The weather was abysmal – it had rained all day and the puddle in front of Glasgow Cathedral looked more like a lake. We kept a weather eye out for ducks as we parked there for the St. Mungo Festival service which was hosted by Glasgow Churches Together (GCT)! However, inside the Cathedral, the atmosphere was warm and welcoming. Piper Willie Park played at the entrance and the Rutherglen Salvation Army Band greeted the congregation inside as they arrived. The service itself was a lovely colourful and inspiring mixture of instrumental music, choral singing (á cappella and accompanied), dance, prayer and reflection.
It began with Piper Willie leading the Lord Provost Cllr. Sadie Docherty, civic and church representatives into the Cathedral to the strains of “Highland Cathedral”. Then the Lord Provost twice proclaimed the Glasgow city motto “Let Glasgow Flourish” to which the congregation replied “By the preaching of His word” “By the Praising of His name”. The St. Mungo Singers then led the opening hymn “For All the Saints”. It was a rich sound which banished any remaining chill in the air. The opening prayer which followed was read by Fr. David Wallace, Chair of GCT, before Dr. Laurence Whitley, the Minister of Glasgow Cathedral gave a warm welcome to all who had braved the weather to join the celebration.
The service continued with a reading by Archbishop Emeritus Conti from the 12th Century “Life of St. Kentigern” written by Jocelyn of Furness. This year the choice was the well-known episode of the Queen’s Ring. Archbishop Conti had the congregation laughing when he invited them to come back next year for the next episode. Russkaya Cappella, the Glasgow Russian Orthodox choir, then sang three liturgical pieces unaccompanied – the Glorification of St. Mungo, the Lord’s Prayer in the setting by 19th/20th Century composer Kedrov and a 17th Century chant “Christ Today”. The beautiful harmonies of their singing echoed round the cathedral and felt very fitting in that space.
The next part of the celebration provided quite a contrast. It was a dance scene, one of a trilogy of pieces produced by Visual Statement, a dance group based in the east end of Glasgow. The trilogy is based on “River of Stories” a collection of stories, poems etc. produced by the Commonwealth Educational Trust, and the piece performed on this occasion was “Woman’s World”. The dance was beautifully choreographed and the young dancers beautifully costumed in swirls of blue, accompanied by swirls of light from LED lights on their hands.
In another change of mood and tempo, the St Mungo Singers sang the joyful Jan Botor “Misericordias Domini” before Professor Pamela Gillies, the Principal of Glasgow Caledonian University spoke of some aspects of Glasgow, past and present. She drew the congregation’s attention to the fact that on the founding of Glasgow University in 1451, the first Chancellor had been the Bishop of Glasgow (Bishop Turnbull) and the first lectures had taken place in the Cathedral! Now there were many universities, colleges and other educational institutions in Glasgow, making a significant contribution to the economy of the city.
The year just ended in Glasgow had been a difficult one, both at its beginning and at its end. When it began, Glasgow was mourning those killed in the Clutha Vaults tragedy, though that event had shown the strength of character of its citizens. Then there was the Art School fire, where the actions of the emergency services had saved the building. The year had ended with a further tragedy in George Square. During the year we had also marked the beginning of World War I where out of 200,000 soldiers from Glasgow, over 18,000 had been killed and some 35,000 thousand injured. Professor Gillies recalled that Scottish soldiers had been the first to respond to the invitation to the famous Christmas football match.
On the positive side 2014 had been a historic year for the hosting of the Commonwealth Games which had produced a carnival atmosphere in the city. Glasgow had really delivered the best games, thanks not only to the 15,000 “Clydesiders” but also to the people of Glasgow as a whole. She hoped that the young people of Glasgow would benefit from the legacy of the Games.
Professor Gillies took the opportunity to praise the students and young people of Glasgow, for example Gemma Steele, the Young Scot of the Year 2014 (Unsung Hero) award winner. The slogan “People make Glasgow” recognises that Glaswegians don’t just watch others do things. They act with dignity and compassion, great joy and warmth, and live up to the aspirations of the city’s founder. As was said at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, the Glasgow approach is “Bring it on!”
After this inspirational talk, there was an interlude of quiet, as Carissa Bovill played a gentle harp piece. Then intercessions were read for the city and its people, people throughout the world and for the churches. As each intercession was read out, a candle was lit and the St. Mungo Singers led the congregation in singing the Taizé chant “O Lord, hear my prayer”. Fittingly the intercessions concluded with the Lord’s Prayer.
The Cathedral choir provided a change of style with a fine presentation of the James MacMillan setting of “Factus est Repente “. This was followed by the taking up of an offering, while the Rutherglen Salvation Army band played. After the dedication of the offering, everyone joined in the Glasgow Anthem “Let Glasgow Flourish” before the final prayer and blessing. We remembered those who had lost their lives in the recent killings in Paris and stood with those affected by this. We recalled that our founder St. Mungo had not been afraid to march into the unknown and asked that we would have the courage to do likewise in truth, justice and love for all.
The service ended with Stephen Smyth’s hymn of praise “God our Creator, hear us sing in praise” set to the warming music of Highland Cathedral, sung as the civic and church leaders went to the crypt to lay a wreath on the tomb of St. Mungo. It is not too early to make a note in your diary for next year’s service – it really is a wonderful event which leaves you feeling enthused for the coming year.