The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity has been marked by services throughout Scotland and the Glasgow Churches Together (GCT) service this year was hosted by the Archdiocese of Glasgow in St. Andrew’s Cathedral on 19 January. Inevitably the cold, snowy weather affected numbers attending but it was nonetheless a lovely, affirming service.
Archbishop Tartaglia was joined by Archbishop Emeritus Conti, Fr. David Wallace (Chair of GCT) and representatives of the other churches in Glasgow including Rev. Stuart Smith (Moderator of the Presbytery of Glasgow) and Dr. Laurence Whitley (Minister of Glasgow Cathedral), Bishop Gregor Duncan (Episcopalian Bishop of Glasgow & Galloway), Rev. Alan Anderson of the Methodist Church, Rev. Colin Brown of the United Free Church, Rev. Ian Baillie of the United Reformed Church and Major David Wing of the Salvation Army. The music of the service was supported by the Archdiocesan choir, the St.Mungo Singers.
The service opened with the church representatives processing to the sanctuary as the congregation sang James Quinn’s “O Light form Light”. Archbishop Tartaglia lit the candles on the sanctuary as the opening prayer was read and “O Light” was sung again to complete this opening part of the service.
This theme of light was repeated in the hymn which followed – “Christ be our Light” with its fitting final line for such a service “Let us be servants to one another, making Your kingdom come”. Archbishop Tartaglia then offered a warm welcome to everyone to offset the coldness of the evening and suggested that if we all kept singing as we had, it would serve to keep us warm.
Dr. Whitley led the congregation in the next prayer, a request for the “unity that recognises our diversity”. A sung Kyrie followed and then the beautiful Hurd setting of Psalm 42(43) “As the Deer Longs for Running Streams”. The sung Gospel Acclamation invited us to “listen to the voice of God” and the New Evangelisation Team (NET) of the Archdiocese of Glasgow gave us a mimed and acted presentation of the Gospel for the Week of Prayer John 4:1-42, the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. It was very expressive and really held the attention of the congregation.
In the reflection which followed, the Archbishop pointed out that this Gospel encounter is the centre of the Week of Prayer liturgy. Reminding the congregation of the background to this meeting described in John’s Gospel, he pointed out that it was a remarkable meeting which needed to break down barriers. He had the congregation smiling when he said that in todays’ language, the Samaritan woman would probably say of her situation “It’s complicated”!
That was like the path of Christian unity. It faces obstacles and difficulties. The Brazilian group which had chosen the ideas for this worldwide service had focussed on the idea of sharing among Christian groups, just as in the recent tragedy in Glasgow, all the churches had given from the riches that they had.
As ever, the Gospel of John operates on more than one level, as in the reference to water and the water of eternal life. For Christian unity, it also required action at more than one level. It was not just a matter of us coming together and putting our gifts together. It needs the action of God to change the ordinary human actions into something extraordinary. The coming to faith is the core of the path of unity.
As the congregation meditated on his words, Dr. Noel Donnelly played a gentle harp air, then Fr. Wallace invited everyone to join in the affirmation of faith by responding to his beautifully sung proclamation with the sung response “I believe, I believe”. Bishop Duncan then led the congregation in the prayers of intercession, with their sung response “Make us one, O Lord”.
The final part of this lovely service began with the singing of the Lord’s Prayer and the prayers of benediction said by the representatives of the different churches. The closing hymn was Stephen Smyth’s setting of the Canticle from Ephesians 1:3-10 which finishes with Paul’s affirmation that “God and creation will be united, all this through Christ”.
The Archdiocese had provided a lovely finger buffet in the Dicoesan Eyre Hall to which Archbishop Tartaglia urged all present to come and stock up before going out into the cold. Little urging was needed and we enjoyed hot beverages and food to set us up for the journey home, as well as a chance to chat together.