of crowds, alone with family, a film every night and that neighbourhood dog walk.

So, I thought I’d be up for isolation, even when our friend Doug warned us about it. I am not. I have discovered that with Janice I am on my own but without Janice I am lonely. So romantic!

How do I feel? Thank you for every inquisitive text and message!

I am fine. Occasionally I feel a fraud. Today when I took the test I was sure it would be say “it’s just a heavy dose of Stockman cold”. That “Stockman" should read “Luke” as the Stockman cooter (her word for nose) was my Granny whose maiden name was Luke and that is runny nose branch of family tree. My dad, me and my daughter Caitlin have it.

Who’d have thought that that Stockman cold would have so much in common with third year Covid. It’s all about blocked noses and the sinus induced headaches that go with. I have had only a mild throat ache. The blocked nose seems bedded in for a longer haul than usual. There is no doubt a little more fatigue BUT not unbearable. 

All of this makes me thankful for a few things.

Firstly, that the Stockman cold has for generations been preparing me for such a time as this.

Secondly, the vaccines. We think back just two years and what I have was a killer. Prayers for a vaccine and those who worked the answer in hospital labs should not be forgotten or taken for granted. From a killer to an elongated Stockman cold. I’ll take the latter with gratitude!

Thirdly, the messages and prayers rushing in from everywhere. The advice. The reassurances. Thank you.

Back to the isolation. How long? Janice is just there but so far away. She and her dad are reading in the garden under a Ballycastle blue sky while I am in this cave. 

There are a few freedoms. I’ll just nip over to Maud’s. That walk on the beach on a night as amazing as tonight’s is going to be. That lack of control when the slat is not on the poached egg as it arrives by the door, like prison food. Oh it is much nicer of course and I am thankful but isolation is about loss of control and a lesson in what we take for granted. 

Maybe that is the retreat I should turn this into. Not an inconvenience but an invitation to make the most of it.



So it has finally caught up with me. I am isolating in my room in Ballycastle having tested positive for Covid-19. I thought I had gotten away with it but when two people, each from the two main events I was at on Saturday and Sunday, told me that they had tested positive and we had hugged I was on alert!

The symptoms for Covid-19, at least this recent strain, are similar to the Stockman cold. My Grandmother, my father, my daughter Caitlin as well as me, making four generations, get runny noses too regularly. Indeed my Granny is the only one who diagnosed it. She’d say, “heats and colds, heats and colds”. It takes as little was a window to open and a cold draft to blow in to have us taking our Vicks Nasal Inhaler.

Warned by one friend on Monday and another on Tuesday the they were positive I was cautious but two negative tests sent me back to a Stockman cold theory. Today it was a Stockman cold deluxe. My throat was not very sore but there was a threat of it. My head felt groggy. 

So, with a positive test I am now in our bedroom very thankful that I can, as I said in a poem, “gaze on the Mull of Kintyre/From the pillow of our mid morning bed.” Just! And that I had an amazing walk with Janice and Jed on the beach last night with God showing off in cloud and sky and sea.

I imagine I knew we would probably get to here when the country put its trust in the vaccines, hoping that people’s lives would be perhaps inconvenient but the dangers of dying were a lot less.

With asthma I have been on high alert. I feared the virus in lockdown. I felt I was very vulnerable. I think many in Fitzroy were frustrated with my caution. Others were thankful. I’d stand by it. 

Even now I cancelled a meeting yesterday because someone going into hospital soon didn’t need to catch Covid. It is the same for those travelling or with other major appointments at work or in the family. I have already had to get a speaker for Sunday morning, cancel a dental appointment on Monday and warn others that next week’s diary might be cancelled. We’ll sit with diaries tomorrow and see how we can work around them as we also surmise how long for?

Part of me hopes that the test tomorrow will say “sorry negative, we confused this with the Stockman cold”. The more realistic hope is that it won’t be too bad and I’ll be good as new in a few days. Another part of me asks for your prayers as my asthma is not bad at the moment but not as good as during a regular Stockman cold. I am still vulnerable

All in all this is a reminder that Covid hasn’t gone away and we need to love our neighbours as ourselves. Be careful out there!


Covid Christmas 21

You have heard of the 12 days of Christmas, “partridges in pear trees” and all of that. Well, in Coronavirus Times, especially with numbers of those with Omicron variant doubling across the UK every two days, we need to consider the 10 Days Before Christmas!

