Minister had ‘deep love’ of discovery

Rev Dr Stewart Jones
Rev Dr Stewart Jones

Paying tribute to the Late Rev Dr Stewart Robert Jones this afternoon, Wednesday, Rev Robert Buick, Clerk of the Derry & Donegal Presbytery, told mourners that his colleague’s deep love of finding out how things worked was manifest in every aspect of his life.

Speaking to the large and representative funeral at Donemana Presbyterian Church, where Rev Dr Jones has Ministered for the past 10 years, Rev Buick said Stewart Jones was “a big guy, not just physically, but mentally and spiritually”.

The late Rev Dr Stewart Jones

The late Rev Dr Stewart Jones

The oldest of three children, he grew up in Bessbrook, where he was a Scout and his passion for the outdoors and nature first showed itself.

Commenting on Rev Dr Jones’ intellect, he said friends of the former Newry High School pupil often joked at the number of degrees that Stewart acquired: “I counted at least six in his entry in the PCI directory of ministers, a student of history, his MTh was in the area of the history of Unionism, and his PhD a study of Middle Eastern history, one of the early impetuses for which was proving wrong a primary school teacher who told him that he would never be academic. This was combined with a deep love of finding out about things and how and why they worked which was manifested in everything from his love of history, his deep interest in computer hardware and software and interest in all sorts of machinery. He had a deep passion for God’s word and the publication he was most proud of was his Bible Reading programme, Through the Bible in 365 days, encouraging people to read the whole Bible in a year.”

Outlining Rev Dr Jones’ path into Ministry, he said Rev Dr Jones studied at Union Theological College and served as an assistant at McQuiston Memorial (East Belfast) where he was Ordained in 1983.

“He received a call to serve as minister of 2nd Castlederg in 1984 (with Alt 1984-87) at a time of many violent murders and empathised deeply with the ongoing suffering of so many families from earlier killings. He himself had been deeply affected as a teenager by the Kingsmill Massacre and the sight of so many coffins lined across Bessbrook Presbyterian Church. In 1990 he received a call to Kilcooley (Ards), where he served as minister until 2004, when he was called to the congregation of Donemana (Foyle). In addition to serving as minister of this congregation, Stewart was also Clerk of Foyle Presbytery from 2005-2009 and as Presbyterian Chaplain at Altnagelvin Hospital from 2010.

“Stewart was deeply committed to the need for society here to move forward and another pivotal time was his year as Moderator of Presbytery when he became deeply involved with the Churches Together project working with Bishop Ken Good (Church of Ireland), Monsignor Eamon Martin (Roman Catholic Church) and Rev Peter Murray (Methodist), particularly in the distribution of copies of Luke’s Book to every home within the city for the UK City Of Culture year. He was delighted to be involved in distributing some additional copies in the Donemana area with Rev Judy McGaffin and Father Eamon McDevitt.”

He said that during that year, Stewart and he represented Presbytery at the installation service in St Patrick’s cathedral, Armagh of Eamon Martin coadjutor Archbishop.

“Stewart also loved working with the other chaplains in Altnagelvin Hospital, who became valued friends as they met while visiting and shared in various services together. He was committed to the Irish Churches Peace Project in Strabane in recent months. I have personally received many calls and messages from ministers of many denominations, with whom he had come into contact, to express their sorrow at Stewart’s passing,” he said.

Turning to Rev Dr Jones’ global mission, he said: “He was deeply affected by a month spent working in Flanders, Belgium for Operation Mobilisation when he was 19 and spent much time trying to encourage his various congregations to be informed about missionaries and to pray for them. His interest in Africa grew over the years and a visit to Malawi in 2009 by Stewart and Patricia and 4 other members of Donemana Congregation was very special.

“A relationship was built with Mtunthama congregation and Stewart was deeply committed to their new church building programme and their orphan work. He was thrilled earlier this year when after the publication of cookery books and a praise evening we sent out money which was used to buy tin for the roof. On July 4 this year, Stewart cycled with many others in what has become an annual sponsored cycle for Malawi. The donations in lieu of flowers will also go to Mtunthama Congregation.”

He continued: “Jackson, an elder in the Mtunthama congregation, whom Stewart and Patricia met on their visit in 2009, has informed us that they had planned to start putting up the roof on the new church today but have chosen to postpone this until tomorrow and instead are praying with us and on Sunday they are to have a special service of thanksgiving for the life of the man who had Mtunthama at his heart.”

Touching on Rev Dr Jones’ personal live, he said that Stewart married Patricia Deakin in 1983 and God blessed their marriage with three children, Anna (married to David), Esther and Rachel (married to Liam), whom his colleague loved and cared dearly about.

“Patricia describes her husband as warm and loving and he had built special relationship with his two grandchildren, four-year-old Josh and four-month-old Lily. Josh’s first question on coming into the house was always ‘Where’s Granda?’ Stewart also often shared with me his ongoing concern for his mother and wider family circle. From Patricia stopped teaching and moved to work in IT from 2007, they have enjoyed travelling out of season and have had many special trips over those years. They broadened his horizons in so many ways as did his journey through life and ministry outlined above.

“Stewart confided in me that these holidays often had an underlying purpose however, for while Patricia enjoyed relaxing with a good book in the sun, Stewart tried to ensure that there was a good range of dive sites nearby. He had taken up diving some 15 years ago, and like everything Stewart did, he embraced this hobby with enthusiasm and vigour, encouraging his children to take up the sport,” he said, continuing: “A PADI and BSAC qualified instructor since 2011, Stewart was meticulous in his preparations before a dive and in the training of his students, there was never anything left to chance nor any corners cut. Hence it was with confidence that I trusted not only my own life into Stewart’s hands but also that of my two children, Aaron and Alison. He taught us all how to dive in recent years and continued our training in the sport he loved. The many tributes left by his diving friends and students on social media sites since Saturday bear testimony to the impact his life has had on those he regularly dived with.

Why the events of Saturday, July 12, at St John’s point in Donegal, on a fun dive, at a dive site he knew well, resulted in Stewart’s tragic death, we may never fully understand,” Rev Buick told mourners, adding: “The assistance offered that day to Stewart by passersby, the local coastguard, and members of the Irish helicopter rescue team and the consideration and compassion shown in the following hours by the staff of Sligo General Hospital, the Guards and especially by Rev Alan Mitchell, Presbyterian Chaplain at Sligo Hospital, are all very much appreciated by Patricia and the family.”