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,
Nerys

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 www.sanctifiedart.org

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 @ stmarysdunblane.org

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 @ hotmail.com
(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
Nerys

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,
Nerys

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. https://www.gov.scot/news/thanks-for-pandemic-volunteers/.

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.

In order to give a donation to Start-up Stirling visit https://startupstirling.org.uk/donate

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,

Nerys

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 volunteer@forthvalleywelcome.org

With love to you all,
Nerys

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.

Rector’s Weekly Letter – 11th June 2020

Dear friends,

Those who know me well are aware that I’m much better with words than with numbers. Large figures usually don’t mean much to me but a headline last week estimating that 4.5 million people in the UK have become unpaid carers as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic did catch my eye. And the comment that this is equivalent to the NHS workforce three times over made me stop and think.

According to the Scottish Government’s Carers’ Charter, a carer is defined as someone of any age who provides unpaid support to family or friends who could not manage without this help. This could be due to illness, disability, frailty, a mental health problem or an addiction. Some are life-long carers, while others may care for shorter periods of time. Carers can be any age, from young children to very elderly people.

When I was growing up, the term ‘Young Carer’ wasn’t in use, but between the age of fourteen and twenty one, I was very involved in helping my mother to care for my grandmother who was living with us. She came for a holiday one summer, had a stroke which caused her to lose her sight and gradually became increasingly frail and confused. In her last years she was bed-ridden and needed twenty-four hour care. During that time I used to come home from university most weekends to give my mother respite. The pressure on us as a family was immense because there was very little formal support for carers in those days— you just had to get on with it. It took my mother a number of years to recover from the physical demands of heavy nursing, the prolonged lack of sleep and the stress and worry of it all.

Things have improved for carers since then and so they should have. Unpaid carers are the pillars of our health and social care systems. It is estimated that they are saving the Scottish economy over 10 billion pounds a year. Yet, many of them say they feel invisible and ignored. A recent survey by Carers UK has shown that a half the care-givers in Scotland are struggling to make ends meet, that a third had not had a break in more than a year and that about three-quarters reported a deterioration in their own health, both mental and physical.

Why am I telling you all this? This week is Carers’ Week and we all have a role to play. If we ourselves are not giving or receiving care right now, then, as individuals and as a church community, we can recognize and support the carers in our midst through prayer and action. We can also add our voices to the call to ‘Make Caring Visible in 2020’. If you have access to the internet you can do this by visiting www.carersweek.org and encourage others to do the same. I have taken the liberty of pledging on behalf of St Mary’s that we will do all we can to recognise and support unpaid carers of all ages in our congregation and in our community.

I asked my mother what would have helped her all those years ago. ‘The important thing is to keep in touch’, she said. ‘A card with encouraging words, kind thoughts, assurance of prayers would have given me strength on bad days. Someone popping in now and then or an invitation for a cuppa would have given me a break, a change of mind, a chance to talk and put things in perspective. Some way of making sure that I could get to church services or events would have kept me connected and given me space to turn to God. It is all very simple,’ she said, ‘but it would have made a huge difference’.

With love,
Nerys

Tools With A Mission

St Mary’s chosen Lent Charity continued until the end of June 2020

TWAM provides tool kits to partner organisations in developing countries which train men and women in a skill which can set them up for life and help transform entire communities.

They teach marginalised women tailoring and train young people in carpentry, plumbing, mechanics etc. to get them off the streets and away from gangs. These trainees are given the tools they need once they have finished their course.

Every year TWAM sends out around 24 containers full of tools and equipment to countries like DR Congo, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe. They work with over 400 partners including churches, schools, orphanages, vocational training centres and development charities.

For more information please visit www.twam.uk

We at St Mary’s are collecting the following items:

Builders’ tools: Bolsters, chisels, hammers, pin and lines, pincers, hacksaws, spirit levels, trowels (bricklaying, float, plastering, pointing)

Carpenters’ tools: Bevel, braces, clamps, hand drills and bits, all types of files and hammers, Stanley knife, all types of planes and saws, pliers, rules, screwdrivers and squares etc.

Electricians’ tools: Allen keys, hand drills and bits, all types of pliers and hacksaws, screwdrivers, spanners, soldering iron, voltmeter etc.

