The Watchnight Service at Glasgow Cathedral is always a lovely alternative way to welcome in the New Year. This year, Storm Dylan had passed and the rain had gone off in time for the congregation to gather in the Cathedral. They were joined by representatives of Glasgow Churches Together, co-sponsors of the service.
The Cathedral Strings played a mixture of well-loved carols and classical pieces in welcome as the congregation settled in the choir. Then Rev. Roger Sturrock led the service of hymns, readings, and reflections, which gave us all time to look back over the year just ending and look forward to the year to come. He began by lighting a candle in the sanctuary to invite all present to remember people experiencing any kind of difficulty at this time.
The first prayer was led by Rev. Catriona Corton of Hillhead Baptist Church who asked us to recall all the good things that had happened in the past 12 months in both our personal circumstances and in the wider community and to thank God for them, and to remember also the bad or difficult events and to ask forgiveness for them.
The sermon was given by Rev. Ian Galloway, Moderator of Glasgow Presbytery. He reflected how he had spent time recently with a lady of 92 who was clearly tired and ready to meet the Lord. This reminded him of the poignant Gospel story of the presentation in the Temple and the two old people, Simeon and Anna, who had waited all their lives to see the Saviour, and were now ready to be released from this life. For them the end was not something sad, when seen through the lens of faith.
Sometimes, he said, we yearn for things to end. We had campaigned for example to “Make Poverty History” or had taken part in the Big Sleep Out to end homelessness. We want an end to war or addictions. But for some, addiction leads to despair and a yearning for the end of life. However we need to look forward as well as back. His own 94 year-old mother was a great example here of living the fullness of life.
As people of faith, we are about death and resurrection. In Scotland, the church in recent years has ceased to be the centre of life and is closer to the margins. Many lament this: “if only we could go back to where we were”, but this ignores what God is doing in the world. We are now a more diverse community, more able to link to others and to be aware of our impact on others.
Perhaps this is an opportunity to capture the experiences of the early Church whose members were pushed out and into the wider world. Perhaps in the words of Micah, we are being humbled so as to be brought closer to God. This brought to mind, for him, his favourite Sidney Carter song One More Step along the Way. We are always taking the next step forward on our journey. (Appropriately the Cathedral Strings responded by playing a verse of that hymn!).
The guest soloist this year was Daniel Barrett, a first year student of the Royal Conservatoire, who provided a beautiful addition to the service with his renditions of Handel’s The Trumpet Shall Sound and the carol It Came upon the Midnight Clear. The traditional collection taken at the service was dedicated this year to EMMS’s appeal “Every Life Matters” for cancerev. r sufferers in Malawi. The intercessions for our city and our world were led by Archbishop Tartaglia.
As midnight approached, the Interim Moderator for the Cathedral, Rev. David Easton, recalled the Italian tradition he had read about, of opening the house doors and throwing out the unwanted rubbish at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Perhaps it reflects the desire to make a new start – and that is the offer of the Gospel, the possibility to make a new beginning and not to have to live in the past.
As the bells rang we turned to the people around us and wished each other a Happy New Year. Then it was time to go forth into the New Year, refreshed and renewed.
This note cannot end without one acknowledgement. We missed the quiet, warm presence at the service of Dr. Lawrence Whitley who retired as Minister of the Cathedral this year and wish him all the best in his retirement.