Rector’s Letter – 14th October 2020

Calm us, Lord, as you calmed the storm;
still us, Lord, keep us from harm.
Let all the tumult within us cease,
enfold us, Lord, in your peace.

Dear friends,

This little prayer inspired by St Patrick, has regularly come unbidden into my mind during the last few weeks as I have prayed for others and for myself. I have heard several of you say that you are finding the new regulations more difficult to cope with than Lockdown and the swift spread of the virus more frightening than the first wave. At a time like this when we are coming to the edge of our own resources, it’s good to know that we can call out to God who will give us the courage, the peace and the hope we need.

Please continue to pray for those who are unwell at this time, those facing tests and those undergoing treatment, and for those recently bereaved.

My thanks go to all who helped make the church look so colourful and the porch so inviting for the Harvest Thanksgiving Service. We are now entering into the Season of Remembrance as we come towards the end of the Church Year. At 8pm on 1st November there will be a special All Souls evening service to remember and give thanks for loved ones who have died. Please send me the names of those you wish to be remembered either by phoning or e-mailing or by posting a slip into the box in the porch from 25th October. There will be candles lit in memory of them around the church and their names will be read out during the service. I am hoping that this service will be live-streamed and the readings and prayers sent to everybody so that you can all join in if you wish.

It was lovely to be involved in St Mary’s School Harvest Celebrations last week. Although I am not allowed in the school building under current restrictions, I have been taking part in their weekly assembly by means of short videos which are shown to each class and also sent out to the families. For the end of term, I was invited to work with the teacher of Primary 3 to 5 to plan a virtual Harvest Service which comprised of a series of short videos prepared by the children and myself of thanksgiving prayers, a drama about a hospitable hedgehog, a reflection on the Feeding of the Five Thousand and a blessing which the children signed rather than sung. I have also been supporting Primary 6-7 whose topic for this term was Slavery. The pupils were interested to find out about our historical links to the slave trade. Some of their work will soon be displayed in the church porch and I hope to reflect on it in the morning service on 25th October.

The Parent Council have had to look for innovative ways of fundraising for the school this year. One of their inspired ideas is to produce and sell a Christmas Cake Kit and encourage everyone to make it on Stir up Sunday, 22nd November. I was delighted to be asked to produce an information sheet to explain the origins of Stir up Sunday and write a special prayer to be said by families as they come together to make their cake. You can order for yourself or for family or friends, a gift box containing all the dry and wet ingredients for a rich fruit cake (except eggs and butter), a recipe and the information sheet , cost £20, by emailing fundraisingstmarys @, by contacting Klara on 07843 060 677 or by leaving your details on a slip in the box in the church porch before 25th October. Every member of the St Mary’s community is invited to join in with the stirring and the baking.

Finally, please pray for Junior and Xander, the great grandchildren of Audrey and the late Canon John Symon, who will be baptised on the afternoon of 25th October. The service at 2pm is open to all. If you wish to attend this or any other service, please contact Sue Lockwood on services @ or by phoning 824004.

Thank you for your prayers for me and my family. Please be assured of my prayers for you. Feel free to phone me for a chat. I am never too busy to spend time with you.

With love,

Blythswood Care Shoe Box Appeal 2020

Once again this year, the St Mary’s community (church and school) have
contributed to the Blythswood Care Shoebox Appeal. Here are the boxes, full
of Christmas gifts for children and adults living in poverty, being blessed
before they starting on the first part of their long journey.

Rector’s Letter – October

Dear friends,

It was such a relief to learn that the new regulations announced this week allow us to continue to meet for worship in our church buildings. It would have been such a shame to have to stop after four Sundays, just as we’re getting into a routine and starting to master the art of livestreaming the services. It has been very encouraging to see so many of you venturing to church and to know that there’s a growing of you participating in the morning service from your homes, along with those who are continuing to use the Material for Worship. My thanks to all who have helped in so many different ways to make all of this possible.

I would have been disappointed to miss some of this month’s services, not least our Harvest Thanksgiving which this year falls on the feast of St Francis. The evening service on 4th October will be a reflection on St Francis and the natural world, while the morning service will be the climax of the Season of Creation. I’m also looking forward to the baptisms of the great-grandsons of Audrey and the late Canon John Symon who was Rector of St Mary’s over thirty years ago, on the afternoon of 25th October. On the first of next month, we hope to have special services for the festivals of All Saints and All Souls, and on Remembrance Sunday we will mark the 70th Anniversary of our memorial window for those members of St Mary’s who were lost in the Second World War. From the last week of October both red and white poppies will be available in the porch of the church with donations going to the Scottish Poppy Appeal.

