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. 



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. 



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. 



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.



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!



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!



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.



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.


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! 


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! 




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.


BBC mic


I am always shyly pleased when someone asks if I am still on the radio or asks when I am next on Thought For The Day. When I am sitting in front of the microphone, for Pause for Thought all on my very own, or in these Covid days in my own front room I wonder if anyone is actually listening at all. So, when people ask, it is nice.

So, for those who ask, I am delighted to let you know that I will be on the radio almost once a week the whole way through to March!

The first batch is on BBC Radio Ulster. I will be doing Thought For The Day around 7.20am every Thursday morning in January - 6th, 13th, 20th and 27th.

Then after a week off I will start a series of four Wednesdays Pause For Thoughts on BBC Radio 2 at 5.45am - 9th, 16th, 23rd and March 2nd.

Thought For The Day and Pause For Thought have different approaches. Radio 2 give us a theme. The theme lasts all week and each contributor brings their own slant. Radio Ulster is a free for all. Choose your own theme.

The truth is that when I am doing Thought For The Day I so wish I had a theme to work within, to spark an idea. Then when I am on Pause For Thought I am thinking how difficult this theme is and how I wish it was free for all! Go figure?! Maybe there is a Thought For The Day in that.

Anyway, we start in the morning. A Bob Geldof thought on commitment and providence and how I have seen it work itself out in 4 Corners Festival.

If you are up early...



Fr Martin Magill and I are absolutely thrilled with todays big announcement in the Belfast Telegraph of the total donated to our BIG 60TH BIRTHDAY FUND RAISE FOR EMBRACE NI... drum roll... not £1000 or £3000, not even £5000 or £7000 BUT £9,050!!!!

We are over the moon and a little overwhelmed. I'll be honest. Although in our first press releases we spoke about reaching £1000 I would have been disappointed with anything less than £3,500 BUT to reach £9000 is way beyond our wildest dreams. 

When I think of life's achievements, as you do when you reach 60, this has to be way up there with some of the best of mine. To be able to use our birthdays to raise money for the emergency fund of Embrace NI at a time when we will be expecting Afghanistan Refugees to arrive with us here in Northern Ireland. I cannot imagine doing anything more constructive with a birthday or the rest of my life for that matter!

Can I first thank Martin for the idea. He suggested it to me in a phone call in late July and in August we had a long walk around Ballycastle Forest pondering how and who to? We did a lot of research and talked to a lot of people before we arrived at Embrace NI

We wanted what we thought would be our small contribution to make a difference. We wanted to fund raise for an organisation not getting lots of funding from elsewhere. We wanted it to have a Jesus centred ethos that we live by. We wanted it to be cross denominational. We wanted it to be making a real difference in our world, but locally. 

We thank Embrace for coming on board and their admin Tracey for giving us our weekly total as kept on rising.

We thank the local press. All the papers wrote articles. BBC Radio Ulster had us in. Claire McNeilly at the Belfast Telegraph gave us a lot of space and so we made sure that it was her who first declared the total in today's paper.

Most of all we want to thank everybody who contributed. As a result of the way the money was donated we cannot get access to your names. So it will have to be one big general thank you. So whoever you are and why ever you gave to a Catholic Priest and Presbyterian minister for our BIG 60th BIRTHDAY FUND RAISE... THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU. 

Don't leave it there. Check out Embrace NI and watch how the money raised will be used to help refugees in these next days, months and years.




Stocki and Marty Book Week

Fr Martin Magill and I were so excited to be asked to share a book that we both liked on BBC NI's Book Week series Read All About It.

We chose Sue Divin's book Guard Your Heart. 

I need to be honest and say that the real plugger of this book is my friend, and fellow PCI minister, Tony Davidson. I believe that Sue grew up in First Armagh where Tony is the minister. They did an event with Sue at the launch of the book and Tony was very keen to get me to read it.

It was one of my first holiday reads and I immediately felt that Fr Martin should read it. The main reason for that was the focus on the post Good Friday Agreement generation. Martin and I often consider the 18-25 age group and wonder if they are getting to make a contribution in their own future? Have we ignored them and how will that play out?

Sue Divin's book is about that... and a whole lot more besides. 

So, with both of us loving it, when the BBC invited us to contribute to Book Week, it was a no brainer which one we wanted to plug. We hope that it will raise the profile and sell a few books. Delighted that social media suggests that we already are. Then perhaps we can provoke a conversation about when the Aidans and Ionas can decide their own futures instead of us killing their future they way we did our past.

Also... Martin's last line... "it would make a great movie". Oh it would.





