There was a wonderful, happy buzz in the City Chambers for the 12th annual Carols for Peace service – now a settled part of the city’s preparations for Christmas. Unlike some previous years, there had been no need to struggle through the snow or rain. The only problem for some people was finding a seat in the Banqueting Hall, as it was standing room only by the time the service began.
As the congregation arrived, they were welcomed by piper Willie Park and harpist Carissa Bovill, and on entering the Banqueting Hall, they were given the gift of a lovely olive wood Christmas decoration. In the Banqueting Hall itself, an instrumental ensemble played “O Holy Night”, the Airdrie Salvation Army Band played the Coventry Carol, and the St.Mungo Singers sang the lively “Resonet in Laudibus” to set the mood. Then the solemn Christmas Proclamation – setting the birth of the Lord firmly in its historical context – was sung.
The service itself started with the entry of the Lord Provost, Civic and Church representatives, as everyone joined in the singing of “O Little Town of Bethlehem”. The Lord Provost welcomed them to the celebration which she described as time out to enjoy the pleasure of music and the spirit of Christmas. On a more sombre note, she asked the congregation to keep in their prayers those killed in the tragic events of Newtown,Connecticut and their families. Reflecting on how fortunate we were to live at a time of relative peace and in freedom, she reminded us that with these benefits come responsibilities. She thanked Glasgow Churches Together and its constituent churches for their work in showing compassion to those in need.
After the opening prayer, led by the Moderator of Glasgow Presbytery, the Rev. Howard Hudson, the choir proclaimed in song the Prologue from St. John’s Gospel –”In the Beginning was the Word…” before leading the congregation in the next carol “Once in Royal David’s City”. Pupils from St. Monica’s Primary School then delighted us with a Christmas poem in Scots.
Archbishop Tartaglia read the well-known passage from the prophecy of Isaiah “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light…”, and the congregation responded with what is probably the most loved of carols , Silent Night.
The reflection was given Rt. Rev. Gregor Duncan, Episcopalian Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway. Referring to St. Paul’s Letter to Titus which provides one of the readings for Christmas Day, he acknowledged that it is doesn’t linger in the memory as do the Christmas stories from the Gospels. However the extract used at Christmas focuses our attention on the fact of the revelation of the grace, the love and kindness of God. It reminds us that the baby whose birth we celebrate is the definitive appearance of God. Human life is at its best if lived in loving dependence on God and the challenge for us is to let Christ be continually born in us for the renewal of our world.
Intercessions followed for the city of Glasgow and its citizens, the city of Bethlehem, the peace of the world and all in need. They ended with the singing of the Lord’s Prayer. Then the multi-ethnic make-up of modern Glasgow was highlighted as a group of singers from the Asian Christian and African communities led the congregation in the singing of “Adeste Fideles” with the verses in Urdu, Yoruba, Swahili and English, and the refrain in English. It worked beautifully and joyfully!
The tradition at this service is for a collection to be taken up for the Lord Provost’s charity, and this was now done, while the instrumentalists played “Child in the Manger”. The choir then sang Ken Jones’ lovely motet “He became as a man” based on the canticle from Philippians. There were smiles during it as one little girl, having clearly missed the collection plate, came up with her father to put her offering in.
The service finished with a blessing by the church leaders and the final carol, the rousing “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”. Refreshments were provided by the City Council in the adjacent rooms, where the congregation were entertained by the children of the Southside Fiddlers, while the Salvation Army band continued to play seasonal music in the Banqueting Hall. It was a truly fitting way to remind ourselves of the meaning of the Christmas season in the midst of all the commercial rush.