Magic Rings

Forty four years ago this weekend I made a life changing decision to follow Jesus. It has been quite the wild ride of a life in all its fulness. Here, I Surmise why I got involved.

I didn’t want my soul to be saved from hell as much as I wanted to know God. God. Imagine that. God. I couldn’t. As David Gray said, probably not about God, “we are trying to spell what the wind can’t explain”.

The first step of following Jesus for me was a leap into the biggest adventure that I could imagine a human can take. I was Jonathan Livingston Seagull, from Richard Bach’s short novel, wanting to fly like no other gull has ever flown… or human being had ever lived. I was seeking that “life in all its fulness” that Jesus invited us into in John 10:10.

As a seventeen year old I felt like Digory in CS Lewis’s Magician’s Nephew. In that, the first novel chronologically in the Narnia Chronicles but not first published, Digory and Polly find magic rings that bring them into Narnia through a dank pool. Polly wants to go back to safety but Digory says, “There's not much point in finding a magic ring that lets you into other worlds if you're afraid to look at them when you've got there.”

I believed that Jesus life and cross and resurrection was the miraculous act of God that had tossed me into this other world. I wanted to spend my life looking. I was mad keen to jump headlong into mystery and vastness. 

It feels that what then happened was that they handed me a couple of books. Here’s all you need to know in this tome of systematic theology. God confined to a few hundred pages! Here’s another one about what to do and not to do. They told me it was very clearcut. Biblical they called it. There was no room for questions or doubts. No room for mystery for that matter. Adventure and risk seemed frowned upon. 

Forty four years later and I am still seeking more. More about God than was in the books. I am still seeking the Holy Spirit’s leading into what the Bible really does say. I am mad keen to find out what it sounded like to those who wrote it and heard it for the first time. I want to know where our cultural lenses over 2000 years have shaped it, perhaps wrongly. I find a lot of wrongly!

Oh I know that my cultural glasses will make errors too. I am aware that I might shift the swing of the pendulum too far. But I am not into this for some safe sitting around at the corner of the stagnant pool talking about the colour of the magic ring or I how held it to get in. I want to step out beyond. I am up for the daily dynamic of the dilemma that is discipleship in a mad crazy 21st century world, not simple do this and do that following.

So, in this week that I have been given to reflect and on forty four years of following, I am reading about the culture of Jesus day, about how the Bible works and how to preach better. The preaching is why I was born, my reason to be magiced the rings, my place in this vast ginormous kingdom that I am still exploring daily. 

None of the books might be deemed to be safe in certain theological jurisdictions but as CS Lewis also said, “Aslan is not safe but he is good.” Aslan, he also said, was on the move and I am up for the chasing after!



What an event!? As ceremonial pomp and show this was an astonishing achievement. The intricacies of everything from robes to dresses to gold carriages to liturgical wording. The detail in the marching of the military and horses. 

Indeed, the final three hip hip hoorays, as the newly crowned King and Queen appeared to thank the military, just before the final fall out was probably my highlight of the day…apart from the Gospel Singers… and The Archbishop Of Canterbury’s sermon. 

It started so well. I felt the political power of the reading in Luke 4. I was very excited as Justin Welby spoke about Jesus example of being a servant. Graham Kendrick’s worship song Servant King came to mind. After the sermon things started going awry. 

The first thing should not have shaken me. The defender of the Protestant Faith. We know this but even knowing it didn’t give my chest any less thud when it was actually spoken. 

We know that this is to do with laws of the land from the Seventeenth Century. I do. My own denomination has ritual that is tied to that century too. These things are now 400 years old. It might be time for a reform. 

That urgency for reform was in evidence through most of the rest of the proceedings.

My friend Rev Doug Gay, who might have been at the forefront of such a service if it had been happening in Scotland, Tweeted:

“An underwhelming experience - ritual badly in need of reform - too long too posh too Anglican too pompous too feudal too mannered too militaristic too English too Disney too Ruritanian too ostentatious too lavish - both Crown and C of E diminished by it.”

Quite the review. My way of saying the same thing would be that after Welby’s sermon it was anything but incarnational. The King that Welby preached about was a King who served by coming right down off his throne into the middle of his people. A wonderful image of it was right there in the Abbey - that Painting of the Last Supper. Jesus among his disciples.

