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Special General Assembly

April 13th, 2010


Today we held a Special General Assembly of our denomination to deal with the crisis surrounding the collapse of the Presbyterian Mutual Society. I believe that it was a good meeting with a good outcome. All the resolutions and the substance of the business can be reviewed here.

Following the singing of the metrical version of Psalm 121, this is what I said at the opening of the Assembly:

Many of you will know, and many of you will have used, the standard approach to prayer that we often commend to our children. We tell them that it is appropriate in prayer to use three words: Sorry, Thank you, and Please. I would like to use that formula for these opening remarks today.

First of all, Sorry. I am very sorry for all the distress and anxiety that this PMS crisis has caused to those of you who are savers in the PMS. To the savers who are present here today, both as members of this Assembly, and who are present in the public gallery, and to the many who are not here, I want to say how sorry we are for this awful situation.

I have received many letters, many emails and many telephone calls from people who have faced desperate situations as a result of the collapse of the PMS. Some have been angry, and some have been sad, and many have been distressed. Quite simply, as a church, we wish that this had never happened. The PMS collapse plunged this church into deep, difficult and unfamiliar waters, and we confess that we struggled to find a way forward. This was a completely new and unprecedented situation for our church. But we have all been in this together, and we acknowledge that it has caused so much grief and has put many people in very difficult circumstances.

Many have spoken about feeling isolated and abandoned by the church. I am sorry about that, and I hope that what we do here today will help you to realise that your church has not abandoned or deserted you.

As I have travelled around the churches this year, many people have spoken to me personally. They are not the type to write letters or make phone calls, but quietly they have spoken about their fears and their sense of desperation, as they have shared their stories with me. What has been said or written has not gone unnoticed. It has simply driven us forward with greater energy to seek a just and fair resolution of this crisis. We want you to know that we regret so much what has happened. We are not at the end of the road by any means. But we hope that this painful experience will not be prolonged, and that we will all be wiser and better people as a result.

Secondly, I want to say Thank you. Thank you to those of you who have remained patient and resilient through these past months, in spite of your pain and hardship. Thank you to all who have prayed about this situation, and thanks to those of you who as ministers and elders or just good friends, have sought to bring a word of comfort to those who have been worried and upset.

I want to say a word of thanks to the staff in the PMS office who have been on the receiving end of so many telephone calls. I regret to say that some of those calls have been nasty, aggressive and offensive, and unworthy of those who would call themselves Presbyterians or Christians. But thanks to you who have tried to keep going and have borne the brunt of people’s anger and frustration.

Thanks to the members of the General Board’s Panel who have met regularly to oversee this situation, and who have given good and expert advice. Thanks especially to the smaller group of advisors who have expended hour upon hour, and part of almost every day, in analysing the situation and devising appropriate strategies for us to adopt. I want to record my personal thanks to the two Johns, to George, Frank, and Ross, for their remarkable commitment and unflinching devotion to this campaign. Without your help and counsel we would have sunk without trace a long time ago. You have become firm personal friends and this whole church is indebted to you for the way in which you have used your gifts of heart and mind to work for the benefit of PMS savers. Thank you so much!

Thanks, also, to my predecessor, Dr Donald Patton, for his immense work in getting this issue on to the radar screen of those who needed to take action.

I want also to record my deep appreciation for the work which the Clerk of the Assembly has done during my time in office. It has been a demanding year for him and Fiona personally, and in the midst of those personal challenges he has been fully committed to resolving this crisis. We want to assure both you and Fiona of our love and prayers.

And thanks to those of you who have lobbied so hard, to those who have led the lobby groups, and who have kept us updated on all relevant publications and developments, and who have tried to give focus and direction to the frustration that we have all felt. Your work has been so valuable and so important.

Thanks, too, to all our public representatives who have championed our cause. All across the political divide, we have had people speaking for us and supporting us, and we have been so encouraged by that. And in particular, I want to thank the First Minister and the deputy First Minister for their hands-on support in seeking a resolution, as well as the committed work of members of their team of Executive ministers, especially in Finance and Personnel and Enterprise, Trade and Investment. We are grateful, too, to the Northern Ireland members at Westminster for all that you have said and done. We thank you, and we pray for you, as you continue to work on this and other issues.

Thirdly, Please. Please help us as we try to work our way through this situation. The PMS crisis has cast a long shadow over our church and its ministry. Please stay resolute and stay together. We are not at the end of the road yet. There have been so many false dawns and so many disappointments. That is why we are so hesitant about making any predictions. But until this situation is resolved, please remember, as I said last June, we are all in this together. I pray that more than anything God will use even this awfully painful experience to mature and develop our church into a powerful, united, loving and compassionate force for Christ on this island.

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