The annual St Mungo Service organised by Glasgow Churches Together (GCT) and hosted by the Cathedral Community took place this year on the feast day of St Mungo, 13th January. It turned out to be a very full and inspiring service, giving opportunities for prayer and reflection, food for thought, and lots of beautiful music.
While the congregation gathered, the Rutherglen Salvation Army Band provided welcoming music. Then the piper (Willie Park) led the church, civic and academic representatives from the St Mungo Museum to the Cathedral as the St. Mungo Singers led the congregation in singing O Light from Light.
An icon of St. Mungo (loaned for the occasion by the Russian Orthodox Parish of St Kentigern) was placed on the altar table, together with a candle, and the book of the Gospels was placed on the lectern at the end of the procession. The motto of Glasgow in its full version was then proclaimed – Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of His word and the praising of His name.
Readings from Isaiah 52 (by Archbishop Tartaglia) and the Gospel of St John (by Rev Colin Brown) were complemented by the singing of Bernadette Farrell’s lovely setting of Psalm 138(139) O God, You Search me and You Know me, and two beautiful a cappella Russian liturgical pieces from Russkaya Cappella.
The speaker for this year’s service was Duncan McLaren, former Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis. His theme was “Refugees: Open Your Hearts, Don’t Close Your Minds”, a challenging and very relevant one.
He began by drawing our minds back to St Mungo and his history (most recently depicted in two murals on Glasgow tenements). Mungo and his mother, he reminded us, had been refugees, and Mungo in later life had been forced into exile twice. We don’t know all his story but we know that he was kind to the poor.
In our days, many are refugees, leaving their countries because of persecution. Others leave their countries to seek a better life, fleeing dehumanising poverty. There are so many myths about refugees, many of which are xenophobic, but no-one can be an “illegal person”. What is illegal is to dismiss their claims to asylum without listening to their stories. Human dignity is not conferred by a treaty.
Another myth, he said, is that our country cannot take in any more refugees but the fact is that the vast majority of refugees are living in developing countries, not in the developed West. Fact-based research also shows that refugees positively benefit the countries they go to, and they present an economic opportunity for them.
Looking through a Christian lens, we should concentrate on welcoming the stranger. Pope Francis invites us to counter the throw-away culture and support the weakest and the poorest. We have a moral imperative to welcome them. Duncan reflected that the young refugees he teaches in Australia want to serve their own people. When we listen to them and their stories, we should have our minds and our hearts open, we should take prayerful actions on their behalf, and our city should be a place of welcome.
Carissa Swan played a quietly reflective piece on harp to give us time to think on Duncan’s words. In the intercessions which followed, we prayed for refugees; for our civic leaders; for our church leaders; the citizens of Glasgow; our young people; those affected by troubles of any kind; for peace in our world; and finally for all who have died, in particular remembering Dr. Laurence Whitley the former minister of the Cathedral and Vice-Chair of GCT. The collection which was subsequently taken up was, in memory of Dr. Whitley, for Motor Neurone Disease.
In the final part of the service, Glasgow Poet Laureate Jim Carruth read his poem the Song of St. Mungo, and Neil Graham, Regional Team Manager of Embrace the Middle East, spoke of his organisation’s work with local charities across the Middle East. He mentioned the out-of-the-ordinary fundraising run Running Home being done by one of their managers, Mark Calder, who is running all the pilgrimage routes in Scotland and the North of England (a total of 1725 miles!) to raise awareness of the plight of Christians in the Middle East as well as raise funds. Almost on cue, Mark strode up the aisle of the Cathedral, having just completed the 45 miles from Dunfermline Abbey, and looking remarkably fresh.
Bailie Malcolm Balfour brought the greetings of the City Council to the congregation. The St. Mungo Singers led the singing of the Glasgow anthem Let Glasgow Flourish and Fr. David Wallace, Chair of GCT thanked everyone for coming to this service of prayer, music and reflection, before leading the church representatives in the final blessing.
After the final hymn, O Scotland Blest, the civic and church representatives went down to the tomb of St. Mungo to lay wreaths there as has become the tradition, while the Salvation Army Band played.