This year’s Harvest celebration will be different in many ways. For one thing, we won’t be collecting items of food for our local charity, Start-up Stirling, but instead there will be an opportunity to give financial donations towards their Starter Packs which are provided to people who are entering into new tenancies, following homelessness or a crisis. A Starter Pack includes crockery and cutlery, pots and pans, cooking utensils, towels, cleaning products and basic kitchen cupboard items and can be supplemented with a kettle, toaster, microwave, towels, duvet, pillows and bed linen as required. To make a donation, visit

We will also support Christian Aid’s Autumn Appeal which aims to help communities living in poverty which are facing crisis due to Covid 19 and also Climate Change. Angela who lives with her daughters in Nicaragua belongs to one of these communities which has already been supported by Christian Aid. Her farm used to provide a good living, but the changing climate means that her coffee harvests are shrinking each year. Angela’s community have united, however, and together they have set up a local cooperative to share resources and support their livelihoods. Angela is starting to change from coffee to climate-resilient cocoa. With the help of Christian Aid’s partner Soppexcca, she has planted 700 cocoa plants. Now Angela has hope for the future. ‘The income from the cocoa crop is very important’, she said. ‘It means we can buy clothes, medicine and food’.
You can donate to the Christian Aid Appeal by visiting

At this difficult time for all of us, Christian Aid’s Autumn Appeal prayer challenges us to look beyond our own concerns to those of our global neighbours whom we are called to love. I hope you will join me in praying it during the month ahead.

Loving God.
Come now and make us
into a global neighbourhood
looking out for each other
through struggle and crisis,
reaching out to strangers
who become sisters and brothers,
shape us into a caring community,
strengthening each other
through every challenge,
standing together
until justice comes for all.
In your name we pray, Amen.

Please be assured of my prayers also for you and your families.
With love,

Rector’s Letter – 11th September 2020

Dear friends,

Somehow whilst I was away for just a few days in Aberystwyth, summer turned to autumn in Dunblane. Here is a prayer-poem given to me by a friend today which I think sums up the season and contains a lot of wisdom for us as individuals and as a church in this time of uncertainty and change. I would encourage you to spend time with it over the next few weeks. There will be printed copies in the porch of the church for you to take away and share with others if you wish.

Prayer for Autumn Days
God of the seasons,
there is a time for everything:
there is a time for dying and a time for rising.
We need courage to enter into
the transformation process.

God of autumn,
the trees are saying goodbye to their green,
letting go of what has been.
We, too, have our moments of surrender,
with all their insecurity and risk.
Help us to let go when we need to do so.

God of fallen leaves
lying in coloured patterns on the ground,
our lives have their own patterns.
As we see the patterns of our own growth,
may we learn from them.

God of misty days and harvest moon nights,
there is always the dimension of mystery
and wonder in our lives.
We always need to recognize your power-filled presence.
may we gain strength from this.

God of harvest wagons and fields of ripened grain,
many gifts of growth lie within the season of our surrender.
We must wait for harvest in faith and hope.
grant us patience when we do not see the blessings.

God of geese going south
for another season, your wisdom enables us
to know what needs to be left behind
and what needs to be carried into the future.
We yearn for insight and vision.

God of flowers
touched with frost and windows wearing white designs,
may your love keep our hearts
from growing cold in the empty seasons.

God of life,
you believe in us, you enrich us,
you entrust us with the freedom to choose life.
Joyce Rupp

Despite the difficulties presented by coronavirus restrictions, Blythswood Care is going ahead with its annual Shoe Box Appeal. We have been asked by Kate Clement to pray for the team who are organising this appeal and for those who will be taking the boxes to Eastern Europe. They feel that this year more than ever, children and adults living with poverty, illness, disability and other disadvantages need something to light up their days. We can make a difference to lives that are otherwise almost hopeless by simply collecting together some small gifts and/or giving a financial donation. Covid-safe pre-wrapped boxes and instruction leaflets are available in the porch of the church. These need to be returned to the Rectory by Sunday 27th September. For more information, please visit or speak with June.

with love to you all,

Attending a Service at St Mary’s during Phase 3 – FAQ

Can anyone attend a service at St Mary’s?

Yes, subject to seating being available, and you would be made most welcome.

I intend to attend regularly, what do I need to do?

If you haven’t received an email from Nerys asking about your preferences, please get in touch with her on rector @

I am not a regular attender, what do I need to do?

