Peace Day

The stories of Jesus birth and the theology within is not just for Christmas. It is for all year round!

The peace that the angels sang about that first Christmas is not some Christina side show but at the core of Jesus incarnation and the purposes of God.

My favourite band Over The Rhine have been exemplary at the first. They make records like Blood Oranges In The Snow. It is not just another great Christmas album. It is another great album - period (as their fellow Americans would say!).

I love that record and it was indeed a song on it that opened up the importance of peace in God's redemption plan in ways I had not got the full impact of before. A few of the lines jumped out from the rest of the brilliance and torpedoed its way into my soul surmising. 

As they sang…

“I hope that we can still believe

The Christ child holds a gift for us

Are we able to receive

Peace on earth this Christmas”

… something clicked. It is not a new line. I have been living with this line most of my life. I cannot remember a time in my childhood when I didn’t hear it at Christmas time. I heard it for years before I even believed that what it was talking about was any kind of reality. For the last thirty years I have worked the phrase annually. One of my other favourite bands U2 even had a song called this and I have written about that song.

However, in this song that near over familiar line, “Peace on earth this Christmas”, struck a chord as loud as any Jimmy Page strum and as spiritually powerful as an Old Testament prophet or actually a New Testament angel on the night God came to earth! 

“Peace, Steve, Peace” is what my soul kept repeating. It is not about justice or vengeance, it is not about proving who was right or wrong. It is not about us and them and us winning. The point of this mission that God had in coming to earth was peace. That peace was not just for my soul. It was about peace on earth. Anyone following this Jesus whose birth is heralded in this angel’s song should be all about peace. 

This of course is not an out of the blue declaration of a God reaching for some Plan B or C. The Old Testament was all about this peace; shalom is how the Jewish people said it. Shalom was God’s intention in the law given, for the King’s to achieve and for the prophets to critique the lack of. A favourite verse on the subject that I have blogged often is Jeremiah 29:7 “And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace.” (NKJV)

Those who claim to follow the baby born when the angels sang need to find that priority of peace. That God’s people would seek shalom wherever they were was a way of being God’s holy nation, a people set apart, different, in all the right ways, from the other nations. We need to not blend in to the world’s intuitive response to seek to be proven right, in control and avenging all who would come against us. We need to be about that ministry of reconciliation that God told us we would be about just as we are connected to God himself through that same ministry of his peace making.

On this International Peace Day, I commit afresh to the Gospel priority and commit to it with renewed courage, hope and all the grace that is intrinsic to the baby born and sadly often lacking on our streets, political buildings and even our churches - all the year round!

SHOUT THEIR NAMES OUT LOUD (For Those Who Were Killed in The Omagh Bomb)

Omagh poem


Sitting somewhere in middle America

I am transported by a song

From a screen it booms me back 

To the place that I belong

And the singer cries to God

Like its some cathartic prayer

Lamentation and hopefulness, one

A hundred thousand hands in the sir

And these tears rolling down my face

Remember the wisdom a student says

This long road to peace is longer

After you’ve used bloody and violent ways


The singer shouts their names out loud

Like a sacred vow

A holy somehow

That our hearts would bow

To a grace healed now.


Gareth Conway

Mary Grimes

Brenda Logue

Esther Gibson

Avril Monaghan and 

Her daughter, Maria Monaghan

Adrian Gallagher

Anne McCombe

Alan Radford

Elizabeth Rush

Lorraine Wilson

Deborah Cartwright

Julie Hughes

Jolene Marlow

Samantha McFarland

Veda Short

Geraldine Breslin

Olive Hawkes

Brian McCrory

Sean McGrath

Fred White 

His son, Brian White

Breda Devine

Philomena Skelton

James Barker 

Oran Doherty 

Sean McLoughlin

Fernando Blasco Baselga

Rocio Abad Ramos


Yes, shout their names out loud

Like a sacred vow

A holy somehow

That our hearts would bow

To a grace healed now...


"...No more

No more

No more..."










I have just finished Colum McCann’s astounding novel Apeirogon and above everything else that struck me was a Rumi quotation - “Out beyond the ideas of wrong doing and right doing, there is a field. I will meet you there”.


