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!


Elizabeth in State

My mother died around lunch time on a Tuesday and we buried her on Thursday afternoon. I remember in my naivety saying that that was good because it meant that I could therefore preach on Sunday. 

Both my wife and my Clerk Of Session quickly reasoned that I had no idea about grief and that I should not only take Sunday off but the Sunday afterwards as well. I was glad of their wisdom and did not make the same mistake when my father passed away back in April.

Having experienced grief and understanding the need for time I have been surmising how we have treated the Royal Family and particularly the new King at this sad time of mourning Queen Elizabeth II. 

This afternoon in St Anne’s Cathedral, in Belfast, King Charles looked weary. I felt for him and said a wee prayer that he wouldn’t dose off. I saw Camilla glancing at him, a little concerned. 

Grief in itself is heavy and exhausting. Yet, in such grief, since his mother passed away King Charles has been quickly on television, being ushered in as King and then off back to Edinburgh for a Church service after a long walk up the Royal Mile. Today it was Belfast and he’s already flown back to meet his mother’s body arriving at Buckingham Palace tonight.

Now I know that there is protocol and that it all goes back centuries. However, there is time for change and I would suggest as a pastor that this is bad practice and perhaps a bad example to the nation. 

It would not have taken much for the nation to give the new King and his family a few days before all of the protocol kicked in. take the duty off his shoulders while he carries his mother's death in his heart. Just a few days to come to terms with what has happened to them before they think ahead to what they have to do next. 

Grief takes a long time and cannot be scheduled but those first few days are so important and difficult. All I am surmising is that we find a more modern and humane protocol at the death of a monarch than the one that we have moved into this time around.



Today is Suicide Awareness Day and two things fill my thoughts.

My first thoughts are with dear friends who lost their amazing son to suicide back in March. Without warning, without seeming reason, Daniel took his own life. To sense the daily pain of Daniel’s loss in the depths of his parent’s hearts has been heart breaking.

My second thought takes me to Rome. I am standing beside The Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica. 

My friend, Rab, had spoken to me about it a few years ago. Rab would describe himself as “relatively agnostic but interested in many aspects across religions” so when he shared with me how taken he was with the Pieta I took note and cannot thank him enough.

His wife was investigating the Basilica and Rab kind of drifted over and caught sight of the Pieta. It is the work of Michelangelo. A beautiful 15th century sculpture in marble, the Pieta depicts Mary holding her dead son, Jesus, in her arms. It moved Rab to tears. 

My experience was similar. We had met Pope Francis earlier in the day. I needed time to surmise that and all the things that he said. We went through the Vatican Museum and much as it was impressive I was still pondering the events in Pope Francis’ private library. 

Janice went off to marvel at the art and beauty of St. Peter’s. I was at a loose end and remembered - Rab’s Pieta. I found my good friend Fr Martin Magill and asked about it. He took me over to it and it was that same wow factor as Rab had experienced. 

We encouraged Janice over to join us and all three of us stood and wept. 

The theologically squeamish might shout, “It is not in the Bible.” No, it is not. That does not mean that between the cross where Mary stood watching her son die and the tomb he was laid in that she didn’t cradle his body.

However, fact is not the point. This is not theological. This is artistic. Whatever the facts, Mary did watch her soon die. She went through her valley of the shadow. She experienced that trauma. Michelangelo expresses that experience of Mary’s; beautifully, poignantly, painfully.

For Janice and I we were remembering our dear friends, Daniel’s parents. It is not the order of things for a parent to cradle their child’s body. Our friends experienced it. They said that they could have held him forever. Michelangelo captured their heartache.

Fr Martin recognised who we would be particularly thinking of. He added his own experience of far too many young suicides in west Belfast. Indeed just last night we attended a concert of Celtic Psalms performed by Kiran Wimberly and The McGrath Family, in St John’s on the Falls Road, in aid of the work going on in West Belfast to help families who have experienced loss and those who might feel suicidal.

All of our tears, as we stood before The Pieta, were deeply felt. Fr Martin suggested a prayer and I prayed for my friends and then all the other parents who had experienced what Mary went through. The love and sorrow that mingles. Again, this is something of the Gospel story that understands our humanity and our brokenness.

