STOCKI NEWS

SOUL SURMISE - THE BRIAN HOUSTON PODCAST

Houstie 1

We relaunch the Soul Surmise Podcast this weekend with an in interview that we did with Brian Houston back in February.

However that Podcast has become current in that the album we discussed is being launched in The Empire Music Hall on September 29th - TICKETS HERE

As well as the in depth chat about the new album there is an exclusive recording of Brian's song The Fool from his 2008 album Three Feet From Gold.

 

You can hear the Podcast:

Apple Podcasts

Spotify

Amazon Podcasts

 

Read my review of the new record - HERE


STOCKI PREACHING AT THE NOVENAS AGAIN ON THURSDAY

Fraz Photo Clonard

photo: Jonathan Frazer

 

After my 6 sermonettes at the Clonard Novena last Wednesday, I am back again to do six more this Thursday (June 23rd). 

I say sermonette because in Fitzroy Pre-Lockdown I was preaching for 22 minutes on average every Sunday. Lockdown Youtube services cut that to about 12-15. Novenas are 8 minutes and even then the 7am one has to be even shorter because people are racing off to work! 

First thoughts are that that is difficult for a Presbyterian but truthfully it is a wonderful discipline and reveals how much teaching that you can squeeze into 8 minutes and how much waffle and jokes it takes to take more than 20 minutes!

Now, as a Presbyterian I have huge issues with the importance of Mary in the Novenas. Prayers to Our Mother of Perpetual Help are very foreign to me and that particular high view of Mary is not my view. 

So, guess what have I been given to preach on on Thursday? You've guessed it - Mary. Over the past number of years Mary has become my "greatest hit" in the world of the Redemptorists. 

This reminds us that in our relationships across denominations we are not glossing over our differences or compromising them. I have been asked to speak about Mary because as Churches we both see her as important but different. On Thursday I will not shy away from the differences.

Yet, I too have a high view of Mary. For the follower of Jesus she is a paradigm example of faith, trust, courage, commitment and sacrifice. I am so looking forward to an inspirational and challenging 8 minutes on the woman that her cousin Elizabeth called "Blessed among women". If only I had 22 minutes I could add in a lot about that friendship between Mary and her cousin!

Anyway, if you want to hear my sermonette on Mary I will be preaching in Clonard on Thursday, June 23rd at 7am, 9.30am and 11.30 am. Then again in the afternoon at 4pm, 6pm and 8pm. 

It has been a deep honour to be the preacher at the first and last days at this year's Novenas, to share the scriptures and challenges of following Jesus and also to confront our differences, held most graciously, too.

 


DAD'S DEATH AND MY PRIVILEGED MOMENT

Dad 88

For some five years I have wondered about my father’s death. My mum passed away in 2016, the toll of her devotional love and care for dad. Since then dad has been in a Residential home. Dementia had already taken him from us. Yet, how would he die?

On Tuesday morning just a matter of hours after I had the privilege of meeting Pope Francis in Rome I got woken in the night. Dad was being rushed to hospital.

On Wednesday night we made an early exit from Rome and I arrived in the Causeway Hospital at 5am. I have been here beside dad ever since. Being a pastor I know how the elderly can linger in those last days of death and I quickly sensed that dad had at least to the weekend.

Having slept on buses, planes and hospital chairs for the majority of the nights of this week, I wondered about heading to Ballycastle last night for a good night’s sleep.

Before I went my good friend David Quinney Mee sent me one of what I call his deep wisdom texts: 

"Waiting. Where waiting is no longer waiting "for"... Deeper than waiting. Letting go of "for". Being. Being there. Being in the place. In the moment. And nowhere else. Love. Open and beyond request.... Present…"

Wow. That spoke to me deeply. David and Rachel had sat at their beautiful daughter Lucia beside for weeks and months over many years and David’s wisdom from that experience also inspired me to stay by my dad’s side. It is where I should be.

This morning, after the nurses attended him at 6, I sensed that my dad’s breathing was very slow. I played a video of a Luka Bloom song The Man Is Alive and then came round the bed and pulled a chair closer to dad and began reading… repeating these lines:

 

Psalm 91 - He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;

 

Psalm 23 - He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;

 

John 14 - And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

 

I then turned to my favourite goodbye to this world - Psalm 73. I started reading from verse 23 - Yet I am always with you;
    you hold me by my right hand.

