This morning I attended the funeral of former Belfast councillor Joe Coggle. I had first met him in the early 80s through the Save Our Schools campaign and he was already an established councillor when I was first elected in 1989. Initially he had been a DUP councillor but in later years he was an Independent Unionist.
Joe was one of the characters of the council, at a time when there were many characters on the council. He was a plain-speaking man and one who would always argue his case. I am sure that most of the councillors who served with him on the council can recall amusing incidents involving Joe.
At the service in Woodvale Methodist Church we were reminded of his devotion to his late wife Molly, to his family and also to his community in the Shankill.
The speaker was Rev Jim Rea, who was from the area and had known Joe for many years. I was especially interested to hear him speak of the fact that Joe and his wife had been converted many years ago at the Old Forge Mission Hall and had then attended a Pentecostal church in Nixon Street. In later years Joe had drifted away from the Lord but towards the end of his life he came back to that first faith in the Saviour.
Jim Rea presented the gospel very clearly, with reference to aspects of Joe's life as a bus driver, an AA man and a councillor. In the course of his message he spoke of an occasion many years ago when Joe worked as a bus driver and had driven a party on a visit to Ballyclare. The passengers spent some time in a public house and when it was time to drive them back to Belfast Joe had to go and get them out of the pub, telling them it was time to leave. They said they would only leave if he sang something and Joe duly sang The Old Rugged Cross. Apparently there was not a dry eye when he finished singing. We sang that lovely old hymn at the end of the service this morning.
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame;
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.
So I'll cherish the old rugged cross
Till my trophies at last I lay down,
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.
O, the old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
Has a wondrous attraction for me;
For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
To bear it to dark Calvary.
In the old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
A wondrous beauty I see;
For 'twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died
To pardon and sanctify me.
To the old rugged cross I will ever be true,
Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
Then He'll call me some day to my home far away,
Where His glory for ever I'll share.