Let us today remember those who have taken their own lives and those they have left behind and make a contribution towards Suicide Awareness.


Donate to Suicide Awareness in memory of our friend Daniel HERE


Stocki beach with Jed

I thought I had lost my MOJO.

During the last year I had wondered if my days at Fitzroy were numbered. I wasn't sure what else I could do but I couldn't let a community of faith down by just going through the routines for 5 or 6 years. 

Maybe thirteen years was enough? Maybe I had given my all? Maybe all my ideas were done? It was a shadowy night of vocational soul.

Even returning last week. I remember the days that my last walk on Ballycastle beach was an evening of head bulging imagination and heart bursting excitement to get back. This year no so and I found myself scrambling for ways I could profitably see through my time.

Then... Then in one hour everything changed. I was in my late late night blog writing, imagining time. I started jotting down thoughts and after I had filled a page the head was bulging again, the heart bursting. The MOJO was back. Just like that.

How? I think I realised as I climbed the stairs for bed that I had missed the Covid impact on my vocation. It has disorientated me. I was a little lost. For the past two Septembers Stockman's imagining were curtailed by restrictions. Why plan? Nothing might happen. My vocational strengths and adrenaline release was clogged up with restrictions.

Now that I was much freer of restrictions, the MOJO ignited once more. Phew!

Covid is still there. It is not as dangerous as it was but some friends have suffered with it and many are suffering long after they had it. It is still serious inconvenience. It can cause people to miss tests and surgery and very important family and work events. Yet, there is. different sensibility of liberty to this September than the last two..

However, even in our freedom I would call for caution. Covid has had its impact. We have no idea how? I had no idea about its role on my loss of MOJO. My job was so different in these past two years. Everyone's has been. Make no rash decisions based on them. It will take time for us all to untangle the knots of Covid and get back to a new normal. Let us be gentle on ourselves and one another as we do.




A service to reflect on the pain of the Troubles and hope for the future.

St. Anne's Cathedral

June 21, 2022 - 11.30-12.30


A number of years ago Healing Through Remembering created the idea of a Day Of Private Reflection on June 21st, the longest day, every year to honour the people who were killed in the conflict in and about Northern Ireland or affected by it in any way.

This year all are welcome to join us for "Courage to Lament", an ecumenical service at St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast. Using the biblical practice of lament, this service will offer a space to reflect on the conflict in and about Northern Ireland and the future that is before us. It will seek to create a space to acknowledge our deep pain and hurt, to reflect on what we might have done or might still do, and to commit ourselves to ensure such suffering and loss never happens again.



I was delighted to read about Justin Hayward’s OBE in the Queen’s Jubilee Honours’ list. Not before time!

I have been a fan for almost 45 years. Having fallen in love so many times in my teens to Nights In White Satin I explored the Moody Blues music. It so happened that two of the band Justin Hayward and John Lodge had a huge hit with Blue Guitar and so as a 16 year old I asked for their Blue Jays record and Hayward’s solo album Songwriter. 

Not long after I declared in an English essay that if I could be anyone else in the world it would be Justin Hayward, a big deal considering I was an obsessive Beatles’ fan, City were challenging for League titles and I kind of looked in the mirror hoping to see Fonz from Happy Days. 

I chose Hayward because he was a rock star but less recognisable than George Harrison and could probably still live a reasonably normal life, yet with all the artistic success and not a little wealth. I have no idea what mark Mrs Sloan gave me but I enjoyed the essay. It was probably one of my first efforts at writing about music.

I became a huge fan of the 7 Moody Blues albums with the classic line up. On almost all this records, my favourite songs were Hayward compositions. He has a way with a melody. So accessible. Like Paul McCartney that gift of the catchy can lead to criticisms of sentimentality but neither genius should be dismissed.

I loved the way Justin and the Moodies could talk big world issues… take Questions for example - 


Why do we never get an answer

When we're knocking at the door

With a thousand million questions

About hate and death and war?

When we stop and look around us

There is nothing that we need

In a world of persecution

That is burning in its greed


But also touch the introspective. On Moving Mountains I hear the heartbeat of faith and love -


The wind on the water seems

To whisper soft in my ear

The call of the ocean

Across the waves I can hear

Don't be afraid of the world

Let me take you by the hand

We can move mountains.