You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will take me into glory.

 

As I read “and afterwards you will take me into glory” God did. My dad left this life to those words from his son at his bedside. 

If I had written a way for me to watch my dad pass away then it would not have been more perfect than that.

I sat with him and then played a new song by my friend Doug Gay about the shepherd lifting the lamb to set him free and carry him home. It was a holy space.

Can I yet again thank all of you for messages, emojis, texts, emails, visits and your thoughtful gift Helen Logan. We have felt surrounded by love and prayer and good wishes from those who aren’t prayers. It has been an overwhelming week. We are tired, grieving but deeply content. 


THANKING YOU ALL FOR YOUR LOVE AND PRAYERS

Stocki and Dad

I wanted to thank you all for the support we have felt from you all on social media as we sit by my dad's hospital bed. 

I felt that it was too wonderful to just throw away in a short message, so I am sending out this blog.

My dad, Sam, has had dementia for close to ten years. Around six years ago he stopped recognising me. Five years ago my mum had a stroke and left us over a tragic weekend, probably caused by her loving care for Sam.

Dad has been in a home ever since and I have grieved every time I visited. Dementia is like a glass coffin. You have lost your loved one but have to continue to look in at them. It is harrowing.

Covid hasn't helped and we have had long stretches not seeing dad these last two years. It was good to see him last week and though I could see how frail he was, and Janice and I said our goodbyes just in case, I didn't expect us to be here so soon.

As I sit, watching and waiting, praying for a comfortable moving on I am drawn to an image that my friend Rev Doug Gay used at a funeral we shared recently.

It is the image of Jesus as the shepherd carrying a lamb on his shoulder. It was used a lot in the early church, found in catacombs, as an image of Jesus carrying us from one life to the next. Earlier this week in Rome I saw it in the catacombs. I hold it for my dad today, praying Psalm 23 over him.

I cannot express how precious all of your social media likes and messages have been. Every thought and prayer has moved us deeply. As did Eddie, Helen and Andrew's visits to pray today. It is wonderful to know that we are not alone. 

So, keep using this social media for all the positive things that it can do. Pressing LIKE can lift a heart!

Love, Steve, Janice, Caitlin and Jasmine

 

Time is an invisible memory bank

Time leaves photographs counterfeit

Time turns and burns and churns

A tornado with nothing in control of it.

 

Time is a dance we do to its tune

Time is an artificial measuring space

Time it tumbles, rumbles and crumbles

A cage we make for us to pace.

 

Time is a capsule that is full of time

Time always seems to leak too fast

Time it breaks and cracks and takes

A hope of forever that never lasts.

 

Time has worn you out

Time has eroded your brain

Time has brought you down this cul-de-sac

With no turning circle back again.

 

Time if we could take it back

What time would we go back to

And if time took us back to there

What would I say to you

Would we use the word love

And would that word be enough.

 

Time.

 


SURMISING THE DAY I MET POPE FRANCIS

Stocki and Pope

It is not every day that you get to meet the Pope. Even less chance if you are a Presbyterian minister. Yet, today, that is exactly what my wife Janice and I did. It was very moving and inspirational. 

We woke up to Rome on a Bank Holiday. It was buzzing and crowded. Arriving in St Peter's Square, it was already filling up. All day long people were queuing up to just get into St. Peter's Basilica. Quite a bombardment of stimuli. 

Soon though we were out of the maddening crowd and ascending the stairs in the Apostolic Palace  to empty rooms and finally reaching Pope Francis' private library.

My dear friend Fr Martin Magill and I were there in recognition of our work with the 4 Corners Festival. Austen Ivereigh as the Pope's biographer and co-writer had pulled some strings! Thank you brother.

Austen also made it possible for the Catholic Chaplaincy at Queen's University Belfast, celebrating their 50th year, to have a personal meeting too. So we reached that library with that group and there was Pope Francis to welcome us.

