Janice and I with ASH



FEBRUARY 22, 2023 @ 7.30



Without question the most spiritually satisfying experience of Lent that Janice and I ever had was in 2020 when we were ashed at what was believed to have been Belfast’s first Ecumenical Ash Wednesday service in St. Mary’s in Chapel Lane. 

It was the second time I had been ashed. The first time it was a bit of a surprise - shock to be honest. 

I was to be a guest speaker for a few days at an Episcopalian Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The Cathedral of Advent is one of the most evangelical Episcopalian churches in America. 

I was picked up from the airport and driven straight to an Ash Wednesday service. Sitting near the front I soon realised that they were all getting ash on their head.

This was not the practice of Protestants in Ballymena where I grew up. I will be honest. I felt awkward. In Northern Ireland we are conditioned to what is Catholic and what is Protestant. The differences are dug deep. 

There was nothing I could do though and I reckoned if I was going to preach in this Church the next day that I better go forward. So, in a prayer blessing I received my ash. I will be honest again. I was glad that I was in Alabama as I left, looking like a Catholic!!!! 

Of course, the truth is, that like my evangelical brothers in Alabama, it is not only Catholics around the world who get ashed! In other parts of the world many Reformed Christians are happy wearing the mark of Christ’s death.

Our 2020 experience could not have been more different. Of course we had spent more time in Catholic circles and discovered that the caricatures of what Catholics believe was more myth than reality. Oh do not get me wrong there are differences in some theology and practice. However, we had also been enriched by sharing our love of Jesus with Catholic brothers and sisters, learning particularly in contemplation and prayer. 

To be ashed in St Mary’s was still a little awkward, particularly on the way home where you realised that people’s prejudices were stereotyping us. 

In the end that decision to come forward and commit to deeper disciplines during Lent came back to us as we walked through it, particularly in that most of that Lent was spent in strict Lockdown. 

Having that ash put on our heads, a reminder of our human frailties, also reminded us of our passion for Jesus and his ways. When I stumbled through Lent 2020 I was brought back to the tangible decision, a picture of our public profession.

This year's Inter-Church Ash Wednesday Service takes place in Clonard Monastery on Wednesday February 22nd at 7.30pm. We are delighted to have Methodist minister Rev Dr Janet Unsworth as our preacher. 

Why not come along and experience the richness of such a service. There is no obligation to receive the ash but as a sign at the beginning of Lent of our journey towards Jesus’ death and resurrection, let me invite you to consider it.






(Tearfund Country Director Democratic Republic of Congo)

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 23rd 2022 @ 7pm

Fitzroy Welcome Area (Rugby Road Entrance)


We in Fitzroy are delighted to be hosting an evening in conversation with Hebdavi Kyeye. 

As Tearfund Country Director in DRC he has a lot of experience to share in peace and reconciliation and particularly a project From Guns To Garden Tools inspired by Isaiah's call in chapter 2 verse 4: They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

Much of what Hebdavi has to say will resonate with our own slow efforts at reconciliation.




Fitzroy Sunday

I have been doing a short series on SIN PUSHES AWAY. It from a quotation from Frederick Buechner that we lost earlier in the summer.

Buechner wrote about SIN:

Other people and (if you happen to believe in God) God or (if you happen not to) the world, society, nature—whatever you call the greater whole of which you're part—sin is whatever you do, or fail to do, that pushes them away, that widens the gap between you and them and also the gaps within your self.

We have looked at how sin pushes away and personal and national ways and how Jesus good news is a drawing back together through the grace of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Tomorrow I want to look at the last wee twist in the tale - "and also the gaps within yourself". What an intriguing idea. For maybe 30 years I've wondered about that. How does that work itself out in our living?

So, tomorrow, we will look at the ways of the flesh and the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5 and see where our sin does not just push others away but how it rips us apart inside. This damages us in our mental, spiritual and emotional health.

It has left me surmising in preparation that Aquinas's God shaped hole has a mate in our inner selves - a sin-induced chasm. If the God-shaped hole is filled by God giving us meaning then the sin-induced one needs healing.


Steve's Sermons - HERE ON FITZROY TV

Fitzroy gather at 11am... 




Fitzroy will be a little different in the morning.

As a result of the death of Elizabeth II we will be concentrating our worship, thoughts and prayers on the late Queen and her grieving family.

Fitzroy is a very mixed community, many who would see themselves as British and many who would not. As a result of Northern Ireland's political sensitivities, and also our Presbyterian theological belief that Jesus is the only head of the Church, we have no flags and do not play the National Anthem.

However, in respect of the late Queen, we will play the National Anthem briefly tomorrow followed by a moment's silence.

The hymns and readings will reflect the life and particularly the faith of Queen Elizabeth II and I will preach A Gospel According To... The Queen.


Fitzroy gathers at 11am and the service is streamed live and recordings can be be found HERE on Fitzroy TV



Stocki in back garden

I am starting a new sermon series on SIN.

It is an old word. A word dismissed. Only fit for the archaic Biblical word rubbish heap. It is a word that we don’t want the preacher to preach on.

I half understand. If you were weaned in evangelicalism, like I was, then sin was a fun killer. It was this long list of things you were no longer allowed to do. I think of the generation above me and feel sorry that a fuller life escaped them - the places they couldn't go, the lovely glass of wine they couldn't drink and of course rock n roll.

