STOCKI NEWS

FR MARTIN AND I TO SPEAK AT SPRING AGAPE LECTURE

Martin And I

THE SPRING AGAPE LECTURE 

SPEAKERS: FR MARTIN MAGILL & REV STEVE STOCKMAN OBE

TITLE: VOCATION OF FRIENDSHIP TOWARDS PEACE

DATE: WED, APRIL 17th, 2024 @ 7.30

VENUE: BELFAST SOUTH METHODIST CHURCH (AGAPE CENTRE) 236-266 Lisburn Road Belfast, BT9 6GF (Tel: 028 9066 2560) 

 

Fr Martin and I are delighted to be guest speakers at this year's Spring Agape Lecture. 

We will be looking at finding ourselves as peace builders, the Biblical vocation that that is. We will also be sharing our own journey into commitment to a vocational friendship and the incarnation of that vocation in our lives and work. 

I believe that everyone would be welcome at Agape on Wednesday night and it would be great to see you.


US ON THE INSPIRED TO ACT PODCAST

Inspired To Act

Inspired To Act is a wonderful podcast hosted by Will Leitch and Diane Holt. In the most beguiling and light hearted way Will and Diane draw out intelligent thought, theology and praxis from their guests.

It was a pleasure to spend some time talking to them about 4 Corners Festivals. So here, give a listen to myself, Fr Martin Magill and Mylie Brennan talking about the history, raison d'être and highlights of this year's festival. It is really very good!

LISTEN HERE


NEWS OF JANICE'S FATHER'S DEATH

Bryan and Steve

It is with deep heart break and an awful lot of shock that I share the news that I share the news that Janice's lovely dad, Bryan Gordon, passed away this morning. He was just a couple of weeks away from his 88th birthday.

Sunday night, a week ago, he shared the final night of the 4 Corners Festival. He had enjoyed the Festival, some nights at home on line and some nights live at the events. He had so enjoyed Doug's sermon and so many conversations.

The day after, he went to his monthly SIM prayer meeting and, with Janice and I in Ballycastle, took his nephew Tim for dinner at the Bowery.

The next day he took a turn and ended up in hospital but even then we had hoped he would be back home with us soon. This week we saw another turn and he left us this morning. 

Bryan will be missed. He was a real gentleman, humble man of strong faith in God, always keen to help whoever he could. 

He was a great sports fan. First Rugby where be played through school for BRA and then for their old boys Academy in the Ulster Senior League. He loved watching Ulster and Ireland and indeed it would be the most stressed you would find a mildly mannered man.

He also enjoyed sporting success in Sailing racing Scorpions and once being placed in the European Championships.

Later in life, golf took his attention and he was straight down the middle. He never playing off a low handicap but he won a good few trophies, hustling off too high a handicap!

He was an elder in Old Park Presbyterian Church before his wife Ann and he moved to First Holywood in the 90s. Ann and he were Directors for AEF (Africa Evangelical Fellowship) for decades and he visited Africa twice.

During Covid he moved over from Holywood to live with us and he settled so quickly into Fitzroy, walking, drinking coffee and befriending so many of the older men. Thank you to so many for making him so welcome. 

For those who are interested we have Tuesday penciled in for a funeral but nothing can be confirmed until tomorrow. I am going to break all my rules and do Bryan's funeral. I always ask that people make this minister's job easy at their funeral. No one made it easier than Bryan. He was Godly, Gracious and the perfect incarnation of a Gentleman. 

Farewell Bryan. The seeds of good things that your life scattered across the world will go on reaping harvest. We will miss you every day.


GETTING MY MBE AT WINDSOR CASTLE

Us Windsor Castle

In the summer of 2022 the Stockies took an obligatory family selfie outside Windsor Castle. If you would have told us on that day that just 16 months later we would be walking through the gates and being welcomed in by Royalty we would have laughed at the very thought.

Yet, it happened. All dressed up for the day, we walked into the most beautiful castle, rooms and towers and turrets, gardens and flowers. Then it was back inside from one beautiful room to yet another. I was excited as I'd spotted former Manchester United footballer Willie Morgan on elf my favourite players as a kid and got a yarn with him. "I bought your book... I need to read it!"