Surely, of all our Northern Irish politicians John Hume got closer towards that field than most of the rest. Though I grew up to be suspicious of the nationalist SDLP it was a lazy binary politics that heaped John Hume on the other side of the barricade amongst the IRA.


Fr Martin Magill have long debated with Sinn Fein that there was a better way to take the anger and frustration at the injustice and inequality of the Protestant state for a Protestant people that Northern Ireland was built on. Why violence we ask?


John Hume was the one who took the Martin Luther King Jr road rather than the ANC route. Hume didn’t believe in the violence. He worked for peace. I always think of that day that Fr Alec Reid brought him the envelope containing the conditions by which the IRA would enter talks. 


Fr Alec had just attempted the kiss of life on two British soldiers, brutally murdered at an IRA funeral outside Casement Park. He had to get a new envelope at Clonard Monastery before driving to give it to John Hume because there was blood from the soldiers on the original. 


In that one afternoon, yet another tragic one in our Troubles, with paramilitaries and British soldiers and bloody murder there was a priest and a politician seeking the field beyond the right and wrong.


It is that evening that I thank God for when I watch my children grow up in a different Northern Ireland than I did. That day ended with a dawning after the darkest of beginnings. 


David Trimble would join that process on down the road and again today I was giving thanks for his courage. The most difficult thing in bringing two intransigent sides together especially after decades bloodshed, murder and grief is to bring your suspicious, hurting side along with you. On Good Friday 1998 Hume and Trimble achieve that rarest of things in Irish history. They well deserved their Nobel Peace Prize.


That field at the other side of whoever has their opinion of right and wrong. Oh I dream about it, I try to imagine it and I attempt to make my own tiny contribution on our journey towards it. John Hume gave us all a huge leap down that road. He did it for all of us, whoever we are, wherever we are from and whatever we think about him. 


I know many on the side of the barricade that I grew up might not see that today but I believe that when we get past our right and wrong we will come to understand that.




We thank you for the week of prayer for Christian unity

We thank you for this attempt to respond to the prayer of Jesus that we would all be one

Forgive us when we have been divided

Forgive us when we been arrogant 

And that arrogance has turned to bigotry.

Forgive us for our complicity in a divided society

And the pain that we have caused one another.


God we thank you that you promise that when we confess our sins that you are faithful and just to forgive us of our sins

And purify us from all our unrighteousness

Lord purify us in our relationships with one another.


God, we thank you for the work of Fr Gerry Reynolds and Rev Ken Newell

We thank you for those at Clonard and in Fitzroy

Who took risks

Who crossed the boundaries

Who learned to love their neighbours as themselves

We thank you for that vision and courage

We thank you that we see the benefits of Fr Gerry and Rev Ken’s work even here this morning


God we pray that they might continue to be our role models

That their work would continue to inspire us

We pray for the Reconciliation ministry of Clonard 

And as part of that the Clonard Fitzroy Fellowship

Lord by your Holy Spirit give vision and guidance to show fresh ways to continue that work


God we pray for the Clonard pilgrims

We thank you for their worshipping with us in Fitzroy

And all that that means to us

We thank you for the relationships that they have formed across our city and beyond

Create real Christian fellowship in the congregations they visit

Melt hard hearts and create unity in Christ.


God we pray for the 4 Corners Festival.

We thank you for the involvement of Clonard and Fitzroy in this initiative

We pray for the programme that starts next Friday

We pray for the speakers and singers and poets

We pray that the events of this year’s festival

Would contribute to the building of a city of grace

We pray for those who come along.

Lord change hearts

Redeem attitudes

And transform relationships across all 4 corners of our city

And Lord begin with me


Finally Lord we pray for our Local Assembly

For all of our MLAs and particularly our ministers.

