The Glasgow the Welcoming City Service is hosted by Glasgow Churches Together (GCT) and has taken place in the City Chambers for 18 years now. This year there were a number of anniversaries to mark in the celebration: the Glasgow Garden Festival 1988; the centenary of the birth of Nelson Mandela; the 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jnr.; the 30th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster.
The St Mungo Singers were joined by the children of St Denis’ Primary, the Southside Fiddlers and members of their usual instrumental ensemble, Rutherglen Salvation Army Band, and piper Willie Park who greeted attendees at the entrance to the City Chambers and later led the civic and church representatives into the Banqueting Hall.
The St Mungo Singers made the South African connection before the service started with their singing of Jesu, Tawa Pano, before Baillie Russell Robertson welcomed everyone on behalf of the City Council to what he described as a highlight of the ecumenical calendar in Glasgow and one which celebrated the diversity , musicality, fun, passion and commitment to social justice of Glasgow and the warmth of its welcome to everyone. As the adverts say “ People make Glasgow”.
Then it was over to the children of St. Denis’s who really brought the celebration to life with a brilliant rendition by one young pupil of Adam McNaughton’s poem Where is the Glasgow I used to Know which drew out both laughter and memories from the Glaswegians present but probably needed a translator for many others. It was followed by a spirited presentation of Alastair McDonald’s song The Barras.
In a change of texture, we had a sung presentation of Isaiah 55, followed by the well-known and popular hymn Here I am, Lord, and the Gospel reading of the Beatitudes, before Rev. Roy Henderson, the incoming Moderator of Glasgow Presbytery, gave the homily.
He reflected that one person he had spoken to had commented that Glasgow was a “hard place” and mused on how places and people can get a reputation. Many view people of faith as a problem! And yet, he said, we are about the “common good”, about blessedness, about Glasgow flourishing, about proclaiming the Good News – care, neighbourliness, kindness, generosity. God is already in our city.
All kinds of people come to Glasgow and find bread, not stones, from the Glasgow Garden Festival 30 years ago till today, Glasgow has been a place of welcome and refuge. We don’t take ourselves too seriously but we are a “Magnificat” place! Rev. Henderson finished with quotes from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks – where was God in the Holocaust? God was there! – and Jurgen Moltmann who urges us not to look too high for God – He comes as bread for the poor and is the person who cleans our feet.
As we digested Rev. Roy’s inspiring and challenging words, the Southside Fiddlers changed the texture again. Their smallest player took centre stage first in dungarees and a colourful headband to play a brilliant mix of slow and fast pieces for us before she was joined by her colleagues who played a great mix of music, proving yet again that “Glasgow has talent”! To confirm this, if we needed any confirmation, they were followed by St Denis’s pupils who this time reminded us of Nelson Mandela’s visit to Glasgow 24 years ago when he danced George Square. They sang and acted out Ian Davison’s song When Mandela Danced in the Square.
The intercessions followed, with a specially added one for former Lord Provost Pat Lally who had just died. We prayed for equality and social justice; for care for the environment; the families of those who died in the Piper Alpha disaster; for our young people; for visitors to Glasgow; for our council. Then Rev. Chris Foxon introduced a moment’s silence, before we sang the Lord Prayer.
Every year we have a special collection at the service and this year it was for Christian Aid and their work with child victims of war. Before the collection, Rev. Sally Foster-Fulton, head of Christian Aid Scotland, spoke movingly about the fact that we gather together because together we are stronger and indeed we are called together by God to bring about real change.
She quoted the shocking statistics about refugees and the inequalities of the position of women in the world today. And she cautioned about the temptation to think we can do nothing and therefore not to act. Our neighbours now are across the world and we have so much to live and learn from each other. So we should remember that together we are stronger, so go forth and flourish!
After the service, there was as usual the chance to chat over tea and biscuits, while our young fiddlers played. Another great service, sowing the wealth of Glasgow’s resources and the warmth of its welcome.