It was with great shock and sadness that I had learned the tragic news of the death of Rev Stewart Jones last Saturday.
Stewart served as Presbyterian Minister in Donemana and hospital chaplain in Altnagelvin. Indeed over the last number of years I had gotten to know Stewart well through meetings, joint services and daily encounters on the wards and corridors of the hospital. He was a larger than life character who will be greatly missed by those who knew and loved him. On Monday I attended the hospital for the first time since news of Stewart’s death. In the admissions office I called to collect the chaplain’s list and looking through the folder I had to pause when I saw the Presbyterian chaplain’s list because the cruel reality of what had happened seemed to register in a deeply real way. Only a few days previously we had all gathered in the chaplain’s office for one of our regular meetings. As usual Stewart was his outgoing, honest and forthright self.
You were always struck by Stewart’s extensive knowledge, experience and his ability to draw from his many interests and loves. Widely read, Stewart loved history and always keen to share his learning. I remember sharing car a trip through the Sperrin Mountains as we travelled to attend the funeral of the mother of one of the other Chaplains. Through the length of the journey Stewart schooled me on the Presbyterian revival and the differences of the impact it had made on congregations East and West of the Bann. Fascinated as I was, there was only one problem, Stewart was driving and we ended up lost. Of course the extra half hour only served as an opportunity for Stewart to complete his history.
Listening to the sermon and tributes at Stewart’s funeral service on Wednesday afternoon was an emotional and moving experience. His death is certainly a tragedy for his family, parishioners and wider community. A loving husband, father and grandfather and deeply spiritual and dedicated minister of the Gospel, it’s difficult to come to terms with the reality why such accidents happen.
Returning from a dive Stewart and his companion got into difficulties in the waters off Saint John’s Point. True to his nature Stewart’s first concern was to save his companion by telling his fellow diver to save himself, leave him because he was done. Of course his companion refused to leave him but unfortunately Stewart died, yet even in his death he managed to reveal the values by which he had lived his life, namely reflecting the great love of Christ by putting the life of others first. On a weekend when you asked challenged by the mysterious nature of the Kingdom of God and God’s presence among us, there can be no greater testimony to the reality of God’ love than by the example given by the life and ministry of the Rev Stewart Jones.