For Arlene Foster

For Michelle O’Neill

For Naomi Long

For Edwin Poots

For Deirdre Hargey

For Diane Dodds

For Peter Weir

For Connor Murphy

For Robin Swann

And for Nichola Mallon


Equip them all to do their jobs

Help them overcome the hurdles

Envision them to do their best for all of us

God we pray Stormont would work

For every corner of Belfast

And every corner of the north

Jeremiah asked us to pray for the peace and prosperity of the city

Lord may it be so

For the common good of all of us

God build a city of grace

In Jesus name



Stockman in Taylor

In November 2019 I had the privilege of speaking at Chapel in Taylor University, Uplands, Indiana.

It is a University I had been to many times and love very much. 

This year I brought a few things together in my talk - BEING WITH OUR ENEMIES. Basing it in Luke 6 where Jesus asks us to love our enemies, I unpacked a 10 week series I had preached in Fitzroy on Sam Wells' idea of BEING WITH. What is it like to be with our enemies? I then used 4 Corners Festival as an example of how we are trying to be with.

In the end this is a very good way to hear a lot of what I preached at the end of 2019 crammed into 25 minutes... follow the link below...


(with thanks to Sam Wells and Jim Wallis, from whose work I got my American illustration)



Stormont Back

I cannot get away from the powerful coincidence. Could a burial in Scotland have a prophetic message for a resurrection in Northern Ireland.

On the day that the Northern Ireland’s Local Assembly got back together after three years, Graham Maule was being buried in Craufordland Woods, near Glasgow. 

Graham was an architect, sculptor, art tutor and best known to many of us as a hymn writer. Along with John Bell, his fellow Iona Community member, Graham wrote hundreds of hymns and arranged many more. If you have ever sung Marching In the Light Of God, then Graham Maule touched your life.


I did not have enough time in Graham’s company but those moments that I did whether in Glasgow or at Greenbelt I found him a real gentleman. He had a relational warmth. He oozed grace. He embodied a holiness defused of any self righteousness. He enjoyed whiskey and curry and justice and compassion and liturgy. I have grieved since his passing on December 29th and prayed for my friends who who will miss him most.

His funeral though was a revelation, particularly in the juxtaposition of it with a restoration of the Stormont Assembly.

Graham’s Burial Liturgy which was lengthy included three languages. 

The New Testament reading from 1 Corinthians 15 was taken from William Lorimer’s Bible translation in Scots. The “I am tae mind ye o the Gospel at I preached tae ye” would be well appreciated in Ulster Scots corners of Northern Ireland. 

Later in the service Mhairi Lawson sang in Gaelic, Taladh Criosta - The Christ Child Lullaby. Those promoting Irish would be delighted with that.

This was not a contrived peace service where the planning committee sought to compromise and make sure that everybody was represented.

This was an amalgam of one man’s life, representing his loves that happened to be, for a visual artist who also made a mark with words, the three languages that naturally blended across his worship and vocation. 

Our politicians at Stormont, how I wish you could have experienced that natural blend. All of us on this island are influenced in our language and culture by our close neighbours in Scotland. Whether it is our sense of Celtic-ness or our sense of being Ulster Scots, we know that Scotland is deep in our DNA.

It begs the question. Why could languages so beautifully weaved together in the celebration of one man’s life have been used to tear us apart?

When I hear my friend Mervyn Gibson speak about the politicising of the Irish Language, I can see what he means. I would have to suggest that Ulster Scots has been abused in similar ways.

BUT… both Irish and Ulster Scots are a fundamental part of ALL of us. I am sure that Nationalists in the Glens speak Ulster Scots daily and I am sure that there are Protestants who say that they live in Ballyhackamore (warning: DO NOT give them a literal translation).

I come from Galgorm, near Ballymena. It is from the Irish - Geal ghorm - that means sky/clear blue. Ballymena United wearing that colour might be linked. My Grandparents were the most fluent Ulster Scots speakers I knew. Right there in that village we find the same natural blend of languages that we find in Graham’s life.

So, I want to challenge Sinn Fein. Do not make exclusive something that belongs to all of us. Mervyn Gibson, please do not just casually, without any sort of struggle, throw away part of the identity of us all. You speak a lot about respecting identity but seem to dismiss this vital part of it way too easily.