Omicron has arrived at the very worst time. Of course there is no time you would want Omicron but the middle of January would have played less havoc than the weeks and now days leading up to Christmas.

To catch this virus in the next 10 days messes up your Christmas and your loved ones Christmas, never mind all those doctors and nurses who might be overwhelmed in our hospitals.

The Stockies felt the threat in the last few days. A friend of our daughter Jasmine tested positive. Jasmine feared that she might therefore test positive too. That would mean isolating in her Reading house and missing the flight home at the weekend. Either an astronomical priced flight or a lonely Christmas Day in Reading beckoned. Never mind how gutted we would be to not have her with us on Christmas Day.

Taking a test immediately that declared her negative, she got on the next flight home to avoid such a scenario happening. She is now isolating until she takes yet another test. 

It highlighted for us the tender footing needed in these next ten days. Christmas Day family gatherings are at threat. The Stockies are being more committed to the government’s first piece of advice to avoid Covid-19 - LIMIT YOUR SOCIAL CONTACTS. 

So, we are glad after all that Deacon Blue cancelled. Let us enjoy a bounce around to Real Gone Kid at a less threatening time. We have looked at our week and taken decisions that will hopefully avoid us having a havoc ridden December 25th, though nothing is guaranteed. The spiced beef is almost ready for goodness sake!

All of us are different. I am still impressed with the offices in London who wear wrist bands. Red if you are very cautious and don’t want anyone too close. Orange if you are cautious. Green if you are pretty easy going and could handle a hug!

Which one of those we are depends on our personalities and perhaps underlying health issues. I have a CT scan before Christmas because of a chest cough that has lingered and therefore I am on the red side of orange. I have many friends who are red and many others green.

Whatever your colour I encourage you to be cautious. I have known the tragedy of people who have died of Coronavirus. I know those who have grieved. I know those who have felt guilty that they might have passed on the virus. I know families whose holidays are in disarray because of loved ones testing positive. 

It is time for tender footing. It is also time to understand those with different coloureds wrist bands. Let us make wise decisions. Let us also decide to show grace to those who step back from events. 

Being cautious for the next 10 Days might give us all the family Christmas experience that we all love and perhaps, after the 21 months we have had, we really need more than ever. Let us not threaten it thoughtlessly.


Holidays in Covid
I am astonished at all the fuss about Portugal being suddenly labelled an amber country and hearing British tourists moaning as they scramble to get home. We are tiptoeing out of a sixteen month pandemic when we in the UK and Ireland and a good deal of the rest of the world have been locked down for months at a time. Have we not come to terms with the seriousness and fragility of our circumstances.
Lockdown has worked at cutting down the spread of the virus and two vaccines for over half the population of the UK has helped. Yet, with variants particularly Delta (Indian) and half the population still to get their vaccines we are far from out of the Covid-19 Years.
Now, I am well aware that we are all tired and need a rest. It has all been a little claustrophobic and we need a change of scene but the rush for holidays in the sun was disturbing.
Firstly, to stay safe and keep your neighbours safe takes some discipline. It also takes discernment. That some would consider that going to another country would be helpful in such times a little more than surprises me. Let’s all just chill out, settle for stay-cation to be measured and long for that heat or whatever the attraction is another time.
Apparently German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, said that there are only two things that we can be certain of. One is our final destination. The other is our next step. Everything in between is uncertain.
Uncertain. If ever we had a lesson during this Coronavirus pandemic it was that everything was uncertain.
The other lesson that the news is bringing us is that people cannot live in uncertainty. A tiny window of travel possibility opens and people are shocked when the uncertain circumstances change and the country that they are going to or worse that they are in is no longer deemed safe.
If ever we lived in uncertain days it is now. If we haven’t learned that everything going forward, perhaps for the next year, will continue to be uncertain then we have been paying no attention to the historical days that we are living through.
Blaming governments for the changes. Maybe they haven’t got every restriction right at the right time but it is the pandemic that is running our lives just now. Uncertainty is Covid 19 Pandemic’s middle name.
We need to come to to terms with that, for our own mental health, for the health of others and for a speedier way through this time.
I was very taken recently with theologian, pastor and author Eugene Peterson’s biography Burning In The Bones. Winn Colliers who wrote the biography said of Peterson “His life and work had been more like tracing a scent than following a map”.
Peterson and Bonhoeffer had that in common. No certainty too far up ahead. We just know the next step and then need to sniff the next. There is a lot of uncertainty. Factor it in.


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.


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.