Independence Day Celebration


In a typical “Irish” way, the US Consulate General in Belfast had a celebration of the 4th of July Independence Day on 26th June. It turned out to be a glorious afternoon at the Consul General’s home at Shaw’s Bridge. Susan Ellis, the current Consul General, has served for three years in Belfast and this summer she moves to a new diplomatic post in Moscow.

Among the friends that we met there was the new Lord Mayor of Belfast, Naomi Long, a hard-working Presbyterian, who has gained much respect and support in our community in recent years. We wish her well in her new position as First Citizen of Belfast. She will bring much energy and enthusiasm to that job.

As you would imagine, we got round to discussing the recent situation with the Romanians in south Belfast, and the need for us to continue to work for significant changes in our community. I know that the Lord Mayor would endorse the sentiments expressed so well by Stephen Cave in this week’s Friday Night Theology article published by Evangelical Alliance.


It was also great to catch up with Peter McKittrick, a son of First Portadown Presbyterian Church, who does such a great job as Press Officer at the US Consulate.


Also present as regular attenders at this event were Rev Alan Mitchell and his wife, Doreen.

Ivan’s retirement

Ivan, Marlene, Alastair, Anne and me

My dear friend, Dr Ivan McKay, is retiring as minister of Dundonald Presbyterian Church after 13 years of ministry there. We had a great evening when tribute was paid to him by the Session Clerks from Brookside, Ahoghill and Dundonald, the two congregations which he has served in the forty years his ministry. I conducted worship at the beginning, and Dr Alastair Dunlop, Ivan’s life-long friend, chaired the proceedings.

There were also some well-chosen and humourous words from Rev Frank McKeown who recalled Ivan’s assistantship with the late Dr John Girvan in Bethany, and from Rev Drew McConnell on behalf of all the assistant ministers who have worked with Ivan. The evening was concluded by thanks and prayer from my senior colleague and predecessor in First Portadown, Dr William Craig, who, as he approaches his 91st birthday, is as fresh as ever.

Ivan’s ministry has been marked by a clear and enthusiastic commitment to reformed theology and a thoroughly biblical approach to church life. He is a superb preacher and a gifted pastor, who has encouraged me in my ministry ever since we served together in the Ballymena presbytery. Our best wishes go to Ivan and Marlene as they make the transition to retirement, and to a new chapter of ministry.

Father’s Day cupcakes

img_0110My thoughtful and creative eldest daughter gave me a different kind of Father’s Day present…cupcakes with a golf theme! It’s not that I am much of a golfer, but I appreciated the work she put into them and how well they looked. The most important thing is that the buns tasted wonderful and my enthusiastic indulgence will require a few minutes extra exercise this week.

Regular visitors to New York City will know that cupcakes are have been very popular and fashionable for some time now. No visit to Greenwich Village is complete without picking up a cupcake from Magnolia Bakery on the corner of Bleecker Street, although I must say that what my daughter produces is preferable in terms of overall taste and texture. But the variety and creativity of the cupcake bakers is remarkable.

All this got me thinking that this could be a new business opportunity for some energetic and gifted person. With Irish golfers, cricketers, and rugby players making the sporting headlines in recent days, what if some enterprising bakery could produce cupcakes that reflected the success of local sportsmen? In which case, we might have to hold fire on “A Lion’s Lunch” (an over-sized cupcake with red icing) or “Rory’s Hole in One” (a bite-sized cupcake that can be made to disappear in one mouthful) or even “McCallan’s Googly” (a cupcake full of surprising hot spices from the sub-continent). “Big Davy’s Delight” (a big calorie cupcake with unmistakable royal blue icing) could be a great favourite in all the Lisburn Road coffee shops around five o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. Although I have to admit it’s hard to imagine a middle-aged Blue man saying to his mate after a hard-earned draw against Cliftonville, “Are ye going to Roast for a cupcake?”

After this weekend’s display in Durban, I would be delighted if I could consume a dozen “Tommy’s Touchdowns” (sticky enough not to fall from your hands before being properly “grounded” in your mouth) before this Lions’ tour is over.

My first 100th birthday

img_0109_2One of the Moderator’s tasks throughout the year is to visit Presbyterians who have reached their hundredth birthday. Yesterday I had my first 100th birthday party with Winnie Agar, a member of Townsend Street congregation.

I must say that Winnie was amazing. She was clearly enjoying every moment of her birthday celebration and was talking and moving around, speaking to everyone. What a delightful time we had in Vara Drive with Winnie and her daughter, Iris. Winnie’s minister, Jack Lamb, was at the party, as was  Iris’s minister, Noel Agnew, plus neighbours and friends. The food was great, especially Jean’s pineapple creams. Happy birthday, Winnie!

The important first step

The decision on Wednesday by the Prime Minister to set up a working group to seek a solution to the crisis surrounding the PMS was a great relief for the many savers with the PMS. At last the government was accepting that it had a moral responsibility, if not a legal one, to get involved. It was an important first step towards a solution.

Tribute has to be paid to our First Minister and Deputy First Minister who represented the needs of the PMS savers so effectively. The fact that they were both so clearly committed to the issue did not go unnoticed by either HMG or the local electorate. I am so grateful for what they have done.

The question that has been raised is “Why should everyone else have to bail out a Presbyterian mutual society? Is it not up to Presbyterians to solve their own problem?” The short answer is that all of our taxes, including the taxes of Presbyterian taxpayers, are being used to bail out all the other financial institutions that got into trouble: the RBS, Northern Rock, Dunfermline, and British savers in the Icelandic banks. Why should Presbyterians be treated differently and be the only group of people not to be assisted?

The PMS could not insulate itself from the global financial crisis. If other people and institutions have been bailed out to the tune of many billions of pounds, then the PMS deserves to be helped. The First Minister, the Deputy First Minister, and now this week, the Prime Minister, recognised that fact.

We need to pray for the working group as it, under the chairmanship of the Secretary of State, goes about its task. The primary goal of any solution has to be to see that the totality of money belonging to those who placed their savings in the PMS is secured, as well as the credit balances of many congregations, as has happened in all the other financial institutions which have been caught up in this crisis.

It is also important to recognise the wider social and political issues which surround this crisis. I believe that the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has provided significant cohesion and stability in our community in the past, and a successful resolution of our current crisis will enable our church to continue to make a positive contribution in a number of important areas. In my address on the opening night of the General Assembly I tried to point out all the different ways in which PCI contributes to our community.

Along with our sister churches, the Presbyterian Church provides more youth work than the combined efforts of local councils and government agencies. Through uniformed organisations, youth clubs and youth fellowships, through summer camps and summer clubs, we serve a massive number of children and young people in our communities. In addition to that, there are lunch clubs, meetings and fellowship groups for the elderly. In education, we serve on school boards of governors and on our area education and library boards. All of this service is provided by volunteers.

In 20 different locations the Presbyterian Church cares for a great variety of people: from accommodation in Belfast for 88 students, to those needing nursing care in seven residential homes. Every night Presbyterian Church related agencies provide beds for 400 people. There are two centres for alcohol and drug addiction, one centre for ex-offenders, two supporting schemes for people with learning disability, and one centre recently taken over for people with severe physical disability. The church provides chaplaincy services to hospitals, to students, to prisons and to the armed forces, as well as a specialised ministry for the deaf. All of this is underpinned by the spiritual, financial and human resources of Presbyterians.

If the working group fails to come up with a solution that restores money to PMS savers, all of this work will be seriously affected. So the PM’s decision last Wednesday was just the important first step. We need the next steps to be taken soon.