Like Doug I did not feel that the service allowed King Charles to do that. It was too posh, pompous, ostentatious and lavish in dress, gold, diamonds, other gem stones and song choices. People are lining up at Food banks.

It was all too somber and serious. Dull. A man just crowned King didn’t seem to have the freedom to smile at a grandson. 

Now, I know there are traditions, some 1000 years old, that limited King Charles III and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s chances of change. I believe that they, and probably mainly Charles, added the Gospel Choir and the singing in all four of the UK nations languages. 

Surely, it is time for more. I mean even the Church of England has more diversity. With the influence of the charismatic movement, would it not have been refreshing to have added a band from Holy Trinity Brompton. I suggest again Kendrick’s Servant King even though in that church it is probably well out of date - 1990s! You see my point.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think that the main thing was that servant king idea. I however felt that that main thing was lost in a service fit for a King and not a servant King. 

I believe that we might have a servant King. Perhaps Charles III will bring that change. Please God that he is allowed. What if… BREAKING NEWS: Gold carriage melted down to help with Fuel Poverty!



It did not take very long as we pulled up at Dunluce Castle for my grumpy old man head to start moaning. How could it be that on an April Friday with the Bank Holiday behind us that I could not get a parking space? 


“It’s £6 Daddy,” says Caitlin from the back seat. 


“The Rope Bridge is £13.” 



Now, I hear you. You are suggesting that I don’t do Dunluce or the Rope Bridge much. You are right. Our aim on vacation is to avoid people we know. With a place in Ballycastle, if we only move east we can achieve that. Once we head west towards the Ports, not so much. So, charging me for my own coastline is indeed a surprise to me! 

You see I remember the 80s and most of the 90s this was my terrain. I visited these sites many many times. Every American visitor… every Church weekend… and I do not remember anybody else ever being there at the same time. Today I was remembering particularly 1996 - April and Stephanie in from Nashville. I do not remember anyone else being in Dunluce that day. 

So off we set for Ballintoy Harbour. Lovely wee spot. We were telling that English cousins how we actually walked around the Game Of Thrones Set in the harbour. Down we drove. It’s steep and some tight turns. Got to the bottom and… no place to park. “Come on!!!!!”

We waited and finally got a space. As I got out of the car all grumpied up again my mind started wondering. Why the change in 25 years? All these Dublin cars with people speaking in German, French and American accents. Where were they in 1996?

The penny dropped. On the very week that we had been celebrating 25 Years since the Good Friday Agreement my grumpy old head was the proof of the changes that there have been in our wee place. My mood moved to gratitude.

It is difficult to remember life in Northern Ireland before the Good Friday Agreement. I lived on Botanic Avenue for six years in the 80s. There were a lot less cafes and restaurants and everything closed at 5 o’clock. Few rock bands came to Belfast. Night life was sparse. The army stopped our cars most every day. Just like my enlightenment on the north coast, our lives are so vastly different 25 years on. We often times forget. 

The Queen’s University Conference to celebrate the Agreement has perhaps been all about that. I wonder about all the words and applause at the different events. Are the words just feathers on the Belfast breeze? Do they have any weight? Will they change anything? Yet, they do remind us. Look where we are now compared to where we were then.

I am also mindful of those who have not noticed any difference in their lives, 25 years on. During this year’s 4 Corners Festival I sat with young loyalists as they shared with Steve Baker, Minister Of State For Northern Ireland, their frustrations. Education. Jobs. Housing. They were demanding investment in their areas that have been left behind. 

As I have grumpy to grateful experiences on my beloved coast, I must celebrate the changes that we have made here but I must also be mindful of those who might not feel so elated. No one wins unless we all win.


Cottage 1900

“How long does it take for a man to know himself”

My friend Martyn Joseph wrote that as perceptive chorus on a song about him turning 60 on an album called 1960.

I am slightly younger than Martyn but now a little older than when he wrote it. I am in my early 60s asking more questions about myself. I often wonder why because I am running out of years to help myself from the learning.