During the week before the service, you need to get in touch with Sue on services @ with your contact details indicating which service you wish to attend so that we can be sure there will be a place for you.

What if I just turn up?

If there is a spare place, you will be asked to complete a form giving your contact details for NHS Test & Protect. This information will be held by the Rector for 21 days.

When should I arrive?

The building will be open 10 minutes before the start of the service. You may need to queue outside for a little. Please make sure that you socially distance while you wait.

What happens as I enter the building?

A welcomer will greet you outside the door and check your name on the list of attenders. You will need to wear a face mask inside the building. You will be asked to sanitise your hands and pick up your service sheet.

Where will I sit?

You will be directed to a seat by a second welcomer. The pews furthest from the door will be filled first. Every other pew will be taped off so that there will be a space of 2 metres behind and in front of you. If you have come on your own you will share a pew with one other person or couple, sitting 2 metres apart. If you have come as part of a larger social bubble you can sit together in a pew. You will be asked to stay seated throughout the service.

What if I need to use the disabled entrance?

Just let Sue know and we will make the necessary arrangements. There is a space for a wheelchair towards the front of the church and towards the back.

What about children?

Children of all ages are welcome to attend. They will need to sit with the rest of their household. An activity pack will be provided for them, to be collected on your way in. Please indicate the ages of the children when you contact Sue. In addition, we hope to have outside activities for children and their families after the 10:30am service.

What will the service be like?

The Morning Service at 10:30am will feel very familiar to anyone who has attended the Eucharist at St Mary’s, with readings, a short sermon, prayers and hymns played on the organ or by the band (but not sung). The Night Service at 8pm will be more quiet and reflective with candlelight, times of silence, short readings and prayers.

What about music?

There will be organ music most Sundays at the Morning Service and the band will sometimes play. We are not allowed to sing together but we can listen to hymns or songs being played and follow the words on the service sheet. At the Night Service we will listen to recordings of chants and other meditative music.

Will there be a collection?

There will be a plate at the back of church for you to leave an offering if you wish but we would prefer you to donate by BACS or by standing order or direct debit, if possible. For details, please contact Alastair at treasurer @

Will the service be filmed?

We hope that this will be possible and that those who can’t attend will be able to watch the morning service live at home. At the moment, we only have one static camera, which will aim to give a good view of those taking part in the service. We hope to be able to broadcast the service on Facebook Live, which can be easily accessed via our Facebook page and will hopefully appear on your ‘home’ screen if you follow St Mary’s on Facebook. (If you need help to set this up, please contact Nerys.) This is a new initiative for St Mary’s and we would be interested in hearing any feedback you have so that we can make improvements in the weeks and months ahead.

What about communion?

The Eucharist will continue to be celebrated by the Rector every Sunday morning at 8:30am. As soon as all the church family are able to receive communion either in church or at home we will resume Eucharistic services.

What if I need to go to the toilet?

The toilet in the church (through the door to the Vestry) will be available. Please lower the seat before you flush. It will be cleaned straight after the service.

What happens at the end of the service?

Please stay in your seats until you are invited to leave by a welcomer. The pews nearest the main door will be emptied first. Please take your service sheet with you. Once you’re out of the building, please don’t cluster around the main doors of the church. Sadly, we are unable to provide refreshments at this stage.

What if I need to speak to a priest?

Whoever is leading the service will be around outside at the end of the service, weather permitting. You are always welcome to phone the Rectory on 824225 or send Nerys an email on rector @ to make an arrangement to see her another time.

How is the church prepared for the Night Service?

After the Morning Service, the occupied pews will be wiped with detergent and closed off and the unoccupied pews will be opened ready for the Night Service. All surfaces which may have been touched will be cleaned. In addition, Carol, the church cleaner, will give the church building a thorough clean every Thursday afternoon.

What provision is there for those who can’t attend services?

Every Saturday, Material for Worship is sent to those on the congregational email list and distributed to those not online. It contains the readings for the day, a reflection and a prayer. If you wish to receive this regularly, please contact Nerys. We are also hoping to livestream the Morning Service. This will be accessible from our Facebook page. The live broadcast will continue to appear on the St Mary’s Facebook Timeline after the event so you will still be able to watch the service later in the day if you are not able to tune in at 10:30am.

Can I come into the church building at any other time?

Yes, the church will be open every Wednesday afternoon from 2pm to 4pm. Revd. Peter Potter will be on hand to welcome you. Face masks will need to be worn.

What about weddings and baptisms?

Yes, they are possible in Phase 3 with limited numbers and safety measures in place. Speak with Nerys if you would like to know more.