On January 10th 2020 Northern Ireland got a new start. As the Local Assembly meets there will be many battles ahead. Language rights will continue to be contentious and will need to be solved. Could one way forward be to see the lessons shining like beacon from the funeral service of Graham Maule. Three languages blurred into a gifted wordsmith’s obituary. Can we not find a similar beauty in the identity of our wonderful and wounded place?


New Deacde

My phone pinged.

Then it rang.

Before I answered it I knew.

“So do we have a local government”?

“We do!”


I punched the air

Like a goal

Oh not like that Agueroooo goal by any means

But a goal 

That seemed for us

Not against us.

My spirit lightened.


So politicians, I thank you.


Oh there will be those who will be cynical

Who will sneer at you

Who will be glass half empty 

Or even throwing it all over the table.

There will be those who will be negative

Who will concentrate on the last three years

Or drag up the negatives in the years before that.


I am refusing to look back

Yes, let us learn from it

But let us push forward


I am going to vote

Not by way of old nurtured intuitive colour codes 

Or in a reactionary opposite of that

No, I commit to deal with my sectarianism

And be alert to the danger of inverted sectarianism 

To vote for the best politician

The one who will work for the common good of all.


I will pray for you all

I will be here to help in any way I can

I will be on call to listen if you need me

I will be there to provoke even when you don’t want me

I will be bringing before you

A book that I believe in

A book that I believe to be the word of God

A book that even if you don’t believe it is the word of God

I believe can help us all

It has wisdom on new beginnings

It is strong in envisioning the future

It dreams of turning saracens into surgical equipment

It encourages the love of enemies

It is angry at injustice

It is compassionate towards the hungry, homeless and prisoner

It is good on humility

Self critique

And redemption.


So, thank you for this new dawn

We beg you to make sure that it not a false one

Do not take us back to the night

Lead us forward into a brighter day for all.


I commit myself 

To pray 

And live 

And contribute

To put my shoulder to the task

Of building a country of grace.


Consdiering Grace

I have been critical of my denominations contribution to reconciliation both during the Troubles and in the years since the Good Friday Agreement. So, it surprised me that the first thing that I experienced reading Considering Grace was an utter respect for fellow Presbyterian ministers. 

This book is based on over 120 interviews conducted by Gladys Ganiel and Jamie Yohanis. The vast majority are with Presbyterians though they do cover also some who have left the Presbyterian Church and some critical friends.  

They are careful with their categories for interview - ministers, victims, security forces, emergency responders and politicians just some of them. A missing category is the post Good Friday Agreement generation. We need to hear what they think of the legacy we left them to grow up in.

The first chapter is ministers and they impacted me most. I suddenly realised that there were indeed three Irelands during the Troubles; the north, the south and the border. In those border areas ministers were burying members of their congregations murdered by the IRA on a regular basis. They were often first on the scene. They were often those who told loved ones the horrible news. Sometimes two or three from the one family were killed. Respect.

Moving from there to the stories of the victims and this is not at all an easy bedtime read. The victims reminded me how brutally awful our conflict was. Victims also give a range of opinions on forgiveness. I believe Jesus is clear on forgiveness but sensitivity to the deep hurt with which some have to practice it needs a careful and sensitive listening.

Right across the interviews the Church certainly made some positive contributions to a society being torn apart by bombs and bullets. The pastoral care of victims, security forces, first responders and health care workers was remarkable. 

However, the cataloguing of such a wide range of people also drags out much to critique. Again, respect to the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) to be prepared to open itself such criticism and hopefully listen to it.

A recurring theme, it seemed page after page, was the bullying influences of Rev Dr Ian Paisley on the denomination, making ministers frightened of reaching out to Catholic neighbours or be involved in peace making at all. Some involved in community work complained that they never met the local Presbyterian minister and others point out that there was a lot of sermonising about a lot of things apart from what was actually going on. 

Some clearly stated that there was “no theology of peace” and that any peace projects that PCI did do didn’t get enough time or funding. For any Church attempting to apply God’s word to their context this is an unbelievable neglect and blight.

