The Annual Racial Justice service this year was organised by Glasgow Churches Together and hosted by Canon Peter McBride and the community of St Peter’s, Partick. The service was by turns uplifting, warm and challenging. Canon Peter in his welcome thanked everyone attending for having braved the equally challenging weather.
While the main music of the liturgy was supported by the St Mungo Singers, something of the diversity of the communities which make up Glasgow was reflected in the contrasting musical inputs of the Scottish Asian Christian Fellowship and the Jazz Combo. The Scottish Asian Christian Fellowship sang a psalm and hymn in Punjabi, and well-known jazz singer Georgia Cecile, supported by the Jazz Combo, sang two beautiful Gospel pieces, one of which was Duke Ellington’s Come Sunday, with its so appropriate words; Lord, dear Lord above, God almighty, God of love, Please look down and see my people through.
The reflection for the service was given by Professor Anthony G Reddie, Director of the Oxford Centre for Religion & Culture, a great speaker whose learning is leavened with humour. He began by expressing his sense of honour in being invited to attend the service, although, he joked, his hosts might find he was staying with them longer than intended if the weather continued to deteriorate.
He then reflected on a moment of revelation he had had in his teen years when his minister had used a game to get the children at his church to realise that something they were focussed on in the game was a distraction – the focus should have been the person they were looking at. This moment of revelation had stayed with him.
It was, he suggested, in a way a metaphor for a problem which has plagued humanity and Christianity for centuries. We are- all of us – created in God’s image but we persist in looking at the wrong thing. Referring to the book The Christian Imagination by theologian Willie James Jennings, he noted Jennings’ comments that St Paul and the early church had belonging to Christ transcended borders and boundaries. However, as time went on, the Christians became like everyone else and identified by tribe.
He challenged us that our identity in Christ takes us beyond our “tribes”. As Christians, we should make things different not, at worst, reinforce the tribal identities. One of his heroes, Martin Luther King Jnr had called Christians to be “revolutionaries of love”. Turning to the theme of the Gospel reading for the Sunday (Matthew 5:13-20), Professor Reddie called on us to switch on our light and in doing so make an immediate difference.
Finishing on a sombre note, he pointed out that we are living in dangerous times, when things are being said which would have been viewed as outrageous 30 years ago, when people are denigrated, viewed as different and for this reason as “less” than others. We as Church must say this is wrong. The “will of the people” does not make something right and we must call this out – but do this from love.
Later in the service, Fr Sumit Harrison spoke of the history of Christianity in India from the time of St Thomas in the 1st century AD to the present. Currently Christians are around 5% of the population, although obtaining verifiable figures is difficult, and they are present in all parts of Indian society, and contribute to the development of the country. However, with the Hindu Nationalist Party (the BJP) in power, there is increased Hindu extremism and action against minority religions, with Christianity viewed as a foreign faith. Fr. Harrison asked the congregation for prayers for the Indian Christian churches.
At the end of the service, Canon Peter invited everyone to come into the church hall where there was a marvellous spread of sandwiches, pies and sausage rolls, plus tea and coffee, to fortify everyone before they ventured out into the cold, rain and wind.