Motor mechanics’ tools: Allen keys, cold chisels, breast drill and bits, all types of hammers and pliers, punches, metric socket set and spanners, adjustable spanners, cantilever toolbox, typer pressure gauge etc.

Plumbers’ tools: Basin or tap wrench, wire brush, breast drill and bits, various grips and saws, screwdriver, oil can etc.

Power tools: Mains (not battery) hand drill, sander, planer, jigsaw and circular saw.

Sewing machines: manual and electric.

Knitting machines

Haberdashery: needles, cottons, large material pieces/rolls, buttons, zips etc.

Fully working IT equipment: Desktop computers and laptops running a minimum of Windows Vista, tablets, networking switch routers and cables.

If you have any to donate, please contact us at property @ stmarysdunblane.org or phone the Rectory on 824225 and leave a message and we’ll get back to you.

Weekly Letter – 4th June 2020

[There is no Letter from the Rector this week as Nerys is taking a well-deserved break. Here instead is a reflection by our Bishop from the Diocesan Newsletter]

Black Lives Matter
Bishop Ian

We all hope that, when it finally comes, the ‘New Normal’ will mean change for the better. But the news this week has made me ask, Will any ‘New Normal’ free us from racism?
On 25 May George Floyd was choked to death by police in Minneapolis, USA. His horrific death was filmed by bystanders who were pleading with officers to let him breathe. The killing of yet another Black person by police in the USA has ignited ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests across that country and in many others, including Scotland. In the USA the authorities, encouraged by the President, have reacted violently.
On 1 June police violently cleared space in front of an Episcopal church in Washington DC so that Mr Trump could pose in front of it, holding up a Bible. The church had not invited him, nor was it informed. The Presiding Bishop, the Bishop of Washington and other church leaders have condemned this abuse of church and scripture as an outrage. The College of Bishops of the SEC has sent a letter to the USA Bishops expressing our horror at the President’s action and our support for their condemnation of it: (www.scotland.anglican.org/college-of-bishops-condemns-trump-photocall/).
George Floyd’s killing and Donald Trump’s outrage are symptoms of a deep evil in Western society, the evil of racism. In Scotland we tell ourselves that we are an inclusive country, welcoming our immigrants, respecting our ethnic minorities, and that we don’t have racism. But the fact is that racism is here as well as in America.
Someone doesn’t have to feel hostile towards Black people to have racist attitudes. The fact that Black and Asian people are constantly treated as ‘different’ is a symptom of racism. For example, constantly being asked “Where are you from?” undermines people’s sense of identity and belonging, it affects their confidence, wellbeing, and mental health. Black and Asian people say that this happens to them even when their grandparents were born in Scotland.
Children suffer racism at school, from other students but also from teachers. Pupils tell how they are called the ’N’ word by other students, or bullied for wearing the headscarf. And sometimes, when they report it, a teacher will play the incident down. As a child said recently, “People say there is no racism here, but there is. Young people don’t feel comfortable reporting it, and if they do nothing is done.”
There are also more subtle and effective forms of racism, of course. They quietly reinforce the idea absorbed by White people as they grow up – that being White in Scotland is ‘normal’ and being Black or Asian is not, so that White cultures, White lifestyles and therefore White people are normative and even superior. Black and Asian people often have to grow up absorbing the same idea. It’s a legacy of our history of empire and colonialism and slavery, a subtle form of the evil of White Supremacy.
The boxer Mohammed Ali recalled as a boy asking his mother why all the angels in the church window were White. “Where did all the Black angels go?” he would ask. We’re about to celebrate Trinity Sunday, and Andrei Rublev’s extraordinary icon of the Trinity will again be the focus of many sermons and reflections. The artist Meg Wroe’s icon, “The Southwark Trinity,” adapts Rublev by portraying the three angels as Black figures, rather than White, two of them clearly female. Mohammed Ali would have approved, and so, I think, would Andrei Rublev.

I hope we are all angered and ashamed not only by the evil of racism in America, but everywhere it is to be found, including here at home. I hope those who are Black and Asian among us will feel they can courageously share the reality of their experience and that they can help us see through our prejudice and achieve true equality. And I hope those who are White will not keep silent, because silence in the face of evil is always collusion with evil.
Racism is evil because it denies the equal dignity of every human being. Racism is blasphemy because it denies God’s image in every human being. To stop racism, we need to become anti-racist as a church and as a society. This means changing the way we think and act, and being prepared to challenge others to do the same.
That’s because Black lives matter.