It was moving to receive his welcome. As he reached to shake my hand I leaned in and told him that I was a Presbyterian and he took my other arm and kindly welcomed me even more. 

Pope Francis has a warmth about him. He has a humility that is perhaps not expected of Popes or world leaders. Very quickly I sensed that all that I had thought about him was true. He has an open and gracious heart. He is keen to make you at ease, to feel special. He has a Christlikeness.

He is also funny. He had given us his written script but quickly told us we could read that later so instead what did we want to ask. That is a brave decision for a man of 86. He hands over control to whatever questions are thrown. He has to be sharp and think quickly to answer.

His answers were wise and full of great Biblical content. Fr Martin and I were keen that the students got to ask the questions. They asked good ones about sharing Jesus and living out their faith.

Pope Francis started by easing their intensity and told them to live like students. He shared his own experience. How he had done just enough work to get through. How important humour and friendship was to those student years.

He told us to get ourselves a little book of the Gospels. Have it on our pockets. Read it when the opportunities came. Then most of all, he told us, wear it. If we want to share it with our friends we shouldn't go around preaching at them. He said that the soul is moved by witness. Live the Gospel out in our lives.

Perhaps it was having a couple of Presbyterians in the room but he then shared about being out walking with his grandfather at around the age of 5 and bumping into two women from the Salvation Army. He said it was his first ecumenical moment. He encouraged the students to see their Protestant friends as brothers and sisters in Christ.

He talked about how we should send all the theologians out onto an island where they could debate the theological differences while the rest of us stayed in the real world and got on with it. That 'it' was very clearly the living out of the Gospel, working together in Kingdom building, justice and peace.

Near the end, I thanked the Pope for his message to our 4 Corners Festival and how amazing it was to have his message open this years festival and then having Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, to close it. I then asked about how he felt we were working together now. This gave him the opportunity to speak fondly about his brother Justin Welby and their working together for peace in South Sudan.

South Sudan means a lot to Janice, myself and Fitzroy as we funded a school in Arua, Uganda just about 40 miles from the South Sudan border. Pope Francis told us that they were keen to meet the South Sudan leaders in July but refused to respond to their invite until Justin Welby was invited on an equal footing to himself. That humility again. That working together.

I am sure many will not agree with me visiting a Pope in the Vatican. I will graciously understand and beg to differ. For me it was an honour that Pope Francis recognised the work that the 4 Corners Festival does. As the leader of the Catholic Church it was an honour to be invited into his presence.

Yet, I did not feel that I had met with some head of Church as much as an elder in the faith, someone ahead of me in the journey who could impart wisdom and inspiration. A little like what Presbyterian ministers Ken Newell and Trevor Morrow have been doing for some years.

I know that I will unpack that hour in the Apostolic Palace for some time, pulling out everything said. The most vital thing I take away is his challenge to wear Jesus, be an authentic witness to Christ. To be as humble and human and redeemed as he obviously is. 

As we left he asked that I would pray for him. I heard from a Belgian priest outside that Francis has arthritis in his knees and is in some pain. I told him I would pray for him, especially his knees. He thanked me and I was gone... gone to continue to follow the same Jesus my brother Francis follows.

 


SURMISING MEETING POPE FRANCIS NEXT WEEK

Francis 8

On Monday morning (April 25th) I am hoping to be ushered in to a private audience with Pope Francis in the Apostolic Palace in Rome. That is an unbelievable sentence for a Ballymena Presbyterian.

I will be honest and say that I hold the possibility lightly. A number of years ago Janice and I had an invitation to meet Bono when U2 played their Songs Of Innocence Tour in Belfast. We were shown in to the Cedarwood Lounge with many other guests but we were told that someone would come for us and lead us up to the inner sanctum. 

We were also told that something might happen that meant Bono would be too busy. Lisa Marie Presley had turned up at a gig in America and caused Bono to have to cancel his meet and greet. We understood but thankfully Lisa Marie didn’t appear and we had a very pleasant 10 minutes with Bono.

I am not imagining Lisa Marie will appear in the Vatican on Monday either but I am also thinking that if Bono thinks he is important or busy then he pales into insignificance. Anything could happen.

