The Satinwood Suite was packed out for the annual Carols for Peace service on Sunday 13 December. Perhaps it was a sign that Glaswegians felt the need to pray for peace in light of all the violence happening in our world.
The service was a wonderful and uplifting mix of prayer, mime and music (instrumental and choral). The musical support was provided by the St. Mungo Singers, the Rutherglen Salvation Army Band, instrumentalists John Allan, Monica Dyer, Annette McKirdy, Pauline McNichol, Ann Marie Berry and Carissa Swan, plus Trinity High School Choir and piper Willie Park.
The atmosphere was set by some of the instrumentalists playing on the landing of the main stairs as people arrived. At the entrance to the Satinwood Suits, they were invited to pick an olive wood Christmas decoration brought directly from the Holy Land (marking the link with our twinned town of Bethlehem) by a contact of the small Scottish charity Olive Tree which sells Palestinian products.
As the congregation gathered, the instrumentalists and the Salvation Army band played and the St. Mungo Singers sang. Then piper Willie led in the procession of civic and church representatives, to the strains of Highland Cathedral. The service began with the joyous “Angels we have heard on high”.
Baillie John McLaughlin welcomed everyone on behalf of Lord Provost Sadie Docherty and the City Council. He reflected that the past year had been eventful with austerity, foodbanks, refugee crises, but this was an opportunity to thank all those in Glasgow Churches Together (GCT) who had come together to provide inspiration, leadership and hope.
We had seen the problems in other parts of the world and had played our part in Glasgow to mitigate them. Glasgow says “Refugees are welcome here” and has done so for refugees over the years for whatever reason – the Irish Famine, the progroms in Eastern Europe and more recently the wars in the Middle East. We are proud to stand up and say “refuges are welcome here” , he reiterated, to applause from the congregation.
Baillie McLaughlin also commented that such an ecumenical gathering would have been unthinkable not so many years ago. He finished his welcome by reflecting that we are, all of us, refugees from something in one way or another, and Glasgow is a safe haven for us all.
The service moved forward with a prayer for peace led by Dr. Laurence Whiteley, Vice-Chair of GCT. The St Mungo Singers then sang the lovely carol “Love came down at Christmas”, before the first reading from Isaiah, introduced by a poignant reflection on our twinned town of Bethlehem which, as the commentator said, is now giving a whole new meaning to the phrase “walled city”.
The reading from Isaiah, read by Bishop Gregor Duncan, pledges the return of peace, and the psalm (Psalm 121) which followed gave us the words to pray for it – “May the house of the Lord be at peace”. It was followed by the reading from the prophet Micah which foretells the birthplace of the Messiah. This led, appropriately, into the carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem”. The final reading was Luke’s account of the Nativity, proclaimed with real joy and making us stop and listen to something we have heard so often that perhaps we have ceased to listen.
The Moderator of Glasgow Presbytery, Rev. Tom Pollock, gave the reflection. He began with his memories of singing “O little Town of Bethlehem” as a child, and the romantic ideas he had held about Bethlehem as a result. The reality had been so different when he had visited Bethlehem and had seen a town development was stuttering and stagnating as its people struggled to make things work.
In Bethlehem he had visited the L’Arche community where he had worked with some of the children as they made little felt sheep, and had been told by one little girl that his work was not good enough! That child had taught him that the real story of Bethlehem was not romantic. He had failed to recognise the relevance of the biblical Bethlehem to today’s world. The biblical story of Christmas in fact invites us to look at places where people are oppressed. The sights in Bethlehem today which stayed with him were of a wall which is higher than the Berlin Wall, and more frightening than a nightmare – a wall called the Wall of Security.
We are called to bring down the walls in our own lives and reach out to touch others. Rev. Pollock reflected that the reading for this Sunday from Zephaniah talked of God bringing his people home. Today we are keeping the Christmas story alive and he finished by wishing everyone and holy and peaceful Christmas.
Carissa Swan played quietly on the harp as people digested Rev Pollock’s words, then we sang “Silent Night” in solidarity with people for whom there is “no room at the inn” wherever they might be. The Intercessions (#) followed, read by church representatives, for Glasgow, for those who serve the city, for the faith communities in Glasgow, for all who stand against violence and war, for migrants and refugees, and finally for Bethlehem, the Holy Land and the Middle East. The response, sung between each prayer, was evocative “Peace for your children, let there be peace”. The intercessions ended with the singing of the Lord’s Prayer
A lighter note was introduced as we sang the well-known carol “Good King Wenceslas” and children from St. Monica’s Primary (Kyle Smith, Kevin Baijonauth, Nathan Anderson and Lennon Armstrong) performed a mime of the story ending with a celebratory banquet. The students of Trinity High followed this with a wonderful input of the modern carol “When a Child is Born” and the classic Christmas motet “O Holy Night”.
The service has always taken up a collection for the Lord Provost’ Fund, and this took place while the Salvation Army Band played. The St. Mungo Singers then performed a final piece – Bach’s “Sheep may Safely Graze”. The service closed with a blessing from the church representatives and the rousing carol “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”. The congregations were treated to refreshments by the City Council and some lively entertainment from the (very) young members of the Southside Fiddlers, to round off a wonderful cheering experience.
As citizens of Glasgow, we stand now and pray for each other, for those with a particular responsibility for the city, for all people of faith and of good will, and for our citizens scattered throughout the world. Peace for your children, let there be peace
We pray for all those who provide the city with services for health and education, for housing and social support, policing, the defence forces and fire prevention. Peace for your children, let there be peace
For the people who fill the church with faith and with the good works which help their fellow citizens. Peace for your children, let there be peace
For all people of other faiths and people of good will who care for the well being of their neighbours. Peace for your children, let there be peace
For all who struggle against violence, war, poverty, lack of education and against the lack of all the supports that people need. Peace for your children, let there be peace
For migrants and refugees who have had to leave their homes, and need the hospitality and kindness of their neighbours wherever they are. Peace for your children, let there be peace
We renew our prayer for Bethlehem and the Holy Land, for Syria and Ira, and for people everywhere victimised by violence, war or oppression. Peace for your children, let there be peace