 

The New Normal?
Bishop Ian

If anything is about a ‘new normal’ it must be Pentecost – the celebration of the gift of the Spirit. New life, new hope, new love all flow from that gift, and transform the world.
As we celebrated Pentecost people were talking about a different ‘new normal’ – our life after the Pandemic. When we rebuild our lives, will we have a better sense of what is important? Or will we just rush back to the same old life? And what will ‘new normal’ mean for the Church? What will our priorities be? How will we welcome those who have been joining us online? How will we support those who are sad about people and things that have been lost? We all want to see the opening of our churches, but we also know that opening them safely will require care and patience. There will be practical Guidance offered to congregations and clergy when the time comes. In he meantime we pray and serve our communities as best we can. Thank you to all the clergy and others who are continuing to work to make this possible.

Rector’s Weekly Letter – 28th May 2020

Dear friends,

How are you doing? Have you noticed how this common greeting has become more meaningful in recent weeks? In these days of lockdown, we really want to know how our friends, family and neighbours are — and not just physically. We want to know how they are coping. We are concerned about their wellbeing in a new way. My hope is that this concern will be one of the things that we carry with us into the future.

Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week. Some of you may have seen contributions from Prince William and a host of sports, music and TV stars. You may think that only a few people are affected but the truth is that in Scotland as many as one in four people will experience mental health problems in any year. This means that all of us know someone who has personal experience of mental health problems although we might not be aware of it.

Most of us know very little about mental health. For many centuries, mental illness and distress has been a taboo subject in our society due to the stigma that surrounds it, often based on myths and false assumptions. Two thirds of employers in Scotland, when asked, said that they did not feel comfortable employing a person with mental health issues. Yet, it is a fact that most people recover from mental health problems and go on to live fulfilling lives. Those with enduring mental illness do not lose their personality or intelligence, and many are able to work and enjoy positive relationships and activities.

The Mental Health Foundation changed the theme of this year’s campaign to kindness in the light of the pandemic which has caused many people to struggle emotionally and has provided additional challenges to those with existing problems. Each one of us can help people experiencing mental health problems and make a real difference to their recovery. All we need to do is to be ready to listen and respond with kindness.

Remember that I am always at the end of my mobile phone. If you wish to be in touch with another member of the congregation but don’t have their phone number or email address, please contact me and I can arrange it with their permission.

With love,
Nerys

Rector’s Weekly Letter – 21st May 2020

Dear friends,

Today the first summer rose has bloomed at the Rectory window. As I paused to admire it and take a photo, I noticed a last tiny flower of the winter jasmine nearby reminding me that we are in a time of transition. Despite the occasional sunny day, there are still patches of snow on the hills and the potatoes I planted in containers for Young Church still need to be brought in at night. Winter has not yet loosened its grip and yet we are surrounded by signs of the approach of summer.

We are in a time of transition also as a nation. Today we learned of the measures our government has devised to ease us out of lockdown. We can start to look forward to more freedom and to an eventual return to normal life but at the moment, the threat of the virus is still lurking in our communities and the death toll is still rising. How appropriate it is that today is Ascension Day, the day when we celebrate the most important transition in the story of our faith. It marks the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth and points towards the great hand-over when we, his followers, take on the responsibility of continuing his work, empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is a mysterious feast, full of paradoxes. Christ leaves us, and yet he is now even closer to us; he is hidden from our eyes and yet revealed through us to the whole of humankind.

The following days, as they hid in Jerusalem waiting for the Holy Spirit to come, must have difficult for the first followers. The days ahead, as some of us start to emerge from our homes, won’t be easy either but we have a choice how to respond. We could succumb to anxiety and fear or we could spend the time as the disciples did, in prayer. ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ is a movement that invites Christians around the world to pray for more people to come to know Jesus. What started in 2016 as an invitation from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to the Church of England has grown into an international and ecumenical call to prayer. There is a whole range of resources on https://www.thykingdomcome.global/ for all ages. I would encourage you to get involved.

