Glasgow Churches Together (GCT) held their annual schools cantata in November in Wellington Church of Scotland which has proved to be a popular venue for the celebration. This year the church was encased in scaffolding but its welcome was as warm as ever.
The assistant minister, Rev Roger Sturrock, greeted a sea of schoolchildren and their teachers who filled the church with the colours of their uniforms and school banners and their excitement, as well as providing a snapshot of the multi-ethnic and multicultural mix that is modern Glasgow. He drew their attention to the carving of a dove which graced the pulpit and represented the Holy Spirit and he asked that the Holy Spirit would be with them and in them as they enjoyed their cantata.
This year’s cantata was the story of Joseph and Mary – a short story perhaps when based on the Gospels but a beautiful and challenging one which centred on what God asked of both Joseph and Mary, and their very human yet faith-filled response, asking why God had chosen them but accepting his will. In telling the story, the children had the assistance of students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland who provided musical support, both instrumental and vocal.
The cantata celebration began with a procession of children dressed in character, led by Joseph and Mary. These represented the forebears of Jesus from Abraham to King David, and there were also Scottish guests – Saints Mungo and Columba. Each section of the celebration was introduced by a presenter from a different primary school, all of whom were impressively clear and professional in delivery, and each section of the singing was led by a different primary school.
It was wonderful to experience how the schools, having only come together for the first time that morning for a brief rehearsal, combined to produce a brilliantly smooth and successful performance. Even the sole hitch, when the CD for the dancers from St. Ninian’s Primary refused to play, was resolved with creativity and professionalism, when two of the Conservatoire students offered their services to provide live music – they play in a ceilidh band! – and the young dancers handled the delay and the change in accompaniment so well.
This year is the 350th anniversary of the Royal Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow and the opportunity was taken to remember an earlier legal milestone in Scotland when St Adamnan, Abbot of Iona, persuaded kings and leaders of much of Scotland and Ireland to agree the Law of the Innocents. The children told the story of this event in the form of a newsflash (from 697AD!) and then sang the song in honour of St. Adamnan.
The final part of the celebration consisted of prayers of intercession for issues with which the children could identify: children denied an education; their own families and families who are refugees or living in poverty; for laws to serve the common good and the wellbeing of all people; for peace and for victims of violence and war.
Every year at the cantata a collection is taken up for a charity chosen by the schools. This year it was for Sr. Pauline Dempsey’s school of St. Patrick in Barbados which has a school roll of 150 children. The children brought their donations down in procession behind their school banners.
Two of the invited guests spoke at the end to express their appreciation of the celebration and the work put in by the children and their teachers . As one put it in a memorable phrase, it had fed her soul, and the message for all takin part was that coming together, they had made something really special for which she thanked them.
The students who had given so much support with their playing now got the opportunity to make their own contribution with a lovely sung piece before Rev. Chris Foxon, Vice Chair of GCT, gave the final blessing. Then, all too soon it seemed, it was time for the final hymn The Hymn of Columba and then the children and their teachers were off to find their buses and back to school.
For the instrumentalists and the adult volunteers and guests, there was a light lunch in Wellington Church’s great Crypt Café where we discovered that there had been an unseen audience – the café staff who had heard the cantata through the gratings in the main church floor and thoroughly enjoyed it.