Anyway, it has not been so much the turning 60 that has me digging deep as much as losing my grown ups. In not very much over a year Janice and I have lost four aunts, an uncle and my father. 

Personally, I have found my Uncle Bert’s loss the hardest. He was 90 but his death came on us unexpected. He was my last link with my family tree. He was the holder of the information about the ancestors. 

Since Uncle Bert died I have been contracting my sense of source back to the photograph at the top of this blog. The cottage two buildings up on the left was my Grandparents home. It is thatched. They must have bought it in the late 1930s or early 40s. 

It was originally part of the old Galgorm Castle Grounds. At some stage it was a local police station. It was renovated in the early 1700s. My grandparents then added an inside toilet in the early 60s. 

I spent an awful lot of childhood in this house. I never actually remember sleeping in it but after school and during school holidays this is where I was. I loved it. I felt loved in it. From the earliest age I knew it was an iconic building. I knew it was special. I loved the loft and the couple of hundred years of paint and wall paper!

This photograph moved me. I took it off a photograph on the BBC documentary The Lost Photographs of Mary Alice Young. The photographs in question were taken from 1000 that she took around the area and beyond between 1890 and 1915. They are stunning doors into understanding life around Galgorm at that time and I couldn’t help wondering if some of my ancestors were caught working in those photographs. I was watching, seeking something of who I am.

My favourite is obviously this one of Galgorm village. I couldn’t help but think that it wouldn’t have changed much between this and when my dad and Uncle Bert were running around the village as children, thirty or forty years later. It resonated and tears crept down my face.

Oh I am a Kernohan from 95 Moat Road in Harryville as much as I am a Stockman from Galgorm but more time was spent here and my name is Stockman. The emotion that this photo caused within me is telling me something about myself.

The past is so relevant to our present and future. Who we are starts long before we are born. Those genes that give us height, hair colouring or freckles also give us our gifts, personalities and the lenses by how we see the world. What makes me a Stockman or a Kernohan or the unique mix of all the ancestral genes?

I have now spent 36 years of my life in a square mile or two around Queens University in Belfast. I often wonder why, if that was where I would live out my vocation that God had me grow up elsewhere. Whatever this man learns about who he is, this photograph is my place of origin. I might have come a long way and no matter how far I have still to go, it all started here in this near 400 year old cottage in Galgorm. 



This was my Thought For The Day on BBC Radio Ulster back on October 17, 2012 (my daughter Jasmine's 12th birthday!). When Baumgartner was used as an answer in Pointless I thought it was a perfect time to reblog...


Felix Baumgartner’s sky dive from 128,000 feet reaching
a speed of 834mph had been the talk of the world the week he dived.

Some had been excited that there are still frontiers for humans to explore and conquer, crazy stunts still left for someone to do for the first time. The sheer courage has impressed many.

What caught my attention was Felix’s imagination. Somewhere over coffee Felix had to come up with this incredible idea. He had to believe he could go where no human had gone before. He had to think he could actually
carry it out.

Imagination is the birth of everything. I sometimes wonder when God imagined green... fields and forests and blue... skies and sea.

John Lennon famously asked us to imagine that there was no heaven. He said it would be easy if we tried. I couldn’t agree more. Believing there is no heaven is easy. Yet, surely there is a flaw in being a dreamer if you imagine nothing there.

I always think that something far more difficult would be to imagine that there is a heaven and then trying to bring some of its realities to earth.

Imagine if the meek were blessed.

Imagine if humans loved their neighbours...or be even more daringly... loved their enemies.

Imagine if the first in our world were last and the last in our world were the first.

Imagine all of that happening here in earth.

These are the things that Jesus came to help us imagine not only in his words but in the ways that he interacted with others.

So today over coffee what will we talk about. Where will our imaginations take us. Could a really short sentence like “I think I’d
like to sky dive from 24 miles above the earth” change the world, for
ourselves, our neighbours and even literally... the world.

Maybe it is, “I am going to imagine being friends again.”

“I am going to imagine that habit dealt with”

“I am going to imagine clean water and education for every child in the developing world”

“I am going to imagine the peace walls, in Belfast, removed”

“I am going to imagine poverty being made history.”