Stocki 60

Much as I loved the surprise parties thrown for my 40th and 50th birthdays I had my family under strict orders that I didn't want big party for my 60th. 

It wasn't that I wanted to hide the fact that I was 60. Fr Martin Magill and I have heralded our landmark birthdays for a month, trying to raise money for Embrace NI. 

No, I have become more and more introverted through my 50s. I am not sure what to do with crowds pointing at me. Fitzroy singing “Happy Birthday’ before the service was lovely but my heart and brain go mush and I cannot fully appreciate the sentiment! 

I am happier at a good meal with a smaller number rather than short greetings with a couple of hundred.

So it was Holohans Pantry my very favourite restaurant, owned and run by good friends. We even had Eli and Bella as waiter and waitress. The food was amazing. I am a Seafood Boxty fanatic so joined by our good friends David and Rachel Quinney Mee I was in my happy place. I am always so relaxed in the Pantry.

Not that I got away without a surprise. Oh no! Dandering out at the end of the Fitzroy service someone mentioned an Ice Cream Van and I realised that they have done me again. Surprise!

Yet, a surprise that included the entire congregation, at least the 60% back after Covid, was a perfect way to celebrate. To see the children and young people enjoy a big 99 or a double one with lime sauce was a birthday thrill. Even a more mature member admitted to racing to get in line before the kids.

It was a real carnival and of course with an ice cream van and children it was not about me. I loved it. 

The whole day had started on BBC Radio Ulster. Fr Martin and I were rather honoured to have our landmark birthday recognised on Sunday Sequence and the lovely Audrey Carville reflecting on our lives.

It was good to give testimony to what has been a 10:10 ‘life in all its fulness’ and confessing no regrets but that at times I had hurt others. It was good to declare that we weren’t switching off and were getting excited about the future, particularly the 10th Anniversary of The 4 Corners Festival next February.

It was good to give a last plug to our Big 60th Birthday Fundraiser. To realise that we will have raised over £7000 for Embrace NI and the work that they do with refugees and migrants is the best present ever. Thank you so much to everyone who has contributed so generously! 

An hour after that interview I was standing in Fitzroy. It is my piece of pitch. As Kevin De Bruyne has that midfield space where he can play his genius, passing a football into the path of a team mate, so I have my lectern at the front of Fitzroy.

For twelve years that has been my space. In grief, in illness and in joy that little piece of real estate has been the place where I have found my deepest gladness, my reason to be on this planet.

To be there on 10:10. on the day of my 60th birthday, was a marvellous lining up of the calendar. To share the first communion in 18 months with my congregation was going to be special anyway but even more on this particular day. 

“You know who you are with bread and wine in your hand. You are a somebody.” A twist on TV’s Tales of the Unexpected. Who we are. And then… to close… Singing…


And all my life You have been faithful (oh)

And all my life You have been so, so good 

With every breath that I am able

Oh, I will sing of the goodness of God (yeah)


As we sang I felt a perfect moment. Me and God… aligned. I am thankful, so thankful for reaching 60. For having Janice beside me, throwing surprises. For daughters ploughing their deepest gladness. For an amazingly gifted and generous congregation that allows me to be me. For a wider society that invites me to share with it whether on radio, in newspaper or occasionally TV (Martin and I will be talking about a favourite book in BBC’s Book Week… coming up soon!).

Late evening, with a wee glass, Janice and a TV thriller. In the quiet, looking back. A most wonderful birthday.

60 years. What a 10:10 life. As Van once said, “It’s too late to stop now…” I am kind of glad it is over. The rest of my life starts here! Let’s go!


Thumbnail_Embrace NI 2449

photo: Bernie Brown


So, a wee recap. Fr Martin Magill was 60 on September 13th. I have no idea what it must be like to be his age but on October 10th I will. 

We decided to exploit the currency of big birthdays to raise some currency for Embrace NI. We set a target of £1000 which we had reached almost before Martin had finished his cake.

We doubled our target to £2000 and last week had to double it again. We are still 12 days from my birthday and we are delighted to say that we have broken through £4000. 

We need to thank everybody who has donated for your generosity. We are thrilled that our birthday's could do such good. 

We have chosen Embrace NI because it is interdenominational and helps us fulfil a clear Biblical mandate to take care of the refugee. Watching the news footage from Afghanistan reminds us that all over the world people are fleeing terrible wars, oppression and poverty to find a better, safer life for their family. We are of course aware that Jesus was a refugee too. 

We see the work Embrace does, not only in its emergency response to refugees but also their role of educating and resourcing the church as being so crucial. 

We set our target again to £5000 and encourage you, if you know Martin or myself, if you have benefitted in any way from our individual ministries or our work together to help us reach that target.