Craigavon Area Hospital Stairs

img_0050My pastoral work involves me climbing the stairs in Craigavon Area Hospital on a regular basis. They remind me of how weak my body really is. When visiting in the wards, I try to follow the recommendations of all the health gurus, and forsake the lift in favour of getting some extra exercise by using the stairs. By the time I get to Level 2 – the coronary care ward – I often feel as though I should be admitted. If I make it to Level 4 in one effort, I need to pause to regain my breath. When arriving at the desired level out of breath, one of the the best strategies I have used is to appear to be extra fastidious about applying the sterilising hand gel at the ward entrance and use that moment to recover.

It’s interesting to note the different behaviours adopted by people on the stairs. Some younger people are energetic “inside trackers” who hold the hand-rail and bound up or down two stairs at a time, and in the interests of personal safety, one needs to allow them the space they need. Other older folks move more hesitantly, giving way to anyone carrying a file or with a stethoscope around their neck. And some are seriously committed to their superstition of never passing on the stairs and wait patiently for the opposing traffic to clear before attempting to make it to the next landing.

I note these behaviours because there is little else to interest me in those minutes it takes me to make it up the stairs. I was wondering if some creative hospital manager could use the stairwell more creatively to communicate essential information about the hospital or about good health practices. At least that would mean that if I arrived at a landing slightly out of breath, I could pause and appear to be intelligently consulting a poster or looking at a picture. All I can do right now, as I pause out of breath, is to look rather sheepishly at my fellow travellers on the stairs and say something inane like “It’s a quare climb, isn’t it? You’re ready for a bed yourself when you get to the top.” Maybe I should start a campaign: “Make the Hospital Stairs More Interesting”?

Inevitably, I as come down the stairs after my visiting my people, I thank God for the strength to be able to use the stairs, and I pray that soon those whom I have visited may be renewed and restored so that they too may be able to walk down those stairs on their way home.


dsc01694It’s been one of my favourite places for many years. Patricia and I were members of the CSSM team there in the 1970s, and friendships formed back then have lasted a lifetime. This Easter the weather was really quite good and we enjoyed the mixture of sunshine and breeze. The wee train was running from the Giant’s Causeway to Bushmills and the path above the beach was well-populated. It seems that every time we went out for a walk we met  some friends we hadn’t seen in a while.  It was altogether invigorating and refreshing.

There is something about this stretch of coast that makes it relaxing and enjoyable. As one of our friends said when we met her on Easter Monday, “I seem to relax the moment I arrive here.”  I don’t believe in “holy ground”, but I do acknowledge that there are geographical locations which have a place in our memories, experiences and affections which makes them special. Portballintrae has to be near the top of my list.dsc01695

The big change this year is that the new Village Hall is nearing completion. Now there will be a facility which should help to foster a sense of community spirit. This new space offers a hall, a meeting room, a kitchen and even the possibility of a shop. It is, by all accounts, a “green” building, with what seemed to me to be sods of earth on top of the roof. Will some local resident risk taking their lawnmower up there to cut the grass?  I’m sure someone will tell us the environmental value of such a construction.

In the meantime, the sod-covered roof may provide a talking-point for those who often sit in the car park in Portballintrae, but only when they get bored with the majestic view of sea, sky and sand across to Runkerry.


I have been outed

I have been experimenting with this blog for a couple of weeks, but when I went “live” last weekend, I didn’t think that many people would notice. After all, my primary goal was to create a way by which I might keep in touch with those people who are members of my own congregation. I haven’t actually set aside my regular pastoral responsibilities yet, but as our transatlantic friends say, I’m “missing you already”.

But the word is out. I am a blogger. And apparently some important people have noticed! Can you believe it, I have even made it on to “Talkback”, our local BBC Radio Ulster programme, to talk about blogging?