Rector’s Letter – September 2020

Dear friends,

By the time you read this we will have met for worship in the church for the first time since March 15th. I don’t know what it will be like to stand at the front and see a scattered, diminished congregation wearing face masks, unable to sing or share the peace or have communion. What I do know is that our Lord who has been with us during the last five months, sustaining and encouraging us, comforting and guiding us, will be present. Our organist David has chosen a perfect hymn to start our worship which reminds us that wherever we meet, however small our gathering, Christ will be near, ready to listen to our prayers and to support us:

Jesus, where’er thy people meet,
there they behold thy mercy-seat;
where’er they seek thee thou art found,
and every place is hallowed ground…

But what about those of you who are not ready to return to the building yet? I hope that by means of the Material for Worship and the livestreaming of the morning service, you will continue to feel connected with your church family and will also sense God’s presence with you in your home as you pray.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me in the weeks to come with your thoughts on how we could perhaps improve the services and the livestreaming. Vestry members have worked very hard to get us to this point when we can safely meet to worship but I’m sure that we will need to make adjustments and seek answers to difficulties we haven’t anticipated. Your help in this would be greatly appreciated.

I would like to assure you that as soon as it is possible for every member of the congregation who wishes to receive communion to do so, we will revert to Eucharistic services. At Area Council last week, Bishop Ian was hopeful that the Scottish Government can be persuaded to allow Home Communions in the near future. In the meantime, I would commend Vestry’s approach which is to see this time as a period of experimenting with different kinds of services and an opportunity for outreach. The Night Service is already attracting new members to St Mary’s as has the Gatherings for Prayer.

It would have been very easy for us to have become inward-looking during Lockdown, concerned only with our own difficulties as a congregation and a local community. I have been delighted to receive from you items for the newsletter about charities and organisations serving people whose lives have been affected in a much more drastic way than ours by the virus and the economic difficulties it has caused. In order to further encourage our outward-looking attitude, this month we will be joining with the world’s 2.2 billion Christians to mark the Season of Creation. The pandemic has awoken many of us to the urgent need to heal our relationships with the natural world and with each other. The Season of Creation is intended as a time to repent, repair and rejoice together. It will culminate in a Harvest Celebration on October 4th, the Feast of St Francis. Please look out for information which will be sent to you during the month and if you are able, visit for prayer resources, dates of on-line services and webinars from all over the world and ideas for campaigns to support and activities to do at home.

Thank you for your prayers and many kindnesses which have sustained me during this strange time. I know also that you are praying for one another and for your friends and neighbours. Please be assured of my prayers for you and for Dunblane.

With love to you all,


Rector’s Letter – 20th August 2020

Dear friends,

I don’t think I’ve done any translating from French since I was at University, but when I came across this poem on the day when a Sudanese boy was washed up on a beach after drowning trying to reach the UK, I felt that I needed to share it with all of you.

If this was your son

you would fill the sea with ships

under any flag. But don’t worry,

he isn’t your son.

You can sleep peacefully

because above all, of course,

it isn’t your son.

It’s just a son of a lost part of humanity,

of a dirty part of humanity

that doesn’t have a voice.

It isn’t your son.

You can sleep quietly.

It isn’t yours,

not yet …

David Lallemand Pesh and Marco Leoni

Welcome to the last weekly newsletter! As the reopening of the church building for public worship at the end of this month makes the distribution of a printed magazine possible again, it is time to return to a monthly publication. Thanks to all of you who have contributed to the newsletter during the last five months and to those who have faithfully distributed it. I am especially grateful to Chris for his technical support and relieved that he is happy to resume the role of editor. The deadline for the September issue is noon on Tuesday 25th August. I would encourage you to continue to contribute, sending items to magazine @ . The magazine will be available after the services on Sunday 30th August and copies will be left in the porch after that. If you are unable to collect one, please get in touch with me so that one can be brought to you.

The porch will now be open most days as an information point and a place of prayer. My thanks to Sheila for the ‘Crosses in my pocket’, to Andrew Buchanan for a lovely arrangement of garden flowers and to Sue for making a Covid-safe prayer board for all to use. There are also booklets which can be taken away.

If you were affected by the poem ‘If this was your son ..’ above, here are some facts from the Refugee Council which has been helping those seeking asylum and supporting refugees for the last 60 years.

At the end of 2019 around 79.5 million people were forcibly displaced across the world. Of these, 29.6 million were refugees, whilst 45.7 million were internally displaced within their country of origin.

