Last year, musicians and congregation had to fight their way through the snow to attend the Annual Carols for Peace service organised by Glasgow Churches Together and hosted by Glasgow City Council. This year the weather was much more accommodating and the City Chambers Banqueting Hall was full for the service, with extra chairs having to be brought in.
People were greeted by piper Willie Park playing outside and Carissa Bovill on clarsach, John Allen on whistle and Clare O’Neill on violin inside the Chambers. Music for the service itself was provided by Rutherglen Salvation Army Band, instrumentalists John, Carissa, Clare, Annette, Pauline, Marie Claire, Monica and Monica, children from the Southside Fiddlers, and members of the St. Mungo Singers.
Before the service began, the St. Mungo Singers sang the joyful 14th Century carol “Resonet in Laudibus” in the setting by Jacobus Gallus, then, in complete contrast of style, a solo cantor declaimed the Christmas Proclamation, the text of which seeks to fix the birth of Christ firmly in historical time, with its references to secular as well as salvation history.
As the church and civic leaders entered, the choir led the congregation in singing “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”. Baillie Cathy McMaster, representing the Lord Provost, welcomed those present to what she described as time out from the rush of Christmas preparations. For some this season is a lonely or sad one and she invited people to open their hearts to them at this time. Remembering Glasgow’s special link to Bethlehem, she asked us to be aware of our good fortune on our journey through life – we are not affected by violence or war, nor required to put our lives at risk for freedom. Finally she thanked the church communities for their work in creating bonds of respect and compassion , and caring for those in the city who need care.
The opening prayer was led by Rev. Sandra Black, Moderator of Glasgow Presbytery. A quietly reflective response was provided by the sung Prologue of St. John. It was followed by the well-loved carols “Once in Royal David’s City” and “Silent Night”, with a reading from Isaiah 9 (given by Archbishop Conti) between them.
The reflection was provided by Rt. Rev. Gregor Duncan (Bishop of Glasgow & Galloway). Taking up the idea of journeying mentioned by Baillie McMaster, he pointed out that St. Luke’s nativity narrative is full of journeys: of the shepherds, the Magi, the Holy Family. St. John’s Gospel Prologue tells the story of the greatest journey, that of God into our world. Finally one of our most popular carols, “O Come, all ye faithful”, calls on us to journey in our turn. Our happiness is rooted in how far God has journeyed to love us into the fullness of our humanity.
The instrumentalists played as the congregation reflected on the words of Bishop Duncan, before all joined in singing the very appropriate carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem” with its words “O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel”.
Intercessions followed in which prayers were offered for the needs of our world:
“1.Let us pray that we may always remember that there was no room for the Saviour in the inn, and that our city may continue to give a Christian witness of welcome particularly to those whose lives are marked by suffering in any way. We commend to you the work being carried out in the City Mission and in other locations to provide food and shelter to the homeless.
2.For ourselves We pray that just as Charles and John Wesley transmitted the gospel through their songs, and in particular Hark the Herald angels sing, we may be living gospels witnessing to the love of God to each person we meet in our homes, workplaces, neighbourhoods and churches.
3.For the people of Bethlehem: Our thoughts turn to the people of Bethlehem, a city with which Glasgow is twinned. May the Arab Christians experience the solidarity of the world wide Christian family especially at this time of year. May the peace which Jesus promised become a reality in the Holy Land.
4.For the City of Glasgow and the Nation of Scotland. Gathered here in the City Chambers we remember all the citizens of this city and ask that in midst of current difficulties a renewed sense of solidarity may flourish amongst everyone so that Glasgow might witness to the nation and to the world what a city could be like where people love one another and are ready to give their lives for each other”
The intercessions ended with the singing of the Lord’s Prayer and the gentle carol “Love came down at Christmas”. It is the tradition at this service to take up a collection for the Lord Provost’s Charity and, while this was being done, the children of the Southside Fiddlers played traditional music.
The final part of the service began with a sung blessing, the Gaelic Blessing set by John Rutter, and the spoken blessing given jointly by the church leaders present. The final carol had to be “O come, all ye faithful” and it was sung and played with joy, filling the Banqueting Hall with sound. Then the Salvation Army Band played a selection of carols as people moved through to enjoy some refreshments, courtesy of the City Council, and a chance to chat, and the Southside Fiddlers produced more toe-tapping music to provide a fittingly happy end to a lovely service.