We were given a little lesson in what was about to happen at which stage I was getting nervous. Eventually I was separated from my girls, who were set up a few feet away, and a few minutes later I was standing before The Princess Royal being presented with an MBE.

For someone like me with no wild dream of such an award or experience it was utterly surreal. How did I end up here? I still feel like the wee boy from Galgorm who never thought he’d make anything of himself. An MBE seems like another universe. Yet, here I was chatting to Princess Anne. 

I had one intention in my two minutes with Royalty. As my MBE was given for contributions to peace and reconciliation I was determined to thank the Royal Family for their contribution to our peace building in Ireland. Princess Anne was really quite shy as I mentioned Lord Mountbatten’s death and the acts of forgiveness shown by her mother and King Charles III. 

Before I knew it she was talking about the importance of humility. I did say surreal. I am standing by a Princess and she is talking about humility. I agreed and shared how God was particularly humble and how we need to stand in one another’s shoes for reconciliation. 

As we were moving room to room in expectation of the award being presented I was comparing the whole thing with our visit to the Vatican 18 months ago when along with Janice and Fr Martin I had the honour of a private audience with Pope Francis. Popes and Royalty? I have said - my life is surreal!

What struck me most in the Pope Francis’s private library was his humility. I would be the first of very many of us who might criticise both Royalty and the Papacy for their ostentatious wealth and perhaps the seeming ivory towers that they live in. Yet, here are two seeking humility from difficult places to be humble.

I remember at Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding how struck I was by that reading from Romans 12:16-18; Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

My revelation of God, these past five years particularly, has been of a God who is humble. I say it over and over - we are followers of God of the manger, the donkey, the towel and the cross.

I would suggest that God’s love and humility is the marriage that bears the fruit of grace, humanity’s only hope in this life and the next. The King of Kings is humble, not arrogant or vengeful. What a moment to be talking to a Princess, representing the King, about humility.

It was a moment too for us as a family. I know my parents would have been proud. I sensed Janice, Caitlin and Jasmine were. It was the most wonderful of family days and memories. We were one moment emotional, another overwhelmed but overall just having fun with a day that doesn’t come along too often. It was just joyous. They deserve this as much as me! 

Of course as I was about to go in I thought of all of those who had made it possible. Without Fitzroy allowing me to pursue peace and reconciliation work like Rev. Dr Ken Newell OBE (you’re not competitive until you get one!) with Fr Gerry Reynolds and the Clonard/Fitzroy Fellowship before me, most particularly my best mate and companion in this work Fr Martin Magill and the 4 Corners Directors and planners. Stockmans. Kernohans. So many people throughout my life who have nudged off me with inspiration or encouragement. Thank you all.

The day before the investiture was my birthday. 10:10 is a great day but even better Bible verse in John 10:10 - “I have come that you might have life in all its fulness.” My life has proven that over and over and here again. Pope Francis and the Princess Royal in just 18 months. Surreal… but thankful I am.


STOCKMAN & FR MARTIN ON TV ON EASTER WEEK

The RTE Cast

With a few television specials being produced for the 25th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, you can see myself and Fr Martin anywhere you watch TV next week.

On Wednesday April 4th at 10.45pm on UTV, on a brand new series UP CLOSE, you will hear us talking to one of our finest young TV journalists Jude Hill in a programme called An Imperfect Peace.  Standing by the Springfield Damn Fr Martin and I will be answering questions about the Good Friday Agreement 25 years ago and also right now. Many others will be reflecting too. 

Then the next day, Thursday April 5th at 4.35pm on RTE 1 we will be taking part in a Service For the 25th Anniversary Of The Good Friday Agreement. There are some wonderful people involved in this one including former Irish President Mary McAleese and Methodist minister and overseer of decommissioning Harold Good, among many as well as music from Kiran Wimberly and the McGraths. Personal thoughts and Bible reflection. It is a very well crafted piece.

It was an honour being involved in both.

 

 


SOUL SURMISE - THE BRIAN HOUSTON PODCAST

Houstie 1

We relaunched the Soul Surmise Podcast back in September with my very first attempt. A glorious afternoon in Brian Houston's studio way back in February. It's a beautiful ambience to talk music.

So we ended up with warm humour filled chat about songwriting and Brian's new record which has a lovely mix of new songs and old songs stripped back. Like Houston unplugged! 

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.