I am going to imagine... It is what Jesus was on about when he taught his disciples to pray “thy Kingdom come thy will be done on earth as in heaven.”

Ah, Mr Lennon, the need to imagine heaven to bring peace on earth. That’s a sky dive! What if?


NY 23
"May we rock with raucous revelry
When we're touched by love and hope
And may we roll into irrational resilience
When changes compel us to cope


"Happy" New Year doesn’t cut it. It lacks. It is too wispy. Shallow even. It all depends on the right lining up of happenings.

Life doesn’t often line up. At least not the way we long for it. Oh there will be happy moments in 2023. 

Your team will win. 

You will get a nice surprise. 

There might be a romantic sunset kiss. 

You will read that stimulating book on a warm beach. 

The recipe will work perfectly and everyone will say so. 

That ski slope will be the perfect speed. 

A five iron to three feet. 

A wedding. 

A new baby. 

I wish you all these kinds of happy moments.

BUT… I yearn to wish you more than that.

There will be moments in 2023 that will be far from happy. 

Life will not be lined up. 

Indeed it will be cracked, anxious and sore. 

Finding yourself on the outside. 

The betrayal. 

The broken relationship. 

The lost job. 

The natural disaster. 

The tragic news headline. 

The shock diagnosis. 

The long surgery and precarious aftermath. 

The death of a loved one. 

The ongoing grief. 

2023 will not be all happy. It will have its sadness. It is into all of the blend and blur of life’s twists and turns and rollercoaster of ups and downs that I want to find a word to greet you with. Those might be the most crucial moments. 

I am dissatisfied with "Happy" New Year. It will not cut it. It is not robust enough. Not deep enough. It is just not enough.

What is enough? 

My biggest lesson and most preached mantra in recent years has been that WITH is the most important word in theology. That the BEING WITH of the baby Jesus is what God is all about. Emmanuel - God with us.

May you be loved in the New Year. 

May you have someone to cheer your team winning with in the New Year.

May you have someone to taste that perfect recipe with in the New Year.

May you have an ear to listen to your innermost in the New Year.

May you have a hand to hold no matter what in the New Year. 

May you be loved in the New Year in the happy moments and all the rest of the time too!

May it be an Emmanuel New Year!

"May we rock with raucous revelry
When we're touched by love and hope
And may we roll into irrational resilience
When changes compel us to cope


Bert Funeral

(my script to day for my Uncle Bert's Tribute at his Thanksgiving Service)


Robert McMeechan Stockman was born on November 17th 1932 to Bobby and Annie Stockman, followed 2 years later by a brother Samuel. He was Bertie to Iris, dad to Alan, brother Bert to Sam and Uncle Bert to me.

The cottage in Galgorm was the centre of the universe and there were tall scary tales told of a happy adventurous childhood. Bert falling through ice is a legendary story and perhaps most frightening one on the edge of my memory. 

Both he and Sam climbing on a parked delivery cart outside the cottage when the horse bolted another scary one, Sam taking a jump before Bridgend Bridge and Bert hanging on until the horse turned and ran out of steam on a hill. 

I can only imagine his dear mother’s worry because as my carer as a child she was a woman who might called over protective. I am surprised the boys were ever allowed out again but the Maine River and the Castle grounds were ever a fun, if precarious playground.

Vocationally Bertie was a carpenter and worked in the Braid Water Mill where brother Sam was an accountant. Working there he met Iris Cherry from an Old Testament tribe from Carnlea. After they got married on St Patrick’s Day 1966 Iris dragged Bert away from home, ten feet over the wall where he built a house for them.

From then it has always been Bert and Iris. They were mostly together. 56 years. I’d like to take this opportunity to thanks Iris for how she kept those wedding vows of ‘in sickness and in health’. For her love for Uncle Bert and indeed my own parents in their later life. Bert and Irish were my rock when dad went into care. Iris you have been amazing. Thank you. 

My earliest memories are the very happiest times with my Uncle Bert. I remember sitting with him on the foundations of that house. I remember his MG car and his love of Leeds United who were good then. Uncle Bert was the first person that I knew that I wanted to always be with. He had a posture that was warm and humorous. As a child you assume that your parents love you. Uncle Bert was the first person that I knew loved me. Yes, he probably spoiled me!