With love to you all,
Nerys

Rector’s Weekly Letter – 14th May 2020

Dear friends,

I’m so grateful to Liz for choosing the theme of Peace for Messy Church this month. It has made me realise that for the last eight weeks I have been so engrossed by the crisis caused by Covid 19 here in Scotland that the focus of my prayers has become very narrow. Stories from trouble-spots in other parts of the world have largely disappeared from our news bulletins and as a result, I for one had started to forget about the suffering in Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya, Chechnya, Myanmar. Despite the UN Secretary General’s appeal for a global ceasefire in March, fighting continues in most of these areas. Messy families were encouraged, as we marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of the end of hostilities in Europe, to pray for those countries still at war.

Among the activities on offer to help us with our prayers was the West African symbol for peace and harmony, Bi-nka-bi. The image is based on two fish biting each other tails and it literally means ‘no one should bite the other’. Here is Laura’s interpretation of it, filled with patterns of doves, the Christian symbol of peace.

In Japan, children write their prayers and hopes for peace on paper cranes they have made. You may be familiar with the story behind this tradition which was started by Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl, badly affected by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War II. In hospital, Sadako passed the time making origami figures. Here favourite was the crane. An old Japanese legend stated that anyone who faithfully folded a thousand cranes would have her wish fulfilled.

As Sadako began folding cranes, her wish was, of course, that she would recover. However, when she sensed that she was not going to get better from the effects of the radiation, she changed her wish and prayed instead for peace between the countries of the world. With every crane that she folded, she whispered, ‘I will write peace on your wings and you will fly all over the world.’ She had folded 664 cranes when sadly she died. The children of Japan learned of Sadako’s wish and they too began folding cranes. Every year on Hiroshima Day (6 August), you can see thousands of paper cranes suspended from the tower in Hiroshima Peace Park.

Messy families have been invited to hang the cranes they have made on the oak tree on the Rectory lawn when they come by on their daily walk or bike ride. I wonder if we could all make a crane as a symbol of our desire for peace in the world. All you need is a square of paper and some patience! Here are some instructions. Anyone in our community is welcome to join in with this activity. It would be lovely if the tree was full of cranes by 1st June, International Peace Tree Day.

I leave you with a poem by Ann Lewin which my friend, Hugh Donald shared with me today which challenges each one of us to allow God to help us grow into a Peace Tree. (It is best read aloud.)

Peace Trees

To be in the presence of trees

is to know peace.

The silent rhythm of their life,

bringing maturity in due time,

without anxiety or haste,

calms our impatience;

their solid strength, derived from

hidden roots spreading much further

than we ever know, gives us security;

grace, beauty, shapeliness and form,

delight our senses, soothe our

fragile nerves, and bring refreshment.

Let us in turn be trees,

growing in God’s time to maturity,

spreading our roots deep into springs of life,

opening branches wide to all who come

offering strength and healing through our

Peace.

God’s peace be with you all,

Nerys

Click below for instructions about how to fold a simple crane from a square of paper:

https://www.origami-fun.com/origami-crane.html

Rector’s Weekly Letter – 7th May 2020

Dear friends,

It was Jeanette who shared this image with me last week, just a few days after she had lost her beloved dog, Bella. A friend had sent it to her with a verse from Isaiah:

Don’t worry. I’m beside you.

There’s no need to be afraid. I’m looking after you.

I’ll give you the strength and help you need.

I’ll hold you firmly and safely in my hand.

(Isaiah 41.10)

When my Sean was a baby he would often only fall asleep in the evening when his father picked him up and held him in his arms. I can still see his whole body relaxing as he snuggled into Davie’s chest, his anxiety melting away. This is what it’s like, in my experience, when we put our lives into the hands of Christ. A sense of peace and security enters our hearts. Our worries and fears are put into perspective. We relax knowing that we’re not alone. We don’t need to fight to stay in control any longer. We can lay down whatever it is that is troubling us and let it go. We can find rest.

The same thoughtful friend subsequently sent Jeanette the following words by the French philosopher and priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin:

‘I’ve come to think that the only, the supreme, prayer we can offer up, during these hours when the road before us is shrouded in darkness, is that of our master on the cross, in manus tuas commendo spiritum meum (into your hands I commend my spirit). To the hands that broke and gave life to the bread, that blessed and caressed, that were pierced . . . to the kindly and mighty hands that reach down to the very marrow of the soul, which mould and create; to the hands through which so great a love is transmitted. It is to these that it is good to surrender our soul, and above all when we suffer or are afraid. In doing so there is great happiness and consolation.’