85% of the world’s refugees are living in countries neighbouring their country of origin, often in developing countries.

Over 6.7 million people have fled conflict in Syria, and many more are displaced inside the country. Turkey is the biggest refugee hosting country in the world. At the end of 2019 Turkey was providing safety to 3.6 million Syrian refugees.

The UK is home to approx. 1% of the 29.6 million refugees, forcibly displaced across the world.

For more information and to send a donation, visit

With love to you all,

Rector’s Letter – 4th August 2020

Dear friends,

This week Peter Holmes sent me a photo showing the progress made by the ‘Seeds of Hope’ I dropped off at his home on Mothering Sunday just as Lockdown began. ‘They have obviously waited until there is some hope of the church re-opening’, was Peter’s observation. ‘It’s quite incredible to see how they have developed over the months; at one stage we had almost given up hope that they would flower, but they were true to their calling.’

I had forgotten until I saw this photo that I had bought the seeds of two different types of marigolds, one obviously more vigorous than the other. The image made me think of the way my two sons have been during these last few months of enforced solitude. One has flourished, quite happy to be working from home and going on long walks with his dog while the other has struggled, missing office life and meeting with friends. I have noticed amongst my own friends also that some are coping better than others and that it’s often down to personality rather than circumstances.

We are a mixed lot at St Mary’s so it’s no surprise that our response to the relaxation of lockdown and the resumption of church services is very varied. Some of you can’t wait to get back into the building whilst others are adopting a more cautious approach. My hope is that we will be able to continue to provide support and opportunities for prayer and worship for everybody and that you will all continue to feel very much part of the church family. The plan for reopening the church at the end of this month which I hope to send to Bishop Ian in the next few days, proposes two very different short Sunday Services of the Word with communion being celebrated on your behalf early in the morning. The morning service at 10.30 will be very similar to the first half of the Eucharist with readings, sermon and intercessory prayers and familiar hymn tunes played on the organ or by the band for us to listen to. The night service at 8 p.m. will provide a quiet space for individual prayer and worship using ancient liturgy as a framework for short readings, prayers and reflections and recordings of sacred music. There is also the possibility of a more informal monthly service in the church hall growing out of the Gatherings for Prayer which are happening on line. For those of you not intending to return at this time, the ‘Materials for Worship’ will continue to be sent out or delivered every week but in addition, we may be able to livestream the morning service so that some of you can join in with worship from your homes. I am grateful to those who are investigating this and to those who are helping me to put together the very detailed plans so that we can safely hold services once more.

Please continue to pray for each other and for our community. This week, I ask you to pray especially for the youngest members of our church family who are preparing to return to school along with all their classmates and their families. Please remember also those in our midst who are grieving the loss of their loved ones.

The people of Beirut also need out prayers. If you are looking for a way to help them, The Guardian online and The Independent online have launched a fund which will benefit local support organisations like the Lebanese Red Cross which runs ambulances and emergency medical teams and Beit el Baraka who run a free supermarket help people with medical costs and apartment rents, and are now also working on repairing damaged homes. You can donate via the papers’ websites :

With love,

Rector’s Letter – 30th July 2020

Dear friends,

If you go down to the church today you’re sure of a big surprise – especially if you haven’t visited since the beginning of lockdown! A great deal of work has been done to clear overgrown areas, trees have been felled and a section of the boundary wall has been rebuilt. There is also a prayer trail around the grounds for those who are finding these uncertain times difficult. I am very grateful to Liz Owen for creating such an imaginative resource and for setting it up this week with the help of Peter and Matthew.

At the oak tree on the Rectory Lawn we are encouraged to look closely at the leaves, noticing how they are all unique just like we are, and to reflect on God’s care for each one of us. In the Quiet Garden, we are invited to think of the things that are causing us to be anxious and place a ‘worry stone’ in a bucket of water which represents God’s love, asking Him to take away our fears. On the benches in the burial ground we can read verses from Psalm 46 and the famous Footsteps poem, and make our own footprints in trays of sand. At the steps to the church, we can imagine that we are entering into a royal palace where we are God’s honoured guest and we are encouraged to give thanks for all the good things we enjoy.

Everyone is welcome to walk the trail which is suitable for families with children., visit our labyrinth or just come and enjoy the peace and quiet. Our church building may be closed for now, but I’m glad that we at St Mary’s can still provide support and care for each other and for our local community.