Yet, as someone very involved in reconciliation I had to listen too. Some victims charged us with being “more interested in the ones who pulled the trigger than the ones who got the bullet”, that PCI “buried an awful lot of victims and its almost as if there’s a bit of amnesia about that”.

The book is an important document in a country where we are wrestling to deal with the legacy of the past that we very much live in today. Some in the book fear that there is a Republican re-writing of history. This has given a voice to a Presbyterian reading.

As someone who engages in discussion with Republicans as part of my reconciliation work, going as far as speaking at a Sinn Fein Ard Fheis, with my friend Fr Martin Magill, I would actually like to read a response and review of the book in Sinn Fein’s publication An Phoblacht. Republicans need to read and reflect on these stories.

I found it discouraging that so few books were printed for a denomination of 250,000. Thankfully we are into a second print. I would love to have had a copy through the letterbox of every Presbyterian in Ireland. It is vital we all read it and engage, learn from the best and worst of our denomination’s engagement, pastoral and prophetic, in the Troubles for the urgent work of reconciliation now.

This book cannot be just a process gone through. It cannot  be a feel good project that now sits on the shelf. That is what I fear happened to our Vision For Society Statement that is the end appendix of the book. This is a Biblically powerful statement of intent in our discipleship in a divided community. May its words become flesh and not just remain nice words. The devil would settle for that! 



saved by grace
and called by God to grace-filled relationships, 

in the power of the Holy Spirit
as ambassadors of Christ’s Kingdom
in a broken and divided world;

BELIEVE that the Good News of Jesus Christ challenges and equips us
 to develop radically new attitudes and relationships with our neighbours throughout the whole of Ireland.

WE CONFESS our failure
 to live as Biblically faithful Christian peacebuilders and to promote the counter culture of Jesus
in a society where cultures clash.

ACCORDINGLY, WE AFFIRM Christian peacebuilding to be part of Christian discipleship
and reassert the Church’s calling
 to pursue a peaceful and just society in our day

WE SEEK a more reconciled community at peace with each other,
where friend and foe,
 working together for the common good, can experience healing and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.




There is little doubt that the murder of Lyra McKee was the most significant event in Northern Ireland in 2019. Lyra was a symbol of our new hope; a generation after the Troubles, taking us somewhere new.

Those shots in Derry/Londonderry were an assault on that hope. It was like we all got hit but only Lyra died. It was tragic not only for her partner and her family but all of us.

Then there was that sermon. Or that line in that sermon. My good friend Fr Martin Magill seizing the moment. Actually not being aware that a moment in his sermon was going to be seized. I had read that line the night before, when he asked some of us to go over the script. I didn't see it coming. Nor did he. 

He commended the politicians for responding together in the Creggan. That was Martin. Encourage them. Spark something. Then that pause... There was no pause in the script that I read off the page. BUT that pause was the power to come...

"I am however left with a question: ‘Why in God’s name does it take the death of a 29 year old woman with her whole life in front of her to get us to this point?’"

In the middle of a paragraph it seemed harmless enough but here in St. Anne's Cathedral in the high emotion of a funeral with all the political leaders from across two nations. Something went off. I still do not know where. A clap. Then two. Then hundreds. People on their feet. A cathedral on its feet. A country on its feet.

I was watching in Ballycastle and I was fist pumping the sky, "Go Martin. Get in there!" I was his biggest fan now (I might have been for a while) and tears welled up. 

Meanwhile Martin is trying to find his place. As surprised as everyone by this impact. A moment of God. I have no doubt. A moment of frustration from a country without a government for over two years. I am certain. A moment of hope that maybe the people on the ground could send a message to their politicians. They did!

I was so excited. I wanted to speak to Martin. Eventually he phoned. He handed the phone to Anna Burns who he had met in the crowd. I loved Milkman. Meeting a hero is one thing. Being on a phone that she is on the other end of is another. I froze. She froze. "Loved your book". "Thanks." "Bye".

I asked Martin how the pop star was. He didn't understand. He understood soon enough. I watched the wake of the wave ripple out across the world. He was in the wave and didn't see. Until the TV cameras came. Martin is not one for the headlines. He rang everyday. For some grounding. He was a pop star!