In most of those early memories I picture Bert in his work clothes. He had the coolest pair of carpenter dungarees. It had a slot in the leg for his carpenters ruler. When you are 2 or 3 that ruler is magic in itself never mind then putting it in your trousers. Since as long as I remember I have been obsessed with denims. I have worn them almost every single day since I left home. It’s why I had to give up golf. My only concession to dressing up is wearing black denim. I got married in denim and am wearing denim today. This week I trawled that all back to Uncle Bert’s dungarees. To being like him.

In 1973 Alan arrived and Lassie! Into my teens I loved the Sunday afternoon tradition to visit Galgorm and spend time with Bert, Iris and Alan. Iris made porridge for my cousin Paul Reid and I many a Sunday.

Bert took a career change and became a teacher. I remember thinking that was a brave move. Again admiration. I think he did his teaching practice in the Academy and I again loved having him around even for just a wee while. He would eventually spend most of his teaching career in Ballee High School where he’d be a colleague of my cousin Sharon. 

In retirement, Bertie got a new lease of adventurous life. Cousins in America the result of the amazing Grannie Lizzie’s three families found Polly Bragg and Jim Nixon enticing him across sea and land. With Carol and Davy Montgomery, Bert and Irish loved their road trips meeting family and seeing the sights. Bert loved showing me the photos and telling me all about the family tree, some we got to spend time with in Seattle when we were on sabbatical. 

The research took a turn when the aforementioned Granny Lizzie was discovered to have been the mother not sister of one of the leaders of the tree. A child out of wedlock in Ahoghill in the middle of the 19th century would have been quite the story. Uncle Bert wasn’t sure that I the minister in the family should hear the story but Lizzie in a strange has became my hero. At this particular time of year I think of her and the gossip she had to suffer and it helps me understand some of what Mary was going through in Nazareth. Different circumstances of course but same gossip. 

I got a message just yesterday from one of my congregation telling me his sister worked with Bertie in Ballee and remembered him as a lovely man. Without question that is what My uncle Bert was. A lovely man. A gentle man. I never heard of him saying a bad word about anyone. 

He was very understated in his life. I saw more elaborate houses built in the 60s than the one he built. No big fuss when he turned 90 last week, just a Chinese with Iris. You wouldn’t say extravagant.

BUT these last days I have disagreed with myself. Bertie Stockman was understated in the right things and extravagant in the right things. The apostle Paul speaks of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…”  as the fruit of the Spirit. My uncle Bert was all of those to me. I experienced them in his company. Extravagant goodness of personal faith lived understatedly. 

On Saturday I got to say goodbye to my Uncle Bert. We didn’t use the words but I think we both knew. I read Isaiah 43 with him:


But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze. 

For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
    Cush[a] and Seba in your stead.

Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
    and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
    nations in exchange for your life. 

Do not be afraid, for I am with you;


I told Bert how I had stopped wishing people a Happy New Year because God doesn’t promise to fix everything but he does promise to be with us whatever we go through. I told him that I hoped he knew God with him here in his hospital bed. He whispered “I do”. As we said goodbye I leaned in and said I love you Uncle Bert”. "Me too” he whispered. I’ll be ever grateful for those moments BUT even more grateful for the 61 years of influence and love of my Uncle Bert. 



After his family had laid Ivan Stockdale to rest yesterday morning, hundreds of us met in First Antrim Presbyterian Church to give thanks for a life that had touched us all very deeply.

I was assistant minister in First Antrim from 1986 to 1991 and just as Rev Dr John Dixon mentored me in how to be a minister, Stocker mentored me in youth work. Indeed, I cannot imagine that when I moved on from Antrim in 1991 I would have done so to become Youth Development Officer for PCI in the Republic Of Ireland had it not been my five years with Stocker. 

By the time I got to Antrim Stocker was running a youth club and mentoring leaders like I had simply never seen before. There were hundreds through Friday night club. At the end of the year there was a ten day camp. He was 50 when I arrived but there was no stopping him and after a short break, actually while I was there, he returned and was still going to the annual Youth Club camp into his 80s!