With love,

Rector’s Weekly Letter – 16th July 2020

Dear friends,

Last week a local photographer came into the church to take pictures for a book he hopes to produce of Dunblane in Lockdown. I tried to recreate for him what it is like to celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday, worshiping in an empty building but together will all of you at home. As I blew out the altar candles at the end of the session, one of them was smoking so I jokingly suggested he should take some more photos. A few days later I received an message saying that in one of those images he could see the shape of an angel with wings spread hovering above the candle.

I don’t know what kind of shape you think an angel would have. They appear in many different forms in Scripture and in religious art. Many people believe that they have their own personal angel guarding over them which they can sense close by in times of trouble. For me, however, angels often have human forms. They are those sent by God to guide me, comfort me, challenge me encourage me and sustain me and I’ve experienced many of these during the last few months.

With love,

Images by Raymond Dormer

Rector’s Weekly Letter – 9th July 2020

One of my earliest memories is sitting on the sgiw, the old pine settle, in my grandmother’s farmhouse kitchen unravelling an old jumper under her watchful eye. I remember well the enjoyment of pulling at the loose thread and transforming the crinkly yarn into tight balls of wool ready to be knitted again into a new garment. Unravelling or being unravelled can be a positive or a negative experience. At the end of March, many of us were bereft when our tightly-knit plans unravelled into loose threads. Some of us at St Mary’s may feel that our church community is unravelling at the moment with the deaths of three much-loved members in such a short space of time. But at other times we need to be unravelled to allow God to work new patterns in our lives. Sometimes in our unravelling, life surprises us with unexpected joy, love and hope and provides a new beginning we couldn’t have imagined.

For the next few months, we will be exploring Bible stories of unravelled dreams, expectations, identity, grief, fear, shame. The resource we will use, Unraveled, has been created by four young American Christian artists, Lisle Gwynn Garrity, Sarah Are, Hannah Garrity and Lauren Wright Pittman, who form a collective called A Sanctified Art. Their aim is to bring scripture and theological themes to life through the use of visual art, providing opportunities for deep reflection and meaningful connection. For more information visit

Everyone who wants to be involved will be provided with a beautifully designed journal containing twelve short Bible passages, works of art inspired by them, reflections by the artists and opportunities to respond. This journal can be used as a personal devotional to be completed in your own time, as a basis for a group study series or as a response to a time of worship. There will be an opportunity to meet for an hour or so on-line every other Friday evening from 24th July to share our thoughts and pray together. As restrictions are eased, some of us may even be able to meet in person and use this exciting and timely resource in our worship.

If you would like a journal, please get in touch with me at rector @

If you would like to attend the introductory Zoom meeting at 7.30 p.m. on Friday 24th July, please contact Martin Wisher at martinwisher @
(If you haven’t used Zoom before, Martin or John Hamilton can help you.)

You don’t need to be a member of St Mary’s to be involved. Everyone is welcome.

With love

Weekly Letter – 2nd July 2020

Dear friends,
This week’s letter is written by Anthony Birch, Convenor of Start-up Stirling which during April and May we have supported, through their home delivery service an average of 145 households and distributed 213 crates of food weekly.
With love to you all,

The Covid-19 Pandemic has profoundly altered the way Start Up Stirling has been working. Before isolation measures were enforced, we were bringing people together at the food banks in church halls and 45% of our volunteers were over 70 or with health problems that put them at particular risk. In the course of a week in March 2020 the foodbank changed to a delivery-only service, appropriate social distancing was implemented to protect staff, volunteers and clients, and the vulnerable volunteers were stood down.

This might have been unsustainable, but we have been quite overwhelmed by the encouragement and support we have received. New volunteers, some of them workers on furlough, have joined us to help. Other charities, whose operations are needed less in lockdown have seconded their staff to us or lent us their vehicles. Stirling Council’s emergency response team have been immensely helpful, finding us extra storage space, so that volunteer teams can be distanced and work in “team bubbles” helping us to purchase shortage stock items and allotting us council vehicles and drivers for delivery.

As expected, since the epidemic struck, referrals to the foodbank have risen. An upswing in referral numbers and food volume issued was seen in March and has continued since then. Comparing referrals received in each month with last year it was nearly twice as high in May 2020 as in May 2019. In fact May was slightly quieter than April in food volume issued and we are checking with those who refer to us that we are not missing hidden need. We worry that we must expect more people to fall into hardship if, as seems likely, many employers find they cannot sustain their businesses with continued social distancing.

Many people are shopping for food less frequently or are shopping online. Current donations of food are consequently somewhat reduced, but many people are recognising this and monetary donations have been increased. Various government and private funding streams have also become available to help the social response to the pandemic. These are all helping us to sustain the cost burden which response to the emergency imposes, but we are expecting the need to persist over many months yet.

