PMS update

pmslogo_smallLast week I attended a series of information and clarification meetings held by the Administrator in Carnmoney, Newry, Ballymena and Bangor. There are four further meetings to be held after Easter in Armagh, Londonderry, Lisburn and Fisherwick.

The Administrator, Mr Arthur Boyd, has used the opportunity to describe the details of the Scheme of Arrangement and to answer questions which savers have posed. Some of the answers to these questions have been posted here. I believe that most savers have gone away from these meetings feeling reassured and confident of a good outcome.

Overall, the Scheme is well-received by the members because it promises a better and quicker outcome than the alternative of the Society going into liquidation. If liquidated, the smaller savers would receive nothing and the larger creditors would end up with at least 15% less than they are being offered.

It is crucial that all members respond to the offer before May 6th, and as someone said at one of the meetings last week, “not to put the papers behind the clock and forget about them”. So if you are a member and you haven’t voted yet, please consider getting your vote sent off before the end of this week.

At these meetings I have been able to make the point that the additional voluntary deferral option should be seriously considered by congregations who do not need immediate access to all their money. This would really be them taking a small step back in the queue and allowing smaller savers to get access to all their money immediately. I believe that this would not only benefit the smaller savers, but would counteract the negative perceptions of the church during this crisis. If enough congregations would opt for this additional deferral, the actual amount deferred could be very small (perhaps 5% or less) but would greatly benefit a large number of needy people. I encourage treasurers and members of congregational committees to think seriously about this option.

RIR Homecoming

img_0436In just a couple of weeks, the 1st Battalion Royal Irish Regiment will complete their six month tour of duty in Afghanistan and families and friends await their homecoming with much anticipation. But a controversy has arisen with regard to a homecoming parade in Enniskillen.

When I spent a couple of days with the regiment at their base in Shropshire prior to their deployment, the Commanding Officer, Lt Col Colin Weir, expressed his hope that a homecoming parade would be possible in Enniskillen because of the historic connections between the regiment and the town.

The history of the Regiment is traced back to 20th June 1689 with raising of Tiffins’s Regiment of Foot (later to become the 27th or Inniskilling Regiment of Foot) which fought in the Williamite Wars. In its history and development, the regiment also incorporates the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

The Royal Irish Regiment is unique in the British Army. It consists of one Air Assault battalion (1 R IRISH), liable for service world wide, and one Reserve battalion (2 R IRISH) who are part-time soldiers based in Northern Ireland and provide its Reserve when required. Its officers and men come from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

In recent months the RIR has operated in a most hostile theatre of conflict in Afghanistan, and they have served with great distinction. They deserve to be honoured by all sections of our community for the contribution which they have made to our safety and to the on-going development of a peaceful and stable society in Afghanistan. I hope that Enniskillen, along with other towns, gets the opportunity to acknowledge the service which these men have rendered.

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.

The Church is Alive and Well

This weekend I was deputising for the Moderator, Dr Hamilton, and had the privilege of attending the services for the re-opening of two church buildings in County Londonderry and County Down. Both buildings were splendid, and were full to capacity for the re-opening services.

The floral arrangement in Upper Cumber meeting house
The floral arrangement in Upper Cumber meeting house

The congregation of Upper Cumber in Claudy, County Londonderry, have done an excellent job in re-building their meeting house. It was a beautiful sunny evening in the Sperrins, and we were thrilled by the congregation that assembled for the celebration. The village of Claudy has made international headlines in recent weeks following investigations into the bombing of the village by the IRA thirty-eight years ago. It is reassuring to see that the Presbyterian congregation remains vibrant and is looking to the future with great hope and much faith. The supper, as you would expect in a country congregation, was superb.

Loughaghery congregation is tucked away in the rolling hills of County Down outside Hillsborough. What an impressive job they have done in extending and re-furbishing their meeting house! Afternoon tea following the service included some delicious fruit loaf and was absolutely delightful.

Loughaghery meeting house
Loughaghery meeting house

Congratulations to my two ministerial colleagues, Rev Hiram Higgins and Rev Leslie Patterson, who have guided their congregations through to the completion of these excellent projects. May the new facilities in both places be well-used to further the Gospel and to extend Christ’s kingdom.

A weekend like this makes me optimistic about the future of our church. While church is not primarily about buildings and property, the commitment and energy of these two smaller congregations to their building projects is evidence of the health and vitality of the church, and that under God, it is seeking to fulfil its mission of bringing glory to Him.