Snow on snow in George Square

“Snow had fallen, snow on snow” – that line from the well-known carol seemed so appropriate as we gathered for the annual “Carols for Peace” service in the City Chambers. Indeed, many wondered if they were mad to go ahead, particularly as the snow started to fall again as participants made their way to the City Chambers, and messages arrived from the organist – “driving through a blizzard at Baillieston” – and the clarsach player – “struggling through thick snow at Mollinsburn” – but it was a measure of the commitment of all involved that they kept going and made it safely to the venue.

We were relieved to see the Salvation Army band from Rutherglen arriving (no need for Plan B then!) but were a bit worried about the youngsters of the Southside Fiddlers. However when they arrived, they cheerfully informed us that they had been skating in the icerink in the Square and enjoying hot chocolate, totally unfazed by the weather.

Carissa, John & Clare welcome the congregation

We were really encouraged, too, by the number of people who resisted the pull of delayed Christmas shopping and the temptation to stay at home in the warmth, to come and join in the service. As they arrived, they were greeted by Carissa on clarsach, John on whistle, and Clare on violin, setting a festive tone to offset the chill outside, and in the hall itself, by the children of the Southside Fiddlers, the St. Mungo Singers and the Salvation Army band with more festive music.

The service itself began with the singing of the uplifting favourite “O Come All Ye Faithful” as the church leaders and representatives of the City Council processed in. Bailie Cathy McMaster welcomed everyone on behalf of Lord Provost Bob Winter and the Council, especially those who had struggled through the snow.

Bailie McMaster at Carols for Peace

“Carols for Peace”, she said, gave the opportunity for the Council to recognise and thank the churches for what they add to civic life in Glasgow. Those present can thank church members for all those many acts of kindness which are part of their witness to faith. She mentioned in particular their attention to those isolated and housebound in the current bad weather – truly Good Samaritans. Bailie McMaster particularly thanked the Music & Worship Committee of GCT for their outstanding work over the past busy year which helped to make Glasgow a city of welcome to all races and creeds.

Rev. Neil Galbraith reads the first reading

The Moderator of Glasgow Presbytery, Rev. Neil Galbraith, then led the congregation in prayer for all suffering as a result of violence, oppression or war. This was followed by the singing of the lovely “Resonet in Laudibus” (to a familiar 14th century German carol tune which lightened the heart) by the St. Mungo Singers and the congregational carol “Love Came Down at Christmas” .

The first scripture reading from Isaiah 9 was read by Archbishop Conti, to which the congregation responded with the much loved “Silent Night”. The second scripture reading was the sung Prologue of St. John’s Gospel in the setting by Frank Docherty.

Hannah and Stephen ponder the message of the crib

Two members of the Archdiocese of Glasgow Arts Project (Hannah Charles and Stephen Callaghan) presented a brief but telling sketch on the message of Christmas – two people looking at the Crib in George Square, seeing the anticipation and wonder in the faces of the crib figures , and reflecting that the challenge for us today is to acknowledge that, despite the coming of the Prince of Peace, there is still so much violence and that peace has to start within each of us.

This theme of challenge was picked up in the reflection which followed, given by Rev. Alan Anderson, Superintendent of Glasgow Methodist District. He highlighted two figures from the Christmas story: the “baddie”, King Herod whose rule in Bethlehem was harsh and unjust – not a lot of change there as in Palestine/Israel today there is still a lack of justice and peace; the “baby” – babies make you slow down and take notice, and this is perhaps what God is saying to each of us in the Christmas story “pay attention, look carefully at what is happening around you” – see where there is injustice, see the image of God in everyone and realise that there will only be peace when we each offer respect to the other.

The young Southside Fiddlers

The children of the Southside Fiddlers played while we reflected on this challenge and we joined in singing “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, linking us once again in thought to the Holy Land. The Rt.Rev. Gregor Duncan, Bishop of Glasgow & Galloway then led the prayers of intercession for peace and goodwill, before all joined in the singing of the Lord’s Prayer.

The Intercessions

We pray that while we may approach God with empty hands, we can offer our hearts. As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, may his light illuminate our hearts and shine in our words and deeds. May the hope, the peace, the joy and the love represented by the birth in Bethlehem fill our lives and become part of all that we say and do.

Choir: God our Father, hear our prayer: All: Your Kingdom come

We pray that we may always remember that there was no room for the Saviour in the inn, and that our city may continue to give a Christian witness of welcome particularly to those whose lives are marked by suffering in any way.

Choir: God our Father, hear our prayer: All: Your Kingdom come

We sing of Peace on Earth. We pray that everyone may experience the peace which comes from seeking justice as we live out our lives . We entrust to God those places in our world which are not yet at peace and we ask for light and courage for all leaders so that their endeavours may bring about the common good.

Choir: God our Father, hear our prayer: All: Your Kingdom come

We pray that we may be able to make our own the prayer of John Knox :
Let thy mighty hand and outstretched arm, O Lord, be still our defence,
thy mercy and loving kindness in Jesus Christ, thy dear Son, our salvation,
thy true and holy word our instruction;
thy grace and Holy Spirit our comfort and consolation, unto the end and in the end AMEN

Choir: God our Father, hear our prayer: All: Your Kingdom come

As always at this service, a collection was taken up for the Lord Provost’s Charity as the instrumentalists played and the St. Mungo Singers, with soloist Helen Healy, sang “O Holy Night”.

The service ended with a joint blessing by the church leaders and the singing of the joyful “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”.

As everyone moved through to the adjoining room where tea, coffee and warm mince pies awaited, the Rutherglen Salvation Army band played and, in the refreshments room, the young fiddlers cheered us up before we ventured back out into the cold.

The view from the windows of the City Chambers allowed us to see that the snow had stopped and George Square looked truly beautiful and festive – a beautiful backdrop to the end of the service.

George Square in festive mood

The Rutherglen Salvation Army band, the sound of Christmas

Congregation and band in the final carol of the service