This annual summer service hosted by Glasgow Churches Together (GCT) took place this year on 14th June. The poor weather had not persuaded large numbers to venture out into the city centre – other than a passing Orange Walk!- which was a pity as the service this year was probably one of the most varied and thought-provoking ones for some years. It centred on the themes of searching, migration and welcome.
Piper Willie Park and instrumentalists Dr. Noel Donnelly and John Allan welcomed the participants to the City Chambers, where the service took place in the Banqueting Hall. Musical support for the service was provided by the Rutherglen Salvation Army Band, the St. Mungo Singers and a group of instrumentalists.Baillie John McLaughlin greeted everyone with obvious pride and pleasure on behalf of the City Council, noting that it was good to see so many different denominations together in a city unfairly known for religious divisions. His welcome today, he said, was from all to all, and he took the opportunity to acknowledge the positive work and invaluable influence of GCT in the city. In Glasgow, he said, we now accept and respect differences and embrace diversity.
The opening prayer, read by Fr.David Wallace, Chair of GCT, echoed the theme of the welcoming city, in its invitation to pray not only for the city but for people of other countries looking for refuge from violence, war, unrest or poverty. The words of the hymn which followed – Bernadette Farrell’s “Christ be Our Light” continued the themes of longing for peace and light and shelter and the scripture reading from the Book of Ruth – a refugee in Israel – was very fitting.
Some young musicians from the Night Fever Music Ministry then gave the congregation an insight to the work of Night Fever in St. Aloysius Church, Glasgow, where people are invited and welcomed into the church to sit and pray (if they wish) or just find some space in their lives, with someone to talk to if they wish. They sang two lovely hymns, one based on the Beatitudes and the other a setting of Psalm 61(62), and read the passage from Genesis 12 in which Abram is instructed by God to leave his homeland and family.The next part of the service was quite a contrast – a reading by Dr. Laurence Whitley, minister of Glasgow Cathedral, of a poem by Stephen Smyth written around the experience of Elijah in the cave on Mount Horeb entitled “What am I doing here?”. The prayer which followed asked for strength to go on searching like Abraham and Elijah, and this was echoed in the singing by the St. Mungo Singers of the words from Isaiah 55 “Seek the Lord while he is still to be found”. The next congregational hymn was an appropriate response – “Be Still and Know that I am God”.
The final scripture reading was Colossians 1:15-23 with its theme of the unity of all. The Moderator of Glasgow Presbytery, Rev Stuart Smith, gave the reflection. He began on a light note, recalling the most recent time he had been in the Banqueting Hall when Glasgow Warriors had paraded their newly won trophy Iit had been important not just that they won the trophy but who they had beaten to do so.
We can be good at not being welcoming to others. The Israelites also knew how to keep alive grudges, as witness their stance with regard to Moab in the Old Testament because of that nation’s treatment of Israel on its way from Egypt. Therefore it very hard for Ruth as a Moabitess to come to Israel. In today’s language she could be viewed as a “benefit scrounger”, but Boaz acted differently from his ancestors and welcomed her. His actions led in time to the birth of King David, so we can never know where our actions will lead when we offer the hand of friendship.
As human beings, we are made to welcome others. It is so good to be a “welcoming city” for political and economic reasons. For us as Christians, there are deeper reasons. We are called to welcome strangers and forgive enemies. As St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Colossians, Christ suffered to change us and bring us to God. He knew that everyone is someone special and no-one is too strange or different to share in our community.
As the service drew to a close, the St. Mungo Singers provided a lively and encouraging anthem in the shape of R.S. Thatcher’s “Come, ye Faithful”, before the church leaders led by Bishop Gregor Duncan gave the blessing and the congregation joined in the final hymn “Immortal Invisible God Only Wise”.
The City Council had, as usual, provided hospitality for those taking part, and there was enjoyable entertainment in the form of some young members of the Southside Fiddlers who played a selection of lively tunes to send everyone off in a positive mood.