Time out for reflection and prayer – a rare thing during the mad scramble which is the run-up to Christmas, but Glaswegians had an opportunity for this on 15th December when the city’s annual Carols for Peace service, organised by Glasgow Churches Together (GCT), took place in the City Chambers.
A piper greeted them at the entrance on George Square, against a background of Christmas lights and a skating rink. In the Banqueting Hall, they were met with seasonal gifts of little olive wood Christmas decorations and pressed flower cards from the Holy Land, reminding them of the origins of this service – the twining of Glasgow with Bethlehem and the desire to pray for peace in the Holy Land.
The service was supported musically by the St. Mungo Singers, the Parkhead Salvation Army Band, and an instrumental ensemble comprising John Allan, Anne Marie Berrie, Carissa Bovill (there despite having broken a bone in her foot but with elbow crutches decorated with tinsel!), Monica Dyer, Pauline McNicol and Claire O’Neill.
The Hall was full by the time the Church and civic leaders entered for the beginning of the service. The City Council was represented by Bailie Gerry Leonard who was taking the place of the Lord Provost who was unwell.
The choir led everyone in the opening hymn – the Magnificat – before Bailie Leonard welcomed those present to the service, which he described as an opportunity not only to take time out but also to thank the churches in Glasgow for all that they do for the city and its people. He acknowledged that this year, however, there was a sombre note behind the celebrations, as a result of the recent tragedy at the Clutha Vaults as well as the death of Nelson Mandela. He asked that two minutes’ silence be observed in remembrance before the service got underway.
Archbishop Tartaglia led the congregation in prayer for those who had died and those who mourned. This was followed by the singing of the UN hymn for the World Day of Peace, expressing our heartfelt desire, particularly at this season, for peace in the world.
The next section of the service began with the singing of the Christmas Proclamation which sets the birth of Christ in its context in the history of the world – a fact not just a nice story. After the choir and congregation had sung the much-loved carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, Dr. David Sinclair, Moderator of Glasgow Presbytery, read Isaiah’s wonderful prophecy of hope “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light”.
The reflection for the service was given by Rev. Alan Donaldson of the Baptist Union who brought laughter then some tears to the Hall when he recalled how Boney M had had a hit record some years before with “By the Rivers of Babylon” and young people were dancing in clubs to a psalm! We in our turn were now echoing the words of that psalm “by the rivers we sat down and wept” as we mourn those who died in the helicopter crash.
However, he challenged us, we have also to sing songs of celebration (both then in Babylon and now in Glasgow). This has always been the case. We have to get into the Christmas mood, and it is harder for some people than for others. The shepherds at Bethlehem, he suggested, probably hadn’t been in the party mood when the angels came with their message, but then they didn’t know what the baby had come to do. When they – and we- do know, then it changes everything.
Now God is like us and with us, in the bad news and sadness, when we cry out for peace as we do today. That is why Christmas is good news – God can be with us in times of sadness and greater joy. We can, as the angels announced, have peace in our hearts at all times.
In the quiet moments which followed, as the congregation reflected on his words, the ensemble played one of the most loved Christmas hymns “O Holy Night”. Then representatives of the Glasgow churches led the intercessions for Bethlehem, Glasgow and the wider world:
As we have celebrated in music and song the coming of the Christ Child , born in Bethlehem , we pray for the people of Bethlehem, that our prayers and actions may dispel all fear from our world , and bring about the peace the angels proclaimed at his birth.Lord hear us The Christ Child was born into a world of conflict. As we face conflict in so many parts of today’s world, we pray for world peace founded on justice , respecting the dignity of each person and nation, especially in the Middle East, Africa , and the land of Syria .
Lord hear usThis week we have reflected on the life of Nelson Mandela and his long walk to freedom. Glasgow was one of the first cities to acknowledge his struggle for justice, even when he was in prison. Mandela lived out his call to work for reconciliation and peace in the midst of conflict. May we who are called by the Lord to act in justice and peace take courage from Mandela’s example and renew our efforts to work for equality and the dignity of each person and nation.
Lord hear us
Glasgow is in grief as we remember the tragedy and loss of life in the Clutha Vaults. We pray for all those who grieve , that they may be comforted.We pray for the family and friends of those who died or are injured , for the emergency services, and for our own civic leaders.May they be strengthened by our prayers, and know the support of all who care as they face the sorrow of the days ahead.
Lord hear us.
Let us remember the citizens of Glasgow as we enter the new year 2014, the year of the Commonwealth Games and the Scottish Referendum. We pray for the guidance of the Lord as we prepare for this new stage in the life of our city, and our land. May we be blessed by the gift of warm hospitality and kindness to welcome visitors to our city, and work together to ensure a lasting legacy for the city.
Lord hear us.
The Intercessions concluded with the singing of the South African hymn “Send me, Jesus (Thuma Mima)”
The service finished with the singing of the Lord’s Prayer, followed by the classic carol “Adeste Fideles” and the blessing by the church leaders present, led by Rev. Alan Anderson (Chair of GCT) who took the opportunity to thank everyone who had helped to prepare the service, and the City Council for their hospitality.
After the choir had led the singing of the final carol “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”, the congregation made its way into the adjoining hall to enjoy some Christmas cheer, as the Salvation Army band played in the Banqueting Hall and the youngsters of the Southside Fiddlers played next door, giving a real feeling of cheer – they even managed an impromptu rendition of “Happy Birthday” for one lady in the congregation.