As we have said in previous years, this service is a wonderful alternative way to bring in the New Year, and the crowded car park in front of the Cathedral this year suggested many people felt the same. The service was jointly hosted by Glasgow Churches Together (GCT) and Hope Alba.
The Cathedral Strings welcomed the congregation with carols and Christmas music as it gathered, finishing off with “Silent Night” which everyone was invited to take part in by humming. I suspect many of us smiled when almost immediately a baby in the congregation started to cry – so much for our lullaby! However it quickly settled down and appeared more appreciative of the rest of the service.
Among the church leaders and representatives present for the service were Dr. Laurence Whitley, minister of Glasgow Cathedral, Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow, Rev. Stuart Smith of Partick Trinity church (former Moderator of Glasgow Presbytery) Fr. David Wallace, Chair of GCT and Mgr. Gerry Fitzpatrick. Rev. Roger Sturrock acted as facilitator of the service.
The service began with an opening prayer and an invitation to reflect on all that had happened in Glasgow and Scotland over the previous twelve months. Then the instrumentalists led the singing of the first hymn “My Hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness”. This was followed by Bernadette Farrell’s lovely setting of Psalm 138/139 “O God you search me and you know me. ”Archbishop Tartaglia then read one of the inspiring prayers composed for the Year of Mercy, before we sang Daniel Schutte’s “I the Lord of Sea and Sky”.
The soloist this year was Russell Trueman whose first song was one which many people would recognise: Michael Joncas’ hymn “On Eagle’s Wings” based on Psalm 90/91. His second solo was the quite different “You raise me up” which was a Westlife hit in the commercial music world and which might not be recognised as a hymn.
A firm part of the Watchnight service is a collection usually for a local cause. This year the beneficiary was Glasgow NW Foodbank, one of 450 Trussell Trust foodbanks. Its project manager, Kyle McCormick, spoke briefly about the history of the Trussell Trust foodbank movement and Glasgow NW which began in May 2013, and the main reasons why people need to come for food. The atmosphere was lightened a little when his beeper went off as he finished. He apologised and explained to the amusement of the congregation that he had it on to ensure he didn’t overrun his allotted time for speaking!
The brief scripture reading for the service which followed was from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans 6:1-11.
The reflection for the service was given by Rev. Smith who said he was a little intimidated by the location, the congregation etc. He also found it daunting as a minister, he said, to have a time limit given for his sermon and perhaps he should have thought of a beeper as Kyle had.
He turned our attention to the theme of the service for this year – “Still Game” – a title taken from a TV series about a couple of grumpy old men who were determined to show they were not yet beaten and they were not about to let life pass them by. He asked if we were still game in Glasgow tonight and what might we mean by “still”.
For some it might mean “motionless” and they were hoping that things would not change or get worse. For others it might mean being still and taking time for God, but we cannot remain still – we have to continue on regardless of what the world throws at us. We need endurance, resilience and determination, supporting each other.
His final suggestion for “still” was that piece of equipment which is used to turn a liquid into something more powerful, enriching and upgrading it. This meaning would be good for our future lives, he suggested. Turning to the scripture reading we had heard and its use of the word, he challenged that the Christian faith should not be nostalgic or backward looking but looking forwards and preparing a future for ourselves (not preparing ourselves for the future). God in Christ is preparing a future for us and we don’t need to live in the darkness now nor miss out on our future.
Dr. Whitley took the congregation up to the “bells”, recalling an experience he had had in a maze at a stately home where he had got lost. A little girl had also got lost but her father was outside the maze and called to her, telling her to follow and move towards his voice, and so get out. Looking forward into 2016, the view is daunting with so many people in distress and need – how do we negotiate this maze? This is the message of Christmas – God says “I am here – listen to my voice and move towards me”.
The second message of Christmas is “I believe in you, despite what you have done to my world.” So we must never cease believing in people, believing that they will choose good and not bad. We have been given the greatest power imaginable- the power of love, giving and suffering. So long as we have a song, we should not fail to sing it!
And so we finished the service after the blessing with a song of trust “Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided.”, and went out into the beginning of the New Year with positive hope “still game”.