It was also very mathematical. Sin was a list of those fun killer don’ts. The ones that you broke got a tick. Those needed wiped out and that is what Jesus did for us on the cross.

It all seems too domesticated. Any reading of Genesis suggests to me that the effects of sin are cosmic, running deep in human beings and society right across human history. Sin is not mathematical but experiential with personal, national and cosmic consequences every moment of every single day.

Frederick Buechner died recently and in my Tribute I quoted something on sin that opened it up for me. It now became the power surge for the breaking up of the world:


THE POWER OF SIN IS CENTRIFUGAL. When at work in a human life, it tends to push everything out toward the periphery. Bits and pieces go flying off until only the core is left. Eventually bits and pieces of the core itself go flying off until in the end nothing at all is left. "The wages of sin is death" is Saint Paul's way of saying the same thing.

Other people and (if you happen to believe in God) God or (if you happen not to) the world, society, nature—whatever you call the greater whole of which you're part—sin is whatever you do, or fail to do, that pushes them away, that widens the gap between you and them and also the gaps within your self.


As I scan my eyes across the first chapters of Genesis, on through the Bible and try to make sense of God’s purposes in Jesus and the Gospel, then Buchner’s insight is a key that opens up vital understanding.

So, for a Sunday or two or three or more I am going to unpack Buchner’s theological thought in the light of what the Bible says about sin and the Gospel and then how it applies to me, the Church, Northern Ireland and the planet.

Fitzroy gathers for worship at 11am on Sundays. The service is also streamed or a recording can be watched on Youtube (though it might take some hours to upload)



Martyn Fitz

Like buses Fitzroy gigs don't happen for a few years and then two of the best ones happen in two glorious nights in November. 

We are so delighted that Fitzroy will be the venue for Martyn Joseph and Ricky Ross, just 24 hours apart.



November 24, 2022





November 25, 2022



These are two of my very favourite songwriters, singing of faith and life and home.

I have described Martyn before:

"Martyn Joseph is as gripping a solo live performer as you are ever likely to see. He is passionate, provocative, at times tender and humorous, always humble but never afraid to be honest to God real. I have sat at his gigs and felt soothed at times of hurt, undone at times of self righteousness, provoked in times of comfort and always made passionate to change the world."

Ricky In Fitz

photo:bernie Brown

And then there is Ricky Ross. Deacon Blue have been one of my favourite bands since 1987

I kid you not but this is one of the most exciting opportunities of my life. I have been a Ricky Ross fan since I picked up the 12” of Deacon Blue’s first single Dignity in 1987. Whether with the band, solo or his album with his wife under the name MacIntosh Ross I have always resonated with his everyday lyrics, so skilfully rhymed. Ross has always had that sense of place, making the ordinary transcendent, for him Glasgow, like Van Morrison’s Belfast. Rosshas also had a sense of social justice and hopefulness that we could make this old world better than it is. There is a realism to his lyrics but always a sense of belief.

FITZROY OPEN DAYS - JUNE, 12 & 19, 2020

Fitzroy from across the road

This is the second time that we have attempted Open Days in Fitzroy. If you went to University then imagine your Freshers Bazaar.

This the opportunity for the congregation to see what happens in Fitzroy. The Coronavirus Days have broken up congregational life. The lack of community, that positive gossip over tea and coffee or what we used to have Family Focus curtailed communication. Some who joined Fitzroy just before the 2020 Lockdown and indeed since might have no idea what goes on. 

So Sunday Service will be MORE than worship and sermon. I want to stress that because as I see it the Sunday Service will not end as people leave after singing. The walking around the stalls to find out what goes on, what people can commit to is the practical act of worship tomorrow.

Last Sunday the stalls were all about what is going on in Fitzroy. Those things that are about fellowship, pastoral care and spiritual development.

Tomorrow, 19th, we will be able to see the Fitzroy reach across the world in mission. From the local neighbourhood to almost every continent on earth.

If you are a Fitzer can I urge you to come along. Do not see this as a day off. And if you wish to go to the picnic then bring some food and join us after all stalls have been visited.

If you are wondering about what Fitzroy is like then this might give you a few clues. Everyone welcome.






I am honoured this week to be a speaker at the Clonard Novenas. The Novenas in middle to late June every year gather upwards of 100,000 people over nine days. It's a veritable Festival right there off the Falls Road.

There used to be 11 Masses per day but that has been cut to just six as Clonard wonders who will return to live gatherings after two Coronavirus years of being only online.

I am leading the way and preaching at all six Masses on Wednesday, June 15th. The times are 7am, 9.30am and 11.30 am then 4pm, 6pm and 8pm. 

I will be trying to set the scene. Lockdown and war and all of the last two years leaves us in need of retreat and reflection. Jesus himself took time out? What is time out? How do we help faith to become the lens by which we see all that is around us, right now in this minute of our lives and in this moment of history.

I will be speaking again on the final day of the Novena - June 23rd.  All six Masses again! The theme that day is Mary! I always seem to be asked to speak or write about Mary. I am queasy about how Catholicism views Mary BUT also concerned that as a result Protestants have missed her courage and model of discipleship. 


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!







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.