Paul reflects on his friend and co-worker, Mary Rose Gibson, who died on 21st September 2023, after a short illness.

[This tribute was given at the “Friendship Club” at Kirkpatrick Memorial Presbyterian Church.]

Before I had even met Mary Rose, she gave me a gift.

An hour or two before my first staff meeting on Zoom, an anonymous text told me to check my front doorstep. Intrigued, I opened the door to find a neat package containing, as I would soon discover, the best chocolate brownies I had ever tasted.

It turned out they had been secreted there by my new (as yet, faceless) colleague, Mary Rose. Under the cover of early morning half-light, she made a covert op with her beloved Gerard, depositing sweet treats on doorsteps across East Belfast – no doubt committing all sorts of lockdown violations in the process!

That day I began to learn something fundamental about Mary Rose. Not just that she was an exceptional brownie maker, but that she was first and foremost a maker of community, an encourager, someone endlessly selfless and thoughtful. Her thoughtfulness that day helped welcome a new staff member who was anxious about getting to know colleagues without being able to meet in person. Her thoughtfulness brought a little bit of sweetness to those bitter lockdown days.

Most of you here will have sampled that sweetness too. Maybe not a chocolate brownie, but a pastoral visit, a note through the door, a well-timed phone call. In so many ways, Mary Rose cared for us all with her trademark kindness and compassion, qualities that made her a pastoral-care co-ordinator par excellence. 

Through her many creative initiatives here at Kirkpatrick – Golden Years, accessible services, Café Connect, to name a few – she helped us to discover what it means to be part of a church family. That is to say, we are not here to be served, but to serve one another in the name of Christ. Anyone who has ever organised events like these will know that it is often easier to do the work yourself. Involving others requires patience and energy, which not all of us have. But Mary Rose used these activities as an opportunity to build community. She helped people to see their value and to recognise gifts that they did not know they had.

Of course, we were not the only ones to benefit from Mary Rose’s encouragement and creativity. She was a faithful member of her home congregation of Belmont, serving as an elder, later as Clerk of Session, and most recently as Pastoral Care Co-Ordinator. And this is not to mention her wide and diverse group of friends, people from all sorts of different places and all sorts of backgrounds. Whether people of faith or not, Mary Rose’s openness, compassion, and the controlled strength of her faith helped all who knew her to encounter the love of Christ.

And she was a gifted preacher too, using her gifts at Belmont and at various other churches in her capacity as an Accredited Preacher and an Auxiliary Minister.

Only a few weeks ago, Mary Rose was telling me about a sermon she was going to be preaching at Stormont Presbyterian. Now, as I have said, Mary Rose was a gifted preacher. But she agonised over her sermons. And I think it is fair to say that, like most of us who preach, she was never entirely satisfied with the finished product. But on this occasion, she was uncharacteristically positive.

“I think this one is quite good,” she told me.

“What’s it about?” I asked.


We both laughed as she said it. The irony was not lost. But, you know, she was right. I was a good sermon. And not because of her dramatic flourish, though her manifestation of Dickens’ Uriah Heep was delightful. And not because of her meticulous study, though I did come away knowing more than when she had started. No, what made it so good was her own humility, her deep understanding that, in her words, “In ourselves we are nothing, but in God we are everything.”

As I have thought about Mary Rose this past week, I have realised that there is no-one I have spent more time praying within the last three years. And it occurred to me that, in all those Tuesday prayer times we shared, our most common prayer was one of thanksgiving for each other. Whatever the changing shape of the staff team with the different personnel who have come and gone, the common refrain of all our prayers has been to thank God for one another, to thank him for the friendship, the unity, and the love we have known as we have sought to serve him in this place.

That was a precious thing. And I am in no doubt that it was a special grace given to us by God through Mary Rose. It was she who helped us to remember and rejoice in our unity in Christ.

That’s why, in this past week, with all its tears, my most common prayer has continued to be thank you. Thank you, Lord, for the gift of Mary Rose. Thank you for my friend. 

I have mentioned one sermon of hers already. As I finish this tribute, I want to leave you with another.

The very last sermon Mary Rose preached, only a few weeks ago at Belmont, was very appropriately on the theme of encouragement.

“I feel very fortunate,” she told the congregation, “that in my own upbringing, I was continually encouraged, through home school and church life to do and be the best I could be. I feel I was encouraged not just by my parents, but others here within this church community to follow Christ, even when it can feel like an imperfect journey. And, of course, personally I have been very fortunate to find a calling (somewhat later in life, it has to be said) to pursue pastoral work and preaching. For me, it has been other people that have continually encouraged and affirmed these roles, saw something in me that I was not aware of myself.”

“The word encourage,” she continued, “means to give support, confidence, or hope to someone. The people who have encouraged me have given me all those things. And, particularly in times of doubt in myself, it is others who have kept me going, encouraged me to carry on.”

And then she asks us this question: “Can you remember a time, or times, when someone has encouraged you?”

The fact that so many of us will be able to answer this question by thinking immediately of Mary Rose is perhaps the greatest tribute I can pay to her remarkable life. She has supported us. She has given us confidence. And, most importantly, she has pointed us to the hope that is ours in Jesus Christ.

For this, I will continue to give thanks.