Lest some sane people out there think I have lost it entirely, let me quote my friend, Dr Carl Trueman who succeeded me as Academic Dean at Westminster Seminary, and who has been known to inhabit the world of cyberspace from time to time. Here are Carl’s apposite comments from the Reformation 21 blog:

Well, the virtual world is new but it is here to stay; and it will no doubt continue to shape human behavior and self-understanding. We cannot ignore it but neither should we simply allow it to dictate to us who we are and how we think. Thus, we must teach people by precept and example that real life is lived primarily in real time in real places by real bodies. Pale and pimply bloggers who spend most of their spare time onanistically opining about themselves and their issues and in befriending pals made up of pixels are not living life to the full; nor are those whose lives revolve around videogames; rather they are human amoebas, subsisting in a bizarre non-world which involves no risk to themselves, no giving of themselves to others, no true vulnerability, no commitment, no self-sacrifice, no real meaning or value. To borrow a phrase from Thoreau, the tragedy of such is that, when they come to die, they may well discover that they have never actually lived.
For myself, I rejoice that I grew up before the web and the videogame supplanted the real world of real friendships, real discussions, real lives. I did not spend my youth growing obese and developing Vitamin D deficiency in front of an illuminated screen, living my life through the medium of pixels. However she does it, the church should show this generation of text and web addicts where real friendship and community lie, not with some bunch of self-created avatars on Facebook but with the person next to them in the pew on Sunday, with the person next door, with the person they can see, hear, touch and, of course, to whom they can talk, and who is created not in webworld but by the mighty Creator. And never, ever allow your church to go virtual so that people think that logging on to a service or downloading a sermon is really being part of the body of Christ. Of course, I write, as I indicated last month, as a self-proclaimed miserable middle-aged git. My instinct, therefore, is that things like Facebook, along with low-rider jeans, dances that involve the `splits,’ and sentences such as `It was like you know like totally awesome and stuff,’ are probably best left to the under-25s. Use these web doohickeys if you must; just don’t mistake them for real life, or the relationships that only exist there for real friendships.

Thomas Street Baptist Farewell

img_00532My Baptist colleague in Portadown, Pastor Clifford Morrison, has resigned from the pastorate in Portadown in order to take up a new charge in Carr Baptist Church. Clifford and his wife Margaret have served Thomas Street Baptist Church in Portadown for over 24 years. The picture shows Clifford and Margaret, along with the congregation’s two elders, Carl Sands and Raymond Pollock and their wives at the farewell service. It was a great evening of fellowship and thanksgiving, when a number of people expressed their appreciation for Clifford’s ministry in Portadown.  I was particularly pleased to be included in the service since Clifford had shown me such friendship when I arrived in Portadown. My Baptist brothers and sisters welcomed us so warmly. And the highlight of the supper afterwards was the rhubarb tart…simply delicious!

Two things struck me as I sat through the service. I was reminded of the sentiment expressed by the late Edmund Clowney of how wonderful it would be if those of us within the Reformed family could resolve our differences on the issue of baptism. In terms of soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) we are totally agreed that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, and is in Christ alone. The differences emerge in terms of ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church) and with regard to those whom we consider to be members of the church. Does the covenant of grace embrace believers only, or does it reach to their children? Did Christ ever intend us to come to such different answers to that question? In an increasingly secular community, we need to affirm what we share and believe in terms of the Gospel, rather than emphasising the issues on which we disagree. Let true biblical ecumenism flourish!

I was also thinking that 25 year ministries like Clifford’s are becoming less common. Many pastors starting out in the ministry “blow up” in the first five years, and others “burn out” before they have reached the twenty year mark. The attitudes, character and skills needed to survive in the ministry over the long haul are considerable. Leading and pastoring a Christian congregation can be a challenging and bruising activity, especially when contemporary Christians have such high expectations in terms of worship, preaching, church programmes and pastoral care. It seems that congregations of fifty years ago were less demanding, and had a lifetime commitment to a local church. There is a greater readiness today to change churches with the result that pastors are under pressure to be “successful” in terms of numbers, facilities and finances. And “unsuccessful” pastors feel the pressure to move on or even to resign completely from the ministry. If healthy churches are pastored by healthy ministers, then the church needs to pray and work so that there is a steady supply of suitably qualified and gifted ministers who can minister and serve Christ and his Church for a lifetime.

Well done, Tommy!

So Ireland have done it! It was such an emotionally draining two hours. The result was in doubt right up to the last kick of the match, and Paddy Wallace, who gave away the last penalty which Stephen Jones only marginally failed to convert, must be the happiest man in the world tonight. 61 years on, Ireland have done the Grand Slam, and are Triple Crown and 6 Nations Champions.

A major part of the success was due to Tommy Bowe who scored a majestic try against Wales. But for me the key moment of the whole tournament was his try-saving tackle against Scotland. It must put him in serious contention for a place in the Lions team for this summer