A man with remarkable academic gifts, who loved life, people and the Lord, is how the Rev Stewart Jones, who died after a diving accident, was described at his funeral yesterday.
Rev Jones, a minister at Donemana Presbyterian Church, had been diving near St John’s Point off the Donegal coast when he got into difficulty last Saturday.
Moving tributes were yesterday paid to the popular clergyman who led a full academic, energetic and faithful life.
At the thanksgiving service, Rev Robert Buick, Clerk of the Derry and Donegal Presbytery and Minister of Carlisle Road and Crossroads Presbyterian churches, described Rev Jones as “a big guy, not just physically, but mentally and spiritually”.
“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,” he said to mourners.
Rev Buick told the congregation that Rev Jones was highly academic, having attained at least six degrees.
“He had a deep passion for God’s word and the publication he was most proud of was his Bible reading programme.”
Born in Bessbrook, Rev Jones was deeply affected as a teenager by the Kingsmills massacre and the sight of so many coffins lined across Bessbrook Presbyterian Church.
“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).
“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,” said Rev Buick, adding that he had received many calls and messages from ministers of many denominations expressing sorrow at Stewart’s passing.
Rev Buick spoke of Rev Jones’ global mission and his interest in Africa and particularly Malawi, where he visited with his wife Patricia and other members of Donemana congregation in 2009.
He built up a relationship with the Mtunthama congregation and was deeply committed to their new church-building programme and 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,” said Rev Buick.
Rev Jones had taken up diving 15 years ago and embraced his hobby with enthusiasm and vigour. He was a PADI and BSAC qualified instructor since 2011,
“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,” said Rev Buick.
Tributes were also paid to all who helped Rev Jones and his family on July 12, including the local coastguard and staff of Sligo General Hospital.
Rev John Hanna, Moderator of the Derry and Donegal Presbytery and Minister of Glendermott Presbyterian Church, said: “Stewart had remarkable academic gifts and intellectual abilities and he applied himself to use them well.
“Stewart had strong hands and a willing spirit, and he never stinted while there was work to be done under the hot sun in Malawi or under the dark clouds of Donemana, whether in the garden he tended so well or the field of God’s planting in the community in this village.
“Stewart would not suffer fools gladly, but neither would he shirk from the suffering and struggling, his best effort always focused.
“As Patricia put it: ‘Stewart loved life, people and his Lord’.”