If all goes well though, two Belfast clergy men will have some time to sit and converse with Pope Francis. What an honour that will be. Such an audience is not common or garden.

How? It is a good question. Over a year ago I was asked by Máirtín Ó Muilleoir to write a review of Pope Francis’ book Let Us Dream. Presbyterian minister reviews Pope was an interesting angle. 

Having read the book I was challenged and inspired. Pope Francis was writing during Covid-19 and seemed to have his finger on the pulse of a world in a particular “stoppage” that would offer a chance to reflect on where we are and then envision a new way forward. It was full of the personal and prophetic. 

Having jokingly mentioned the book and maybe getting the Pope at a 4 Corners Festival planning meeting someone mentioned that Austen Ivereigh had helped Pope Francis with the book and before you know it we had Austen agreeing to speak at the Festival. Austen seemed to really resonate with the Festival and got the Pope to send us a short video message which we were quite thrilled about. It meant we had the Pope opening our Festival and The Archbishop of Canterbury closing it! 

While he was with us at the Festival Austen suggested a meeting with Pope Francis. Again we smiled but could not see that happening. Then the invitation came! 

What does it mean for a Presbyterian minister to meet the Pope? I am not quite sure. For me it is like an invite from any world leader. An honour. I do not see that as just an honour for me or for Fr Martin but for the 4 Corners Festival board and committee. I see it as a recognition of what the Festival has achieved in bringing Belfast together, just as we did when we were awarded the CRC Civic Leadership Award in 2016. It is also an honour for Belfast and for all of our peacemakers.

I have no doubts that many in my denomination and other Protestants will call me a heretic! From what I have read and heard about Pope Francis I see him as a fellow follower of Jesus. I am particularly drawn to his humility and efforts to live outside the ostentatious ways of the Vatican. I have heard he even goes out in plain clothes to meet the homeless. 

I am also very much impressed by his seeking of justice, working for peace and reconciliation and his very strong support for protecting the environment. These are all Biblical mandates that I can shake his hand over, even if he is the head of a different denomination. 

What to say to him? That is an entirely different question. We are there as a result of our small efforts at peacemaking and so I imagine that is where we might begin. 

He spoke in Let Us Dream about how us needing to rid our selves of ideologies and we have two distinct ideologies in Northern Ireland. Both set over a century ago with very different circumstances than we now have yet there is no pragmatism or change in ideologies. Has he clues to how we bring peace into such a situation?

I would also like to talk about the humility of Christ. My recent mantra that we follow the God of the manger the donkey, the towel and the cross seems familiar to his own discipleship. How has he done that? How can we as churches do it better? 

It of course brings us to Jesus. As the Archbishop of Canterbury says if we concentrate on what we believe we will find things that divide us, if we concentrate on who we believe then we will find ourselves together in Jesus. Pope Francis seems a man who loves and passionately follows the same Jesus as I do and I’d like to talk about him.

There might be other things. Who knows. I’ll be sure to Surmise it all next week… if of course it ever happens at all. 


I SURMISE 1 MILLION HITS ON SOUL SURMISE

SOUL SURMISE

This past week the number of hits on this Soul Surmise blog reached 1 million!!!! I set it up around 15 years ago but didn’t shift over from my Rhythms Of Redemption website until I was coming to Fitzroy in 2009. 

I want to thank everyone who has read even one page. You have allowed me to self indulge myself in what I love. I love writing. It is to me now what golf and football and running were when I was younger and had good knees. It is my leisure. It is my pleasure.

On Soul Surmise I can enjoy my hobby and write about Jesus and peace and social justice and art and sport… and everyone of you give me a reason to write. So thank you for reading. Thank you particularly for reading regularly. Thank you even more for your encouraging feedback. 

 

SURMISE

The blog was named intentionally. I am using it as a place to surmise, to ponder, to turn thoughts and art over in my head and heart and soul. 

 

ONE A DAY

When I moved to Fitzroy I realised that I had no longer the space to write books. Books take time to get into every time you return to the lap top. I realised that a 500 words could be written late at night before bed. The 2010 World Cup was in my beloved South Africa so I decided to do one blog a day for the month. Even after Spain had lifted the Cup I just carried on. Some days I don’t have a new one so I highlight an old one or re-write.