Those camps were memory makers and also had an an enormous impact on young people. I am not sure my boss JD was keen to lose me for 10 days a year to go to camp but Stocker convinced him and I had the utter privilege of being at Teignmouth in 1988, Cromer in 1989, Edinburgh in 1990 and Bournemouth in 1991. I spoke at the first and last, fell in love with Janice at the second and am still feeling wet through from the third. 

Speaking to Ivan’s family yesterday, I came to reflect that I had never heard him say a bad word about anybody nor had I ever heard anyone say a bad word about him. There are very few people in your life that you can say that about.

I will always remember him as a man who held a strong evangelical faith but held it without judgement and a love that was not just passive but dynamically active. His house was open to whoever and the whoevers were often the marginalised young people of Antrim who needed some love and belonging. No one was a hopeless case to Ivan and his wife Heather. They had such deep compassion and patience. They were great listeners. Everyone was invited into the love of Jesus.

I preached last Sunday about how John tells us that “the word became flesh and moved into the neighbourhood”. I shared how an image dominated age means that anyone under 50 probably uses the subjective side of their brain much more than they do the objective. That means that people need to relationally experience God’s love more than they need to hear it preached or read it on a page. Word made flesh. Less words, more grace. Stocker was a perfect example of the skill of this modern day, and actually Jesus day, sharing of God’s amazing grace. 

My favourite story is one that Stocker loved telling about me. It was  Boxing Day 1989. Youth Club decided to have a game of Rugby. I was still pretty close to my peak athleticism and played scrum half on one side. At a scrum we were almost across the line when I picked up the hall and darted the three yards to score. As I went over the line, Stocker recalls with my face beaming, a 54 year old man hit me like a train and all was lost. He was so competitive and loved that moment. He told it with eyes glinting and that Stocker chuckle. I was telling it to his grand nephew James and grand niece Amy. James then told me that Stocker had told him it not once but twice a few weeks back!

It’s thirty years, half my life ago, since I worked with Ivan Stockdale. It was a wonderfully long day yesterday chatting to all of those in First Antrim who I hadn’t seen since. My father-in-law Bryan was Ivan’s oldest friend. His sister is a special member of Fitzroy. I love all the connections but the greatest will be remembering him vividly sitting beside a troubled young person on a Friday night sharing that deep non judgemental love. That example of Jesus, the word made flesh, is what I am hearing as I lean into this adventurous and committed life to find clues as I continue to live my own.


Stocki  Marty and Justin

photo Bernie Brown


It did not seem over profound, as is the style of the man, but Justin Welby, The Archbishop of Canterbury preached an awesome sermon at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II.

Give me a minute and we will come to that.

This past February we had the privilege of having Justin Welby at the 4 Corners Festival. I was given the not at all onerous task of entertaining the Archbishop for a few hours.

We called in at the Dock Cafe in the Titanic Quarter. As we did a customer behind us recognised Justin. We were ushered to our reserved seats and had some lunch. As we were leaving I lost himself but when he caught up with me he told me how he had tracked down the customer who came in behind us. The man was struggling with a crisis of faith and Justin had given him a chapter in Luke to reflect on and prayed with him.

We moved on. The 4 Corners Festival Knitting event was taking place in Fitzroy. No one was expecting such a visit but when I walked in with the Archbishop of Canterbury one of my own congregation went as giddy as a 16 year old in 1964 might have gone a Beatle just walked in! She was passed herself. As we left Justin told me that his book about Christmas that Fitzroy had sent all of our congregation during lockdown in 2020 had been what she used through the grief of losing her husband. Hence the excitement of being able to thank him.

We finally reached the 4 Corners Festival Wonderful Wander. At its end while having coffee a former politician wanted to meet the Archbishop. He then thanked him for being a consistent opposition to the Tory government when opposition seemed weak or non existent.

Having finally left the Archbishop to his evening accommodation I surmised on the way home how in just two hours he had without any fuss or contrived effort been a pastor, prophet and evangelist in the most ordinary everyday ways.

I was drawn back to that Saturday afternoon as I surmised his sermon at Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral. Again, in the most ordinary of ways he was pastoral, prophetic and evangelistic. It was a sermon that drew near and reached far... very far!

