Moderator visits "inspiring" outreach projects to mark Challenge Poverty Week

The Moderator of the General Assembly said he is very impressed by the inspirational work spearheaded by church members to support some of the most vulnerable people in society.

Lord Wallace visited St Mark's Parish Church in the Raploch area of Stirling and The Gate, a project pioneered by Ludgate Church in Alloa, Clackmannanshire yesterday, to mark Challenge Poverty Week.

He said they were examples of congregations living out the Gospel and ensuring that they are at the heart of work to help men, women and children who are struggling to make ends meet.

St Mark's Parish Church
Lord Wallace with Rev Barry Hughes and members of St Mark's Parish Church in Raploch, Stirling.

Lord Wallace spent the morning at St Mark's Parish Church with members and minister, Rev Barry Hughes, who told him about the projects they support and their community outreach work.

A variety of groups use the building on a weekly basis including Home Start Stirling, which runs a ‘Stay and Play Café' for parents with pre-school children.

Lord Wallace and his wife Rosie met staff and some of the parents and children yesterday to hear about their lives and how the project benefits them.

They also heard about the congregation's regular weekly all age worship gathering in the café at the nearby Sainsbury's supermarket.

Church members provide those most in need food vouchers as part of the outreach project.

Mr Hughes revealed that he is a regular visitor to Bella's café near the church to buy coffee in the mornings and chats with staff and customers.

It is part of his routine to be a visible presence in the community and get to know people who would not normally attend church on a Sunday morning.

Lord Wallace and Rev Barry Hughes
Lord Wallace and Rev Barry Hughes

Lord Wallace said: "I found the meeting with Barry, members of the congregation and Home Start Stirling really stimulating.

"This is a church right in the heart of the Raploch and the minister said that if it was pulled down, the congregation would want it rebuilt in the same location.

"It is a church that not only welcomes people in, and has a whole host of activities, but it is one that also goes out into the community to where people are.

"I was particularly taken that there is a regular service in the Sainsbury's café which is a great mission opportunity.

"There is much enthusiasm for the very valuable work being done and there is a clearly a very strong link between the minister, the congregation and the community which they serve."

The Church of Scotland has designated St Mark's Parish Church as a priority area congregation because it is within a community where deprivation rates fall within the bottom 5% across all of the social and economic indicators.

Mr Hughes said members "loved" meeting Lord Wallace and his wife.

"Given this is Challenge Poverty Week, the Moderator's visit helps us to highlight the work that needs to be done in Priority Area churches," he explained.

"We told him about the different groups that are based here who we support, the outreach work that we do such as holding services in the café at the Sainsbury's supermarket nearby which provides an opportunity for us to ensure people are fed.

"We shared with him that St Mark's has close partnerships with other organisations like the local council and other charities to make sure we are not overlapping with the services we offer.

"Our primary objective is to be a church that is there for everybody, people of all faiths and none, and it is well known locally that our building is far more than just a place where people worship on a Sunday morning.

"We see ourselves as the physical and spiritual heart of the Raploch community and the church is a place that people can come to when they need help, support and someone to chat to."

Lord Wallace -The Gate
Lord Wallace presents a gift to Rita McNeil, one of the founding trustees of the charity and an elder at Ludgate Church. With Jilly Guild, chief officer of The Gate.

Lord Wallace spent the early afternoon meeting staff, volunteers and service users at The Gate project in Alloa, which benefits thousands of people every year.

The charity is based in a former church – rented from the General Trustees - which helps vulnerable and lonely people who have been homeless, with around 500 people a month using its food services.

It operates a crisis foodbank, Soup Pot, Community Café, Home Starter Pack Project, School Uniform Bank, peer led social groups and a nearby charity shop.

Community chef Michael Greer runs courses to help people learn how to cook healthy meals.

Beacon of hope

Jilly Guild, chief officer of The Gate, said: "People who use our services often feel that they are ignored and forgotten about.

"So, having the Moderator come to visit helped to show them that they are important and matter.

"He spent time with some of our clients and listened to stories about their struggles and challenges.

"The Gate is a lifeline to many and it is seen as a beacon in the community."

Many of the trustees of The Gate are involved in the life of the local church such as Val Rose who is the session clerk of Ludgate Church.

The congregation's minister, Rev Dawn Laing, said she visits the project most days to meet local people and have a coffee.

Lord Wallace said: "The Gate is a really good example of turning a church building that is no longer in use for worship into a very valuable resource for the community.

"I was very impressed by what happens there and also with the commitment of the staff and volunteers.

"Challenge Poverty Week enables us to focus on the reality of life for many people but the important thing to remember is these challenges will still be there next week and beyond.

"That is why the Church has a continuing role to play in both highlighting the issues in the public sphere and having people in local communities committed to taking steps to address them."

Lord Wallace- Alloa Academy.
Lord Wallace pictured with senior pupils at Alloa Academy, headteacher Colin Bruce and Councillor Ellen Forson, leader of Clackmannanshire Council. The gift to the school is a design based on a carving at St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, Orkney where the Moderator is an elder.

Lord Wallace later visited Alloa Academy and met parents who have benefitted from the Columba 1400 leadership academy.

He heard first hand from four young people from Alva Academy about how attending a residential course on the Isle of Skye has helped to empower them and boost their confidence.

The Moderator took part in an online Challenge Poverty Week discussion organised by Stirling Presbytery and the Church's Faith Impact Forum yesterday evening.

Other panel members included Councillor Ellen Forson, leader of Clackmannanshire Council, Rev Barry Hughes and Rev Dr Martin Johnstone, who pioneered Scotland's first Poverty Truth Commission.