This alternative way to welcome the New Year is hosted each year at Glasgow Cathedral by Glasgow Churches Together (GCT) and Hope Alba. The Watchnight Service is one which, through a mix of music (congregational and solo), prayer, scripture and reflection invites and provides an opportunity to the congregation to reflect on the year just finishing and to look forward to and pray for the year about to start.
The weather was more welcoming than in some previous years, dry and mild. Inside the Cathedral, the Cathedral Strings welcomed the congregation with a selection of warmly familiar carols finishing, in keeping with tradition, with Silent Night which everyone was invited to hum along with.
This year’s music included the opening hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, Bernadette Farrell’s very popular setting of Psalm 138 (139) O God, You Search Me and You Know Me, Andrew Scobie’s very appropriate Look Forward in Faith, Graham Kendrick’s challenging Beauty for Brokenness with its refrain “God of the Poor, Friend of the Weak” and the traditional closing hymn Lord, for the Years.
The soloist this year was Rosie Lavery who was joined by Lee McKendrick for her first piece, Vivaldi’s Laudamus Te, and who sang the lovely carol In the Bleak Midwinter as her second offering.
Mgr Paul Conroy gave the reflection which linked to the evening’s scripture reading from the Book of Revelation (21:1-7) in particular the words “Behold I am making all things new”. Mgr. Paul recalled the old tradition at this time of year of bathing and changing your clothes in readiness for the New Year. There was an Advent kind of feeling about – expectancy, being watchful, looking to the future in faith and hope – to our Saviour God-with-us.
Inevitably we look back at this time to the achievements and the failures of the past year, as well as to the future. He quoted Pope Francis in his Christmas message, speaking of the shadows of terror and injustice afflicting our world. What is there to be hopeful for. The baby has been born in Bethlehem but little or nothing appears to have changed – is there no room for hope? God says “Behold I am making all things new”.
Mgr. Paul suggested that our concern for others is itself a sign of hope. We recognise our common humanity and our shared dignity, that we are children of one Father. Many may want to flee from this truth but they will run into their new neighbours, and God’s reign is overtaking them and us.
He ended with the thought that there is a residual resistance in the human heart, a desire to protect what we see as our “patrimony”, but what lasts are faith, hope and charity, and the greatest of these is charity. We all pray “Thy Kingdom come” – may we be given the grace to recognise what we pray for.
At the Watchnight service, a collection is taken up for a local charity – a final opportunity to make a gift for others in the year about to end. This year it was the Lodging House Mission,
Glasgow which for over 100 years has sought to help disadvantaged people, particularly the homeless, get their lives back on track. During the winter it runs a Night Shelter which is always very busy
Another lovely tradition at the service is the provision of a blank prayer card for people to write their own prayer of review and renewal. The cards are gathered up during the service and placed on the sanctuary where they remain until Easter. There were also communal prayers of intercession for the city and the world, led by Fr. Augustine of the English speaking Orthodox community in Glasgow.
Dr Laurence Whitley, Minister of the Cathedral, led the congregation in the final moments before midnight. He noted that a supermarket chain had advertised for a “fairy light untangler” and commented wryly “would that all our problems were so easily dealt with”. However he invited those present to remember that they were not their own people, that they had a Father and so they should enter into 2017 unafraid and with their heads held high.
With this positive note, the service ended and the congregation went out with enthusiasm to face the New Year.