If you want an alternative way to see out the old year and bring in the New Year, the annual Hogmanay Watchnight service in Glasgow Cathedral provides a warm and prayerful ecumenical experience.
This year,the Cathedral Strings welcomed the congregation as it gathered with a selection of well-known carols and hymns. Their leader got the people humming the music of Silent Night, a way to get them involved (and perhaps subtly to ensure the appropriate use of vocal chords!). Then the service started with a welcome from Roger Sturrock to the evening and an invitation to join in the first carol, the rousing “Joy to the World”.
A more reflective mood was set by the next hymn “Be Still and Know that I am God”. Mary Welsh of the Archdiocese of Glasgow’s Ecumenical Commission then led the congregation in the first prayer in which, reflecting on the work of the churches together in Glasgow, she asked that the Lord support the continuation of that work with people in need. She finished by quoting the prayer of St. Francis (Make me a channel of your peace) and the prayer which forms the full motto of the City of Glasgow. The congregation responded with the singing of a contemporary hymn which has become very popular “In Christ alone my hope is found”.
Ugandan baritone Terence Ayebare returned as soloist for the service, and his first piece was a beautiful rendition of the Lord’s Prayer. This was followed by the SoundBite interview which gives an opportunity for a charity or church group in the city to publicise its work. This year Jim McNair interviewed Grant Campbell of the Glasgow City Mission.
Grant spoke of their work at this time of the year providing a Winter Night Shelter. It is currently operating in the Blythswood Hall of Renfield St.Stephens Church, thanks to the kindness of the congregation. It offers support to the most vulnerable people who are homeless as a result of addictions, violence etc. and who have no network of supporting relationships at times of difficulty.
The aim is to give them one night’s accommodation while efforts are made to get alternative temporary or permanent housing, but at this season often all the alternatives are full – there is no room at the inn – and many become “permanent” residents. For the rest of the year, the City Mission receives between 150-200 people each day , accepting them as they are and trying to help them to move on in their lives and to improve their skills.
Elspeth Glasgow of Glasgow Churches Together read the scripture passage for the evening from the Book of Joshua, before the offering was taken up for the work of the City Mission. Terence Ayebare then sang “Look at his Glorious Cross”, a meditation in song.
The reflection for the service was given by former Moderator of the General Assembly, the Very Rev. Albert Bogle, and it was both enjoyable and challenging. After an opening prayer, he asked “how has the year been for you?” Most people, he suggested, would respond that there were times where they struggled. This led to further questions – are these problems random and is life a sea of random events? If we join all these events up, is there a purpose to them? How can we see a purpose in things such as the recent helicopter crash?
So often we feel helpless but we believe that there must be hope, and he offered a Bible text to accompany us throughout the coming year, that which had just been read from the Book of Joshua “Only be strong and of good courage. I the Lord your God am with you.” This same confidence in the accompanying presence of God is repeated throughout the Old Testament e.g. in Psalm 22(23). It is reflected in the life of Christ. Therefore we have to be strong. Fear seeks to control us but perfect love casts out fear. Mr. Bogle is an enthusiastic musician and writer of hymns, and he finished with an amusing reference to a hymn which has been many years in the writing and yet to be finished. In it he visualises God as a lion by his side, offering protection, and he invited everyone to put out their hand “and feel the lion’s mane” each time they were anxious or in fear.
It seemed very appropriate after that reflection to stand and sing “To be a Pilgrim” before the final part of the service. Dr Laurence Whitley, minister of the Cathedral, led the congregation towards the coming of the New Year. He remarked that Mr. Bogle’s reflection reminded him of an African tale of a mouse and an elephant walking over a bridge. The mouse exclaimed “we really gave that bridge a shake” – so too we can do great things, working in partnership and walking in the company of a source of enormous power. We should not think small, because of the One who walks with us. God calls us to do, not what we can do, but what He can do. We should thank God that we are part of his great and wonderful purpose.
As the bells rang in the New Year, the congregation wished each other peace and joy, and then it was time to go out into that new Year, singing “Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided, urged and inspired us, cheered us on our way”.