In those days, interview after interview, Martin was immense. He handled it so well. He said the right things at all the right times. My respect soared. A friend messaged me, "Your Robin just became Batman!" I was proud as punch to be his Robin! It gave Martin a voice that he continues to use pastorally and prophetically. 

Martin will say that the politicians missed that moment. They did. They missed the message from the people. Again. They missed a message from Lyra's generation. Again. 

Yet, I do not believe the people did. Or Lyra's generation did. We need to keep that wave going up behind the politicians. Lyra's Crossroads I called it. May we take the right road. The road that Martin helped nudge us down.


The sky went black

On Good Friday morning

When the news headlines

Told us you were murdered

Shot dead, doing your deepest gladness

One of the Ceasefire children

Shot by one of the Ceasefire children

One looking forward

The other looking back

One bringing us together

The other tearing us apart

It was not a Good Friday.


In your case

It didn’t take until Sunday

For resurrection

We couldn’t wait, for fear of the worst

And your life couldn’t wait, so full of the best

In the same sentences that told your death

Your life bloomed and bulldozed through

The darkness hit your flesh

But it missed your light

A star that shines on

Brighter than ever


You were our hope

But though they tried to make you past tense

You are still our hope

People are now being inspired

To make judgements without being judgemental

To revere the past without worshiping it

To doggedly hold a bone of truth

In the gentlest of a grace soft mouth


Politicians, years without speaking

Standing side by side

With whispers

Suspiciously grace impregnated

A palpable hope of new life

The potent power of a new seed



And in your craftiest trick of all

You got the Churches out of their cold war

At peace in the same building

Sharing your city with a better future

With all your friends and all their opinions

For you it was always about everyone

And everyone was there

Even those enemies


And your friend, Fr Martin Magill

Learning about Hufflepuff

And The Lost Boys

Drawing comparisons with Jesus blood shed

And Resurrection

He commends the politicians,

Who stood together in the Creggan

Then, preacher perfect… pauses… to ask a question

“Why in God’s name did it take the death of a 29 year old woman

With her whole life in front of her…”

The congregation finish the sentence

Like a jury’s condemnation


Yet not applause

More like Amens with hand claps

Rippling across the pews 

Then a standing ovation of "preach it"

It goes on

Like the sound of peace

Flowing up the hill to Stormont Buildings



The sound rings around Lyra McKee Crossroads

A landmark

Where a young woman’s gifted legacy

And a Kairos moment collide

Into Beatitudes

Of Transformation

We can see why you loved those words of Jesus


Hungry for Justice



Like the future you lived

An alternative Ulster indeed!



God, toxicity fills the air of my city

Sectarian vitriol

On social media


Gable walls

Hatred is spewed


Those who do not live with us

Think like us

Vote like us

And God when we smear your indelible image in others

We do not only hurt others

We break the heart of you

Creator who made us all, very good

And revealed the preciousness of all

By sacrificing your son for the world

God forgive.


And God,

Before we point fingers

In self righteous arrogance

Send your Spirit to search us

To see the toxic vitriol 

And ungodly divisions

Within your Church

Between Churches

Blasphemous schism

God forgive our intolerance

The impoverishment of our love

The absence of relationship building

That Jesus’ Gospel models

God forgive us.


God, start with me

Interrogate my soul

My skewed intentions

Towards those who are not like me

Investigate the Northern Irish DNA in my soul


Holier than thou infallibility

Devil’s speed to judge, exclude and damn

God, if words could kill

I would need a licence

For the bombastic belligerent sentences 

That I swear out




God forgive.


God, be faithful and just to forgive

And then purify from all unrighteousness

Give empathy and compassion

Wisdom to deny self 

Courage to carry cross

To love our enemies, 

Do good to those who hate us,

Bless those who curse us

Pray for those who ill treat us

As Jesus asked

God, this is rebirth

This is repentance

This is the grace of God

That dilutes the toxic

In our society

In our Church

In our souls

God open our hearts

To bring it on.