The Archbishop showed his pastoral sensitivity as he brought his words close to those sitting in the very seats in front of him as he spoke pastorally, praying that God would heal the grief of the Royal Family and fill their void with happy memories.

Looking up and metaphorically across the world, to those world leaders down the Abbey, he then reached as wide as a preacher can to the ends of the earth. Beginning with The pattern for many leaders is to be exalted in life and forgotten after death...” He then pointed out Queen Elizabeth’s radical reign of sacrificial service. Those who serve, "will be loved and remembered when those who cling to power and privileges are long forgotten." He wasn't missing and hitting the walls of the Abbey here. Hundreds of heads of state got the preach!

The recurring thread holding it all together was Queen Elizabeth’s faith. Knowing who you follow is crucial suggested Welby. The who for Queen Elizabeth was Jesus, the way, the truth and the life as Prime Minister Liz Truss had just read from John 14. That faith brings hope as the Archbishop put it “The pattern for all who serve God – famous or obscure, respected or ignored – is that death is the door to glory.”

I surmised as a preacher the opportunity that such a sermon at such a funeral offers. A hurting family mourning a matriarch - be pastoral. The opportunity that so few ever get, world leaders are in the room - be prophetic. The entire world is watching - be missional.

And I was back walking alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury at the 4 Corners Festival in February. Remembering in action what I now heard in words. Powerful.



The mixed up confusion of the Irish story opened another chapter this week when the new King Charles III visited as the country mourned his mother Queen Elizabeth II.

It is agreed in most quarters that Sinn Fein played a public relations blinder. Using all their intentional charm Michelle O’Neill and Alex Maskey came across as King Charles’ new best friends, laughing and joking even at Jeffrey Donaldson’s expense as Jeffrey waited patiently to shake hands of a King he is supposed to be the loyal subject of.

Looking at the colder, more dutiful perhaps, engagements between Unionists and Royalty, there was a sense that Unionism is so out of step with 2022. 

Since Queen Elizabeth’s prophetic visit to Dublin in 2011, there have been many more symbolic gestures where the Royals have given clear indication of their desire for reconciliation in Ireland. This is a seismic statement of forgiveness in spite of the deep pain that they experienced with the loss of their beloved Lord Mountbatten. 

This is an intentional forgiveness. This is a hard thing. The Queen herself said, “It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.” Forgiveness needs the strength of God too. Such forgiveness is the central truth of the Gospel. 

This Royal mission has been visible for over a decade at least and yet what surprises me is that Unionists and Loyalists seem to be completely out of step with it. It is one thing having a wonderful gable wall sized mural of our monarch in a Loyalist area. It is quite another thing to be loyal in following her lead, doing as she does. 

That lack of loyalty to the Queen’s agenda is one of the reasons that Unionism seems out of step, out of time. A lack of grace and forgiveness and a continued attitude of ‘us’ and ‘them’ is not where the vast majority of the wider society is at.

If a Border Poll happens, and I am not sure it’ll be soon, then this is where Unionism needs to change. They need to find some of Sinn Fein’s political charm, to find warm engagement with those outside their own cohort that they will need to convince.

Sinn Fein need not cheekily grin and be complacent. There is no question that they did not put a foot wrong during King Charles III's visit and Alex Maskey's generous speech of condolences was a rub your eyes moment of change. Though the charm is noted, and they have reached across more bridges than most Unionists, they have work to do too. I have sat in a University Lecture Theatre and listened to Mary Lou McDonald try to convince Unionists how welcome they will be in a new Ireland and then days later watched her stand by an ‘English Out Of Ireland’ banner. Like murals on walls, actions speak louder than words!

And the big step. Forgiveness? As British Royals reach across the chasm of centuries of killing one another to seek new relationships with genuine gestures of forgiveness can Republicans start forgiving too. There have been more anti British, anti English and anti Colonial moments than Mary Lou’s banner. 

Forgiveness and reconciliation are the words that the British Royals, particularly Queen Elizabeth II, have purposely placed into our broken but beautiful place. The best way to honour her legacy would be to be about making her prayers for us all to come true. It might be where both Sinn Fein and Unionists need to find "the power of God's love" to help in any Border Polls!