40th Anniversary of the Paisley Scotland Stake

by Scott S. Gibson, Church History Specialist

The 40th Anniversary of the forming of the Paisley Scotland Stake will be 12th October 2020. This year also marks 180 years since the restored gospel was first accepted in Scotland.

Samuel Mulliner and his family
Samuel Mulliner and his family. It was this Scottish-born Elder who first brought the Gospel to Scotland in 1839

The first two missionaries to preach in Scotland were in fact Scots themselves, who had emigrated and joined the Church in Canada. Later they were sent back to their homeland on a mission. These two men were Samuel Mulliner, who had emigrated from his birthplace in East Lothian, and Alexander Wright from Marnoch in Banffshire. When the two elders arrived in Scotland, they decided that the best place to start their missionary efforts was with their own families. Therefore, they sought out Samuel's parents in Edinburgh and were received with rejoicing on December 22 1839.

By this time, both were unwell, but Alexander was determined to reach his own family and start teaching. He took his leave of Elder Mulliner, while he walked to the north of Scotland to his home town of Marnoch in Banffshire. By this time, his face had all broken out, and his condition was diagnosed as smallpox. When he arrived at his family home, after travelling more than 100 miles on foot, the family did not recognise him because of the disfigurement. Strangely enough, he had no pain or sickness from that time on, and the facial eruptions soon cleared away. He lost no time in talking to his family and friends about the church. Many of them had read the pamphlets he had sent to his parents earlier.

Alexander Wright then made his way to re-join Elder Mulliner who had already started work in Glasgow. At Bishopton, he had met a man called James Lea, a Scot, who had joined the Church in England. He introduced his friends Alexander and Jennet Ballantyne Hay of Wester Rosslan, to the missionary Samuel Mulliner.

The baptismal site has not changed. This photograph was taken in 2019
The baptismal site has not changed. This photograph was taken in 2019

They were baptised in the River Clyde at Bishopton near Paisley, on a cold January 14 1840, the first converts in Scotland. The baptism would have been performed to coincide with the tides. Alexander and Jessie, with possibly some of the family and Elder Samuel Mulliner, would have walked the short distance from Wester Rossland to the baptismal site which historically has been known as Pilgrims Way. It was believed to have been used by the early monks travelling to Iona from Paisley Abbey.  It was the start of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Scotland.

Alexander Wright and Samuel Mulliner had converted and baptised 80 people by the time Orson Pratt came to supervise the work on May 8 1840.

The following testimony was given to Peter D. Cameron, who would later become Paisley Stake President, in April 1992.

Sibyl Bennett Sutherland of Kerrville, Texas, was a great grand-daughter of Alexander and Jessie Hay through their son George Alexander. She relates that Alexander and Jessie worked in Edinburgh for a year before sailing for America on the SS Tyrean from Liverpool in September 1841. They went to Nauvoo, Illinois, where they helped to build a beautiful city with a population of thousands. Jessie Hay's brothers cut timber for the Nauvoo Temple. Two of Alexander and Jessie Hay's boys were born and died in Nauvoo. Some family stories say Alexander died in Nauvoo, others say he died in Saint Louis, Missouri as the Saints were gathering at Independence to go west.​ She adds:

I was converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1947. My husband was converted in 1985. His father never attended church but always lived by Mormon standards and also raised his son the same way.

I attended family gatherings with the Minear, Hay, and Sutherland family reunions. These families that moved to Texas, cleared land, built homes, fenced land, and did all they could to bring culture and refinement to the frontier land.

They raised useful good men and women to continue their names after them and should be revered and remembered. They were not rich, not famous, but sturdy stock that helped to make this nation great.

Cover Illustration for the commemorative book by John S. Gibson: The first baptism in the river Clyde, Jan 14 1840.
Cover Illustration for the commemorative book by John S. Gibson: The first baptism in the river Clyde, Jan 14 1840.

By the end of March, there were eight members of the church. Meetings were being held in Paisley in the home of Grace McMaster. One early convert, John Leishman from Johnstone, had left the Methodist Church and joined the Relief Church, a break-off from Scotland's long-established Presbyterian Church. However, he became dissatisfied with their teachings and began to study other religions. John went along to one of the LDS church meetings. He said that even before Samuel Mulliner spoke, he knew that he was sent of God. John was baptised in the Meikleriggs Burn (a kilometre from the current stake centre), which became the customary baptismal site.

The burn or stream is Candren Burn which travels to the dyeing finishing works of Coats, the largest employer in the town of Paisley. Baptisms probably would have taken place before Meikleriggs Bridge where the burn would not be contaminated from the Coats works. A number of entries in Alexander Wright’s journals said baptisms were performed at Meikleriggs farm near Meikleriggs Bridge. The bridge is still there, although the area is now in a housing development.

President David O. McKay speaking at St Andrews Halls
President David O. McKay speaking at St Andrews Halls

From 80 members in 1840, by 1853 the church membership in Scotland was reported to be as high as 3,291. There have been other periods of tremendous growth. One example of this was after the Scottish-Irish Mission was organised in March 1961. There were 678 converts that December, and through January to July 1962, the mission increased its membership to over 11,000. This growth led to the formation of the first Stake in Scotland, the Glasgow Stake, which was organised on August 26 1962.

More than 2,700 saints met that day in St. Andrew's Halls in Glasgow. A hush fell upon the large gathering as the Prophet David O. McKay came into their midst. He reflected on his early days, when as a young missionary he first set foot on Scottish soil, precisely 65 years previously on August 26 1897. Little did President David O. McKay realise then that he would be returning to Scotland to organise the Glasgow Stake.

One of the highlights of the day was when President McKay came face to face with Annie McVie, who was 83-years-old at that time and the oldest member of the Church in Scotland. Sister McVie was the daughter of George Campbell, a missionary friend and companion to President McKay

President McKay in Edinburgh
President McKay in Edinburgh

The Paisley Stake was formed on Sunday October 12, 1980 in the Usher Hall Edinburgh, as part of the reorganisation of the Scottish Mission into five stakes.  Elder David B. Haight presided at the meeting, and was accompanied by Elder Rex C. Reeve, grandson of one of the first missionaries to Scotland,  Alexander Wright.

There have been six Stake Presidents in Paisley stake from the date it was organised until 2020:

  • Alexander Cumming October 20, 1980, September 7, 1986,
  • Peter D. Cameron September 7, 1986, September 4, 1994,
  • Robert W. Watson September 4, 1994, May 27, 2001,
  • David M. Rae May 27, 2001, September 3, 2006,
  • Douglas A. Yates September 3, 2006, October 25, 2015,
  • Andrew P. Dewey October 25 2015 to date.
conference programme

The seven units in our stake and the current leaders as of August 2020 are:

  • Ayr ward: Bishop J. Andrew Colborne.
  • Greenock Branch: President Stephen W. Cox.
  • Irvine Ward: Bishop Douglas A Yates.
  • Kilmarnock Ward: Bishop Matthew King.
  • Paisley Ward: Bishop Alan Lauchlan.
  • Pollok Ward: Bishop Andrew Keir.
  • Stranraer Branch: President Jim Ferguson.

A special stake broadcast was held in September 2020 to commemorate the anniversary of the formation of the stake, and a book is being produced on the history of the stake, which will include member and missionary testimonies

This telegram was included in the conference programme.
This telegram was included in the conference programme.