In recent months I have rediscovered Justin Hayward once again, reading Marc Cushman’s book Long Distance Voyager Volume 2 discovering the later Moodies’ records and giving more time to Hayward’s solo work. I have also come to appreciate what a great guitarist he is.

The Moody Blues are not the critics favourites. They took longer than most to be inducted into The Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame. You won’t see Mojo or Uncut doing their special magazine of the band. It has taken until now for the Queen’s Honour’s List to come calling. The Beatles got theirs in 1965.

That however was probably why I was writing about how I’d rather be a Moody than a Beatle in that essay in 1978.

So well done Justin. Well deserved.


Robb Elementary

In June 1998 I was in Nashville for the wedding of friends David Dark and Sarah Masen. As I was there over the weekend I was asked to preach at Downtown Presbyterian.


What would you like me to preach on?

What about telling us what it is like to live through the Northern Ireland Troubles? 


As I was pondering what to say I read an article in a local Nashville paper that The Presbytery of Nashville was encouraging their ministers and elders to hand in their guns. 

I had never heard anything so disturbing. I began to imagine a scenario, any scenario, where Presbyterian elders and ministers in Ireland had guns. It was frightening. I was able to get up on the Sunday morning and suggest that even though guns had destroyed our wee country for 25 bloody years that we at last were taking the guns out of our society. America was a much more dangerous society than ours, I suggested.

These last days I am heartbroken again at the news of another gun massacre of children at school, this time in Uvalde, Texas. In my job I have sat with parents who have lost children. It is not the natural way of things. It is viscerally heartbreaking. Parents are never the same again. Nineteen dead children. Two dead teachers. A dead eighteen year old killer. Seventeen injured. It beggars belief. It needs our prayers. And, sadly, it is not an isolated incident.

Listening to the polarisation about guns and gun control in America has bruised my heart even more. It is so difficult for us outside of America to comprehend the attitude towards guns and so I have found myself resisting throwing the trite Tweet into a debate that I simply cannot comprehend.

I have found myself being very grateful that in our own broken land with all of its unique disfunction and mostly outdated ideologies that at least I live in a place where eighteen year olds cannot easily purchase and carry guns; a society that feels the safety of tight gun control.

I am grateful that when an attack took place in my wife’s old school, Sullivan Upper, in 1994 that our gun laws prevented the attacker having such deadly weapons. He had to resort to a flame thrower and though tragically a few students were seriously burned, none were killed. One can only imagine what might have been. Gratitude!

Sadly, as I have surmised the American gun debate this week, I have to set lament alongside my gratitude. As America responds this week I have come to pray that God can give me resilience for the inevitable heartaches to come. Open hearts are prone to breaking. I cannot switch my emotions off or grow cold to news of innocent children being gunned down. I ask God to help me as we tragically respond to more places that will be added to Uvalde, Columbine, Sandyhook, Virginia Tech… 

God have mercy.


Melanie CP

Janice and I are so heartbroken at the passing of our friend Melanie Clark Pullen.

Melanie taught me a couple of BIG things.

The first was in a restaurant in London when she was literally a megastar. Millions of people watch Eastenders! Who knew. We did when Melanie, who had been on Eastenders for maybe a year, met up with us for. meal in Wimbledon. To watch an entire restaurant watch our table was eye opening. This was a level of fame I had never moved in the midst of. 

People staring, then approaching the table with various mad notes. If I remember correctly, one was to tell her producer of an idea some randomer at the neighbouring table had for a film. 

Melanie was learning the ropes of celebrity and it was tricky. We took her to Greenbelt and spent a lot of time in the Guest Area where people usually know how to deal with fame. Again I was amazed at the response. 

Melanie of course did it all with a great sense of humour. She told us about being in a wine shop and the manager following her round the store before looking her up and down and saying, “Are you…” Just as Melanie was about to say “Mary Flaherty, yes I am” the woman continued “over 18. Could I see ID!!!” 

Melanie only did 18 months on Eastenders and there were no doubt repercussions at reaching such fame so soon. Though she acted in many other things, check out The Railway Children, she returned home to Ireland and lived a quieter life with her husband and children writing and creating as Strut And Bellow.

How fame can impact a life is not the best lesson I learned from Melanie’s life though. 

