As Bailie Annette Christie reminded us in her welcome, this is the 19th year that we have celebrated Carols for Peace in the City Chambers in Glasgow. In view of the capacity congregation the previous year, when people had to be turned away, the council staff had re-organised the set-up of the Banqueting Hall and we had well over 300 people present.
The musical support for the day included the St Mungo Singers, the Rutherglen Salvation Army Band, the brilliant young Southside Fiddlers, our usual ensemble (John, Monica, Annette, Marita, Pauline, Ann Marie, Carissa and Mil), organist Jacqueline, piper Willie Park and the great children of St Denis’ Primary School.
Willie greeted people at the front of the City Chambers, and John and Carissa played for them as they ascended to the Banqueting Hall to receive the service leaflet together with a little olive wood Christmas ornament from the Holy Land.
In a change to the format of previous years, the celebration began with the choir leading those present in the singing of three well-known carols O come all ye faithful, The first Noel and Away in a manger. Bailie Christie then welcomed everyone to the event, saying that at this time of year which can be stressful, busy and also lonely for many, it was good to take time to think of those who are less fortunate.
The city, she said, was proud of its ecumenical record and of the work of Glasgow Churches Together (GCT). At these times of violence and political unrest, it was great to acknowledge the selfless mission and work of churches here and abroad. She was proud that Glasgow was a welcoming city, recalling the motto People make Glasgow, and she thanked the churches for helping the most vulnerable in our community.
Rev. Chris Foxon, chair of GCT, then led the gathering in a prayer for peace, particularly for Bethlehem, with which Glasgow is twinned, and for so many parts of the Middle East.
The mood was lightened by a short input from a young trio of the Southside Fiddlers who played a lovely piece called Shetland Molecule by composer John McCusker. The positive theme was re-echoed in the first scripture reading which followed, from Zephaniah 3: 14-20 which began with the words “Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart”
The mood then changed to one of reflection as the choir sang Frank Docherty’s lovely setting of the Prologue to the Gospel of St John, which was followed by the reading of the Christmas narrative from St Luke’s Gospel.
Rev Dan Carmichael, moderator of the Presbytery of Glasgow, in his reflection, took the words of the first carol as his starting point- Glory to God in the Highest –and asked us to consider whom the angels’ greeting was addressed to – poor shepherds who were probably scarred by being ignored by others and considered to be doing a dirty job. These were God’s choice to hear the heavenly poem, and to learn of the peace of Christ which passes all understanding.
This greeting, he continued, is also addressed to us in this place and this city now, inviting us to look at our lives, particularly our experiences over the last few weeks, and know that “a Saviour is born for you” so we can hear that carol for peace now for us. Finally we should look at the world around us – at Bethlehem and the streets of our own city. The carol’s words are for these places and their people too, and it is a call for us to bring that peace to them.
Rev Dan concluded with the words of the lovely poem by Howard Thurman, which is in a way a challenge to us:-
When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among people, To make music in the heart.
Appropriately, as we considered his words, Carissa and John played a beautiful musical reflection, on harp and whistle, of O holy Night
The intercessions which followed called on us to pray:
for our city and its council and all who provided services in it;
for peace within our families and communities, welcoming unity in our diversity;
for the candidates in the recent general election, both the successful and the unsuccessful;
for all those affected in the areas of conflict in our world;
and finally for Bethlehem, that peace might be restored to it.
Next the children of St Denis’ Primary brightened the rather serious atmosphere with brilliant renditions of the song “Who would imagine a King”, a Christmas poem in Scots written by Josephine Neil, and finally “All around the world”. The young Southside Fiddlers also gave us another chance to enjoy their lively music.
The final contribution to link us to Bethlehem came from Rev Maggie McTernan of St Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Glasgow who had recently taken an interfaith group to the Holy Land, and who spoke briefly and movingly of the day she had visited Martha’s House in Bethlehem which is a day centre for older women who are isolated because their families have moved away.
The day had been cold, grey and wet –she said it had seemed symbolic of the pain of the children of Abraham in that place. But there were signs of hope in the response of people there to human needs, and Martha’s House was one of these. She simply asked us to remember Bethlehem and all those working to bring peace to that city.
There was more music as the service entered its final section. A collection was taken up as usual for the Lord Provost’s Fund for children, as the Rutherglen Salvation Army Band played. Then the church representatives joined in blessing all present before we launched into a closing medley of carols, putting everyone in the mood to go through to the Satinwood Suite to enjoy tea, coffee and mince pies, while listening to the lively music of the Southside Fiddlers.