It seems that Start Up Stirling is well regarded both by local and Scottish government for what we are able to do. In Volunteers Week at the beginning of June our Facebook page featured a different volunteer each day. One of our volunteer stories, of Neil Aitkenhead, was picked up by the Scottish Government website thanking all those who have volunteered in the pandemic. You can read the report here.

In marking our 25th Anniversary last year, we were honoured to be named by the Provost of Stirling, Christine Simpson as her “Charity of the Year” for 2019-20. Provost Simpson has now extended that designation to the end of this calendar year.

There will be many problems facing us as we go forward, most notably all the changes needed in response to the pandemic. There are also many things for which we are thankful, and many people and organisations to whom we are profoundly grateful. As always though, it is to our staff, to all our volunteers and to those here in St Mary’s and beyond who support us by donations of money and food that we wish to give most thanks. Without their faithful support we would not be able to continue as we are in giving support to those who need it.

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Alexander Syme

Recently Margaret-Jean Stone Wigg was sent a newspaper cutting which had been unearthed from her brother’s safe. It is the obituary of her grandfather, Alexander Syme who died in 1945 at the age of 80. Because her father was working abroad, it was her grandparents who raised Margaret-Jean and took her with them every Sunday to St Mary’s where she became a member of the choir at a young age. The obituary and the personal tribute which follows by his friend Arthur Poyser give us fascinating insights into life in Dunblane over a century ago.

The Late Mr Alex Syme

Widespread regret was felt on Wednesday when it was learned that Mr Alexander Syme, Ben View, had passed away. He had been ill for a considerable time, following an accident in stepping off a bus; probably his last outing was on the occasion of the opening of the bowling green on the last Saturday of April.

Mr Syme, who was in his 80th year, was a native of Dunblane, and one of its brightest ornaments. To a singularly happy disposition he added gifts that were always generously placed at the service of the people. Above everything he was a devoted churchman, following his father in the office of verger of St Mary’s Episcopal Church, and discharging the duties with great faithfulness for many years, subsequently acting with great acceptance as a member of the Vestry.

To the Lodge of Dunblane No. 9, Mr Syme also gave of his very best; indeed it is difficult to set forth how much the Lodge meant to him and the great part it occupied in his life … In recreation Mr Syme found much enjoyment on the bowling green. A fine player himself, he delighted in a keen game with congenial spirits, his cheery good nature making for the best that is in the game. … Of his work, it is sufficient to say that he was an esteemed employee with Messrs R. Puller & Sons at Ashfield Works [a silk-dyeing mill] all his days. He had been nearly fifty years married, and to his widow and family of two sons and three daughters the sympathy of many friends goes out in their bereavement.

Syme of Dunblane: a Tribute

So we have parted from my old and most treasured friend, Syme of Dunblane. To me he typified Dunblane and its many aspects.

He sang in the choir of St Mary’s Church both as boy and as man; he was one of the famous ‘Dandy Coons’ concert party of the Victoria Hall in earlier days [from around 1880 to 1920 ‘coon songs’ presenting a stereotype of black people by white men with blacked faces were popular]; he was a keen bowler, and ‘the green’ will miss his genial personality; he was a leader among Freemasons and at one time Master of Lodge No. IX, Dunblane; and he knew everyone in the town, the town’s history, and all the chances and changes of his passing years. To spend an evening with Syme in his charming home was to find happiness and enjoyment of no ordinary kind.

He was a member of the Church Council of St Mary’s and his advice was sought on many important issues; his wisdom helped to settle many important questions of direct action or policy. He was born, one might say, a member of the Episcopal Church of Scotland and all his family are church people …

It was specially gratifying to me that I was able to bring to Dunblane, by the kindly help of all the good folk at Ben View, and many other friends, my City of London Boy Players in the summer of 1939, just a week or two before the outbreak of the second great war. [Arthur Poyser was International Commissioner for Music, Master of the Lord Mayor’s Players and Singers [the Boy Players], and founder in 1908 of the Lord Mayor’s Own 1st City of London B.P. Scouts]. The Symes, by their unqualified and heartening enthusiasm, made that visit to Dunblane something we — both myself and all the young players and singers under my charge — shall always remember with deep gratitude.

So we salute, as he goes upon his journey, a very dear friend who made life for all who knew him, a happier thing than it would otherwise have been: once whose welcoming smile and heartfelt loyalty meant so much to all of us who knew Syme of Dunblane intimately.