I was an introverted 30 year old who had just moved to Dublin in 1991 to work as Youth Development Officer with the Presbyterian Church. About six months later I was invited to speak at a Scripture Union weekend at Ocova Manor in Avoca. A special place for me ever since!

Anyway, I was taking a bus with all the school kids who were going to the weekend. I got on in central Dublin and found a seat. No one paid much attention. 

We then made a stop at Glen Of The Downs just south of Dublin and a clatter of other young people got on. One of them immediately saw the shy old man up the back and came over and introduced herself. “Hi, I am Melanie. You must be Steve.” That smile!

The ice was broken and Melanie led me into the middle of a gang of late teens that it was an utter delight to be with for a few exciting days. I will never forget that kindness. Or courage. I have just loved Melanie ever since.

I haven’t seen her in a while. Janice and I have followed her illness and were so sad to see that she had lost her brave fight. We will remember many great times. Arklights in that same Ocova Manor where her acting skills were honed. Shared excitement at her Hello feature on Christian Aid's work in Tanzania.

Later she came to Fitzroy now and again and one night showed her Award winning short film Marion agus an Banphrionsa and her husband Simon Maxwell sang a song or two. We had a fantastic afternoon back in 2013 with two sets of kids in Bray. Trampolines were order of the day.

In these recent years she taught us how to battle cancer with resilience, honesty and dignity, ever reaching to help others.

It was always good to see Melanie. That beaming smile was radiant and positive. It was the same smile as that first one on a bus driving through Wicklow. I was the speaker at a weekend and the young girl over a decade younger ministered to me!

That's the Melanie Clark Pullen that I will best remember.


Smith and Rock

Will Smith punching Chris Rock at the Oscars after a joke that Rock made about Smith’s wife has been the talk of the Gossip Columns. This week he has apologised. 

Smith's apology is clear - “I would like to publicly apologise to you, Chris. 

There is a certain amount of repentance - I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be.

He understands the ripple effects - “I would also like to apologise to the Academy, the producers of the show, all the attendees and everyone watching around the world. 

My wife is keen to know if Chris Rock has apologised. It seems that he did but now no one is quite sure if it was actually him.

There will be debate about who was in the wrong and whether apologies are needed or indeed whether Smith’s apology is too much too late and whether it was forced by what the Academy might sanction him. I would surmise that both Smith and Rock did need to say sorry.

Whatever the discussion it raised a couple of issues for me in a Sunday morning sermon based on Jesus words about confession and forgiveness in his teaching about prayer - “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”.

These are the difficult words in The Lord’s Prayer. They take courage. Some will say that to ask people to forgive is like adding guilt to their pain. I suggest that it is offering them a bottle of tablets that will remove their pain. Jesus seems certain that forgiveness heals. No matter how hard the bitter pill is to swallow it takes away our trauma. 

Back to Will Smith. My first thought is about how we deal with public confession. I remember a few years ago a local Belfast politician apologised and was quickly admonished by his party. Politicians are not quick to apologise. Is that a result of the forgiveness they would or wouldn’t receive? 

The apostle John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). God responds to our ‘sorry’ with forgiveness. Does our societal forgiveness? Or will Will Smith face the same backlash whether he had said sorry or not? 

If public confessions are not forgiven then it will dissuade apologies. Our communal lack of forgiveness might make us all complicit in the lack of public apologies!

In this sermon on forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer I also came to realise how crucial confession and forgiveness is to living the life in all its fulness that Jesus offered.

At the heart of God’s story of salvation history was a breakdown in relationships. There in the beginning there are broken relationships - with God, with fellow humans, with creation. The Jesus event was God coming to earth in human form to put those relationships right. To forgive. To restore. 

This is why in his letter James writes about confession, forgiveness and healing - “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed (James 5:16). Healing at its most profound and vital is in the ridding our souls of guilt and the cause of broken relationships. Healing is in the reconciliation. 

It is one thing to discuss this in the light of Will Smith punching Chris Rock. It is another to speak of it in the light or indeed darkness of the war in Ukraine. National post conflict reconciliation is crucial but takes longer. It always should be the goal. Our personal conflicts might be quicker if we live the way of Jesus. Whatever, I think Desmond Tutu gets it right when he says, “Without forgiveness there is no future”.