 

FACEBOOK AND TWITTER

That is where the readers see the blog. I have learned that what I write beside the link will determine what catches your eye. I have watched different headings to the same blog attract hundreds more reads. 

I don’t plug blogs at midnight or before lunch. 11am is the earliest. 2pm is good. 10pm tends to work best and I will try to reblog at that time. I re-blog most of the week on a Sunday night, almost like a digest! Sunday night blogs get so many reads!

 

READERS LOVE THE PERSONAL

I have learned that I can say what I think are very important things and readers might not show any interest. If I say that I got my hair cut or Janice told me off then the reader count will go mad! So I have had to be more personal at times than I would like but if I think I have anything worth reading I would like it read. So, often times I can be sneaky to get your ear!

 

ALBUM SURMISES

I only realised recently that I don’t really write album reviews. I usually write about records that I not only like but want to share with those of you that I know like the same music. I am honoured that some of you buy what I recommend. 

When I am surmising I often look for the theological in a record but not always. The lyrics though are still what I enjoy and surmise the most. It is the same when I review books or even less often films.

I also like to review as many local artists as I can because not only have we some amazing artists here in Belfast, Northern Ireland and across the island but I want to highlight it and spread the word.

 

WHEN ARTISTS TELL ME THAT I GOT IT

My greatest satisfaction is when an artist that I have reviewed get back to me and thank me for taking the time to get their work. Reviewing artists that I know makes me nervous because I might get it wrong. It is good when they thank me for getting it right. It's like a nett 65 or a hat trick or a 10 mile PB!

 

So… thank you. I so appreciate it.


STOCKMAN HAIR CUTS - THE BIG 4!

Stocki short hair

“Hairstyles and attitudes

Are they connected

Are the styles we embrace

A matter of taste 

Or of values rejected”

 - Timbuk 3

 

I joked with Fitzroy this morning that it was the day to preach a bad sermon because my haircut would be the talk of the dinner tables not the sermon. 

Stockman haircuts are seismic events!

I have been a long hair man since I was young. I grew up with George Best on the TV, plastered over my walls. I wanted to be him. He was from here after all. As well as his dribbling skills and outrageously spectacular goals I wanted his hair. It was the days of The Beatles. The days of the Stones!

My parents weren’t so keen. My father was the neatest tidiest man I ever met. My mum was more about conventions than neatness. I was put in wee suits and was never allowed to wear denim at Primary School. Over the last 40 years I have worn nothing else. I even got married in Levi 501s!

I remember as a kid that every 2 months on a Saturday morning it was off the the barber Jim Best. I tried to pretend I was sleeping when dad came into my room. 

As soon as I could - I grew my hair! There have only been 4 big cuts! 

When I was about 22, while at University, my cousin Sharon got married. Sharon is like my sister BUT she took on the conventions of our mums. She demanded that I got my hair cut to be one of her ushers! My Aunt Elizabeth was a hairdresser and photos were taken of the before and after. It was a big deal!

The next time was maybe 5 years later as I was becoming a Presbyterian minister. To be fair my favourite bands had short hair for a year or two and I conformed. It was brief. Even my favourite bands started growing out their hair. Compare Ricky Ross in 1987 and 1990! 

That was it until I was heading towards 40. It was the end of the millennium. We at Derryvolgie Hall where I lived with 88 students and we were going to build houses in Cape Town with Habitat For Humanity. 

I started thinking that as I was heading towards 40 and my hair was receding a little that maybe it was time to conform completely. I came up with a cunning plan. If all the people who wanted me to get my hair cut put their money were their mouths were, I would get my hair shaved for £3,500!

They made the target and I got my hair shaved on stage at a massive Youth event before All Star United played a great wee set!

I kept my hair shaved for over a decade after that but a few years into Fitzroy I thought I’d grow it out again and it has been long for about eight years. 

This week’s cut was of necessity. Last November I went to get a trim. My first since the first lockdown. The hairdresser had no clue what to do with long hair. Then Ryan another hairdresser said, “Hi Steve”. He was my old cutter at my last barbers. He had moved. BUT he who had expertise went on brushing the floor while this other guy minced my hair.

