The Water of Life

frozen-pipeWe have been well and truly hit by the big freeze. In spite of keeping the heat on all night in the house, today our water supply failed. After much activity with boiling water and a blow torch over every exposed piece of pipe, the plumber eventually arrived to diagnose the problem as a frozen mains pipe which has cut off all water supply to our 160 year old manse. Apparently all we can do is wait for the thaw!

In the few hours we have been without water we have discovered how dependent we have become on a continuous supply of water to our home. No showers, no baths, no water on tap for brushing teeth, no dishwasher, no washing machine, and worst of all, no flush toilets. Will we be able to survive? Of course we will, but it seems that this Christmas may be a little more basic and Victorian than we had expected.

I think the Lord has sense of humour. After our visit to Ethiopia in August 2009, I talked to children in many congregations that we visited about the importance of a having a supply of clean, fresh water. I asked the young people how many taps they had in their home and discovered that most homes in this part of the world were very well supplied. One boy in Co Tyrone claimed to have 17 taps in his house, and many had 10 or more. I then told them about a 15 year old girl we met in Ethiopia whose nearest tap was a 3 hour walk from her home and she had to make the journey every other day in order to get water for her family. How privileged we are to have not just one, but several taps in our homes!

So it seems that having talked about it, the Lord has decided that I need to share a little of the experience first-hand. So I’m bracing myself for a Christmas without a supply of running water. I expect I’ll have to make a daily journey to the church kitchen about a quarter of a mile away to replenish my water containers. In a few days, hopefully, the thaw will come and normal water supply will be restored. And in the meantime I will remember my friends in Ethiopia who would be so thankful if they ever get to have just one tap for their entire village.

Update on 28th December: This is now our 6th day without water. Still no mains supply! Maybe I should be praying for the staff and workers of NI Water?

Update on 29th December at 7.30pm: Water restored!! Thank you, Lord!

PMS update

newsnormal12The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Arlene Foster, has published a helpful article in today’s Belfast Newsletter which outlines the road map for the next few months in getting towards a final resolution of the PMS crisis. This will reassure savers that progress is being made and that the issue is receiving good attention from DETI.

Along with other church representatives, I met with the Minister yesterday, and we had a good meeting as we reviewed progress and discussed what the next steps would be in bringing this saga to a good conclusion.

This is the third Christmas since the PMS crisis and, as the Minister observes, procuring the solution has taken a lot longer than we imagined. But the signs are hopeful. Here is the full text of Arlene’s article. Continue reading “PMS update”

An Advent thought

My friend and former colleague, Carl Trueman, has posted some seasonal reflections on the reformation 21 blog. I like this thought in which he underscores the great biblical principle, “Salvation is of the Lord”.

The choice of Abraham, the choice of Isaac, the choice of Moses, the choice of David: in no case did God opt for the strongest or most powerful person in order to accomplish his purposes. He chooses the weak, the marginal, the exiled, the least in the social hierarchy, and thus the glory of their work is not theirs at all – it is his. Then, in the incarnation, we see the supreme example of the Lord using the most unpromising material to achieve his goal. A slip of a girl, a virgin, bears a child; he is born in a stable; he grows up in a minor town in a land of little importance, and that under foreign occupation; as an adult, he lives a life which, outwardly, has all the appearance of an itinerant of no fixed address; he eschews military force; and finally, betrayed by a close friend, he is beaten and crucified; and, even then, he depends upon the generosity of another for his tomb. Every step of the way, salvation is wrought by God, in contradiction of the expectations and standards of this world

Not only does God not regard our human hierarchies of power, wealth, health, and beauty; in the incarnation, he contradicts them.  Luther summed this up in terms of the theology of the cross, but that is too restrictive.  It is the theology of the virgin conception, the theology of the manger, the theology of the whole Incarnation.

Another step forward

Today’s announcement by the Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson, that the Executive will contribute £25m, equally matching a contribution from the Treasury, into an assistance package for the Presbyterian Mutual Society savers is to be welcomed. His assurance that ‘when the proposals are implemented this will put an end to the long nightmare faced by many PMS savers’ will be good news for all those that continue to suffer anxiety and despair.

This is another significant step forward and I would encourage everyone involved to make progress on the detailed arrangements as quickly as possible so that a fair and just resolution can be implemented as soon as the financial package can be accessed.

PMS savers continue to wait

PMS savers will be interested to see the questions which were put by Leslie Cree MLA in the Northern Ireland Assembly last week to Ms Foster, the Minister for Enterprise Trade and Investment with regard to the PMS. Clearly there is still some work to be done, although the First Minister, in spite of opposition, seems eager to get the budget approved before the Assembly goes for its Christmas recess next week.

What Ms Foster confirms is that the rescue package for the PMS is dependent on Executive, Assembly and EU approvals. That represents another series of hoops that need to be negotiated. We thought that having secured the support of the Treasury in making a loan available to the PMS that we were virtually home and dry. But not so!

We continue to wait, and my email in-box and post bag carries constant reminders of the anxiety and distress that this sad and tragic saga continues to inflict on PMS savers.

Mr L Cree asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment whether any collateral has to be provided against the UK Government’s loan to the Presbyterian Mutual Society. (AQW 2254/11)

Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment: Northern Ireland’s Reinvestment and Reform Initiative borrowing facility will be increased by £175 million in 2011-12 to facilitate a loan to the PMS administrator. The terms and conditions of any loan assistance to be made available by the Executive to the administrator of the Presbyterian Mutual Society have not been finalised.

Mr L Cree asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment when the £25 million pound from the UK Government and the Executive will be made available to the Presbyterian Mutual Society. (AQW 2255/11)

Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment: The Spending Review announcement on 20 October confirmed that the Government’s £25 million contribution to proposed Mutual Access Fund will be made available to the Executive in 2011-12. The Executive’s £25 million contribution to the Mutual Access Fund is subject to the Executive’s and Assembly’s agreement.

Mr L Cree asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment when small savers with the Presbyterian Mutual Society will have access to their funds; and whether there is any intention to save the Society. (AQW 2256/11)

Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment: It is proposed that Government and Executive funding for the establishment of a Mutual Access Fund and the orderly winding down of the Presbyterian Mutual Society will become available in 2011-12. The proposed solution is subject to Executive, Assembly and EU agreement.

Mr L Cree asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment when she expects the Presbyterian Church to make its £1million contribution to the Presbyterian Mutual Society settlement. (AQW 2257/11)

Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment: It has not yet been agreed when the Presbyterian Church will make a contribution to the proposed establishment of a Mutual Access Fund.

Mr L Cree asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment to outline the time-scale for the completion of local and EU agreements to facilitate the resolution of the Presbyterian Mutual Society issue. (AQW 2276/11)

Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment: Executive, Assembly, and EU agreement to the overall financial package will be required before DETI, acting on behalf of the Executive , puts its proposals to the administrator of the Presbyterian Mutual Society for agreement or otherwise by its members and creditors. H M Government and Executive funding will not become available until the 2011-2012 financial year. This will be progressed as quickly as possible, and the precise timings will become clearer as the implementation process is worked through.