Rector’s Weekly Letter – 25th June 2020

Dear friends,

Yesterday I received an appointment to have my hair cut in a few weeks’ time when hairdressing businesses open again. I felt a great sense of excitement and relief — it represents for me another step towards returning to normal life. And yet, I know that on the day, I will feel the same apprehension and anxiety I experienced last week when I visited a supermarket for the first time since lockdown. This is a time of strong and mixed emotions for us as individuals and as a church. We now have permission from the Government to open the doors of St Mary’s for private prayer and at the end of next month it may be possible for us to gather for worship. I know that there is among us a yearning to return to the church building and to meet together again but that at the same time, we share a deep concern for the safety of those among us who are most vulnerable to the virus. Members of the Vestry expressed these feelings when we met to discuss how to proceed. Approaching the question prayerfully and with detailed guidance from our bishops, we decided to make the church available to individuals for private prayer by appointment only. If you or anyone you know wish to spend some time in the church, please get in touch with me and we will arrange to meet with all necessary precautions in place. Over the weeks and months to come, as lockdown is relaxed, Vestry will have more difficult decisions to make on your behalf. I ask that you continue to pray for us that these decisions will be made wisely and out of love rather than fear. My prayer for you as weeks of separation turn to months is that our sense of connection with each other as a worshiping community will stay strong and that God’s love will bind us together as we continue to serve and pray for those in need here in Dunblane and across the world.

With love,


Weekly Letter – 18th June 2020

Dear friends,

This week’s letter is written by Hugh Grant, a founding member of Forth Valley Welcome who became a trustee after the organisation became charity. His trustee post is Treasurer, responsible among other things for seeking the funds needed to enable FVW to employ the two part-time staff. To find out how you can support the organisation please contact

With love to you all,

With this being World Refugee Week, it’s a time to reflect on the world-wide movement of people fleeing from violence and persecution and desperately seeking a safe place to live. Normally there would have been a big rally of refugees and support organisations in Glasgow on Saturday but of course that’s not possible this year.

In our area Forth Valley Welcome supports refugees and helps them to integrate into the community. There are now 150 refugees in Stirling and Clackmannanshire and the two Councils plan to take a further 20-25 people each year. Most are Syrians and more recently several have arrived from South Sudan.

The Councils provide housing and access to schools and the NHS. Our 2 part-time staff and 75 volunteers help to make refugee accommodation welcoming, have a store with clothing and household items, provide a Home Visiting service to help families get to know the shops and bus services, provide each family with a refurbished laptop, help with English language learning, and run a monthly gathering called ‘Snack & Chat’.

These days when volunteers are not allowed to visit families, we’ve been working on other ways to provide support, including regular phone calls, a mobile children’s lending library, and provision of extra laptops to help families access online language lessons and school work. We organise a delivery of food to all 36 families just before Eid, the festival at the end of Ramadan when families would normally be getting together for a big celebration.

In May our volunteers’ efforts were recognised in the form of the Queens Award for Voluntary Service. One of the Syrian families in Stirling, the Hilal family, was featured in a news bulletin on STV last week about the award.

The sad reality is that these represent only a tiny proportion of the people who are fleeing from violence and persecution. Over 5.5 million people have left Syria since 2011 and are living as refugees in neighbouring countries – Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt. Over 6 million have moved within Syria to get away from unsafe areas. In the last three months almost a million people have been forced to flee fighting in north-west Syria.

In Bangladesh more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees have fled from Myanmar since August 2017. They’ve joined hundreds of thousands who were already living in refugee camps or in local communities. 600,000 people are squashed into the main camp, an area far too small to accommodate their numbers. More than half of them are women and girls, 60% are children under 18. Covid-19 presents a serious risk there, as it does for refugee groups around the world.

In Greece, a first point of entry to the EU for many refugees is the island of Lesbos. Shops and restaurants there have had to close because of the pandemic, there have been food shortages for refugees and Covid-19 has been a problem.

The UNHCR reports that there are currently 25.9 million refugees who have left their home country and 41.3 million who have been displaced within their own country. 57% of UNHCR refugees have come from Syria, South Sudan and Afghanistan.

So what’s the good news?

It looks like two establishments opened up by Syrian refugees in Alloa, the Syriana restaurant and Alwen Cakes, will be able to open up again, and the gradual easing of lockdown will allow refugee families to get out and about again.

And also: In checking on families during the lockdown period, an unexpected finding was people reporting they had previously experienced severely restricted movement in dangerous situations in their home country and so the impact for some was not as great as we had feared.