I’ve put up with it for a while but the recent 4 Corners Festival meant that I was in a lot of photo shoots and even on TV and my hair just looked rough. I realised that it couldn’t be fixed. I was lacking trust in hairdressers. So I thought we should just start again. I asked Janice’s cousin Tim to shave it to a number 6.

Janice though started whacking the long hair so that it was be the right length to be shaved and about half way through we realised that to her surprise she was doing a great job and it never got to the shaving part. So here we are.

Back to that Timbuk 3 song. My hair has been all about attitudes. I used to grow it particularly long while doing missions. People seemed shocked when a Christian had long hair. It took away some stereotypes that opened doors for conversation.

It freaked out customs and airport security. Janice once stopped after I got stopped at a Customs check. The woman looked at her and then me and asked if we were together… then had we just met on the boat! Ha! Now the ear ring and ripped jeans helped but that is exactly the shock factor I was aiming for. Just call me Rev Stockman mam!

So, here we are. The 4th BIG cut. Will there be another. Don’t put it past me. Hairstyles and attitudes are connected and I feel like a compromised, conformed fraud today. Janice hates it short too, by the way! 


PEACEMAKING - GOD'S MANDATE - TOMORROW in FITZROY, RADIO 4 AND RADIO ULSTER - 23.1.22

Stocki  Marti and Radio 4

photo: Sheila McNeill

 

On Week Of Prayer For Christian Unity Sunday I can be found in a few places in the morning.

I have already blogged about Fr Martin Magill and I doing the BBC Radio 4 Sunday Service (8.10am). We were asked on this particular Sunday to share our story. So we do. We share our journey but also the Biblical basis for what we believe we are called to do. 

I am very frustrated that being Radio 4 they have changed my music. I compromised as it was BUT felt that there is no better way to end prayers than Mary Gauthier's Mercy Now. Even that has been replaced... so I am afraid that this is my first and last Radio 4 Service. The music is as important to me as what I say so to have no creative control of that is so disappointing.

Anyway, that Service is also repeated on BBC Radio Ulster at 10.20am after David Campton, Mylie Brennan and Sue Divin talk about 4 Corners Festival .

Then at 11am I will be live in Fitzroy and streaming on Fitzroy TV.

At this service I will be preaching about Fitzroy's Peacemaking history and the Biblical basis for that. 

I would never call myself as an ecumenist though many of my critics would wonder why. I am far more interested in peace making, of reaching across our sectarian and denomination divides than I am about one massive global ecclesiological entity. I'd be suspicious of that.

I do believe though that we can learn from brothers and sisters, following Christ, in other denominations. I also think we need to be united in God's mission, in bringing God's Kingdom and in the Biblical mandate for peace making.

Fr Gerry Reynolds, so vital in Fitzroy's peace making work with Clonard Monastery, once said, "A divided Church has little or nothing to offer towards leading a divided people into the way of peace." How I agree. Prophetic.... but more of that in the morning! 

 


STOCKMAN AND FR MARTIN MAGILL DOING BBC RADIO 4 SUNDAY SERVICE

RADIO 4

We were recording today. Sorry if I blow the cover. Fr Martin and I were putting together Sunday Service for BBC Radio 4. 

This week is The Week Of Prayer For Christian Unity and so Martin and I were sharing our journey of friendship. I will be honest. It wasn't easy. On two counts.

Firstly, the music. I am too old to be a Radio 1 man but I am certainly more Radio 2 than Radio 4. When it comes to music for a Radio 4 service... It took me a long number of hours, scouring across music streams but even without my usual freedom I hope I have brought a little taste. I am particularly delighted to have brought Mary Gauthier's Mercy Now to the prayers.

Secondly, Martin and I were playing tag team. we were attempting to be more conversational. I loved the imagination of it and Martin and I are used to conversational communication. However, it was trickier to actually do in front of the microphones. 

I hope we captured something. I hope you will listen. Sunday morning on BBC Radio 4 at 8.10am and then again on BBC Radio Ulster at 10.20am. See if our friendship can seep through. 

Thank you Shiela and Katherine for readings and prayers.