My prayer for each one of us during these troubling times has been that we feel held in the hands of the One who will never let go of us. In God’s keeping we are set free to be ourselves more truly than ever before and to be a blessing for others. We are enabled to respond in the midst of a storm with a strength and a wisdom that is not our own. As we are held, we in turn are empowered to reach out and hold those in need of our support and prayers.

With love to you all,
Nerys

Rector’s Weekly Letter – 30th April 2020

Dear friends,

A close encounter with a wren through the glass of the Rectory bay window the other day made me realise how much my life has changed since lockdown began. As I gazed in delight at the tiny bird, noticing the intricate patterns on its wings and upright tail, the white stripe above its eye, its fine bill and delicate legs, I gave thanks for that moment — a moment which I probably wouldn’t have experienced in the busyness of ‘normal’ life.

If you had asked me two months ago about the birds which visit the grounds of St Mary’s, I would have spoken about the four pairs of magpies, the crows who nest in neighbouring trees and the greedy wood pigeons. I couldn’t have told you about the smaller birds because I hadn’t noticed them. Over the last few weeks, I have become aware of the robins, the sparrows, the finches and the wrens and more attuned to their calls. The lack of cars and school children has probably made them bolder and their songs easier for me to hear but also, stripped of the many meetings, events and activities which filled my days, I now have had the time and freedom to watch and listen to them as I used to do as a child on my grandmother’s farm.

In the same way, with more space in my day to reflect and pray, I feel that I’m becoming more attuned to God’s whispering and aware of little movements of God’s spirit within me and around me, noticing small blessings that I would have missed before. It is not surprising that I have been drawn this week to the contemplative writings of Thomas Merton, an American Trappist monk who wrote of the rush and pressure of modern life as ‘a form of violence, which destroys our inner capacity for peace and also destroys the fruitfulness of our work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful’. I have certainly learnt during the last few weeks to value living at a slower pace with fewer distractions so that I can focus on what is life-giving for me in order to better share that life with others.

I’m sure that you also have had all sorts of unexpected experiences and realizations. I wonder what we will take with us from this as we look forward to life after lockdown? Can I encourage you to write down your thoughts so that the valuable lessons we are learning in this challenging time are not lost.

With love to you all,
Nerys

Exploring Prayer
We will have an initial meeting on Zoom on Friday 8th May at 7 p.m. to reflect on the second of Archbishop Justin Welby’s videos, ‘Learning to Lament’ which can be found on https://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/exploring-prayer. Please get in touch with Nerys on rector @ stmarysdunblane.org if you’d like to give it a go. This group is not limited to members of St Mary’s.

Rector’s Weekly Letter

Dear friends,

Many of you have said to me that you’re glad that it is during the Spring that this terrible crisis has hit us and I agree. For me, though, this is not only because this season brings better weather, longer days, birdsong and blossom to lift our hearts. It is because Spring is the traditional time for giving the home a thorough clean. This means that I can justify to my family all the hoovering and dusting, emptying out of drawers and cupboards, I’ve been doing during the last few weeks! I can’t deceive myself, however. I know that cleaning and sorting is an activity I turn to when I need to feel in control of my life. We all respond to uncertainty and danger in different ways but we can choose not to allow fear to possess us, driving us into the darkness of anger or despair. Henri Nouwen wrote about the way faith in God enabled him at difficult times in his life to move from the House of Fear to the House of Love. God doesn’t keep danger from us, he says, but knowing that we are loved and are called to love can make us unafraid and enables us to live life to the full no matter what our circumstances may be. When Jesus says, ‘Make your home in me, as I make mine in you’, he is offering us is a place right in the midst of our anxious world where we can be free to notice the suffering of other people and to respond with compassion.

It’s not easy stay close to the One who said ‘Do not be afraid’ in difficult times such as these when our regular pattern of worship is broken. But we can still pray for each other and encourage one another. If any of you would like to meet on-line to reflect on Archbishop Justin Welby’s excellent series of short videos, Exploring Prayer, please let me know on rector @ stmarysdunblane.org . They can be found at www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/exploring-prayer. You don’t need to be a regular member of St Mary’s to be involved. Everyone will be made welcome.

With love to you all,
Nerys