Archbishop Conti presided at the annual ecumenical Vespers which was held this year in St. Joseph’s, Tollcross, on 19 April. The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Rt. Rev. Bill Hewitt preached the reflection and Glasgow Churches Together were well represented by, among others, the Moderator of Glasgow Presbytery of the Church of Scotland, Rt. Rev. Bill Ferguson, and Dr. Angus Kerr, the Clerk to the Presbytery, Rev. Derek Bibb and Rev. Alan Anderson of the Methodist Union, and Major Steve Huyton of the Salvation Army. We were also pleased to welcome Bishop Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down and Connor, who was in Glasgow for a meeting of the North West Triangle (Liverpool, Glasgow and Belfast).
St. Joseph’s choir joined the St. Mungo Singers (under their conductors Dr. Noel Donnelly and Mgr. Gerry Fitzpatrick) to provide the music support for the service. Before it began, Dr. Donnelly played a number of meditative pieces on harp, and the joint choirs sang “To Christ, the Seed” and “Great God, be near me”. They then led the singing of the opening processional hymn, the joyful “Alleluia, sing to Jesus”.
After the invitatory response “O God, Come to our Aid”, the Paschal Candle and altar candles were lit to the accompaniment of the short James Quinn hymn, “O Light from Light”. The psalms for the evening were Ps. 109 (setting by Martin Morran) and the Crimond setting of Psalm 22 (23), with the canticle from the Letter to the Ephesians in the version by Br. Stephen Smyth.
After the short scripture reading from Hebrews 8:1-3, Rev. Hewitt gave an inspiring and challenging reflection. He first thanked Archbishop Conti for the invitation to preach, and he noted the Archbishop’s great contribution to the cause of ecumenism. He also acknowledged other “weel kent” faces in the congregation, particularly Mgr. Fitzpatrick whom he had last met at the Climate Change march in Glasgow but whom he had known for many years, as he and the St. Mungo Singers had sung at his parish in Elderslie some 30 years ago!
Beginning his reflection, the Moderator acknowledged that the Church was going through a difficult time, and this could be seen in the debates before the General Assembly. However if we felt disheartened, then the reading from Hebrews offered words of encouragement as it pointed to our relationship with Christ. Later in the same chapter of Hebrews, there is a quotation from Ezekiel about the Lord giving his people a new heart. We need to be emptied of ourselves so that we can be filled with the Spirit of Christ.
God’s choice is based on what we are inside. He has expectations of us and we need to look upwards. Today the idea of conquest is a strange one for us but we are called to conquer ourselves first and then go out into the world. He quoted Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor who warned against false pessimism and made the point that society cannot afford to exclude Christians.
In modern society, absolute values are dismissed and individual fulfilment is seen as the goal but this is not the truth, and the call goes out to each of us to represent Christ in the world. This is a daunting task but we must remember that God is with us, as he was for Israel.
The Moderator left the congregation with a number of points to ponder. We are called to be strong and courageous, as the Risen Christ is our life guide. We must be prepared to take risks but God leads the way. We are called to dedicate ourselves to God and to participate in the Christian life. Being an onlooker, he said, is doesn’t avoid the risks. The challenge he put before us was to venture out in faith, to dream great dreams for God and to invite God in to use us for the Glory of His Name.
After the reflection, Dr. Donnelly played a gentle harp piece as we meditated on the Moderator’s words, then all joined in the singing of the Magnificat to the tune of “Amazing Grace”. After the Intercessions, the St. Mungo Singers added some Easter colour to the service with the singing of Lotti’s setting of Regina Coeli.
The Vespers ended with a joint blessing by Archbishop Conti and the Moderator, a sung blessing (“God to enfold you” by John Bell) and the closing hymn, “Before we end our day, O Lord”, the words of which are attributed to St. Bernard. As the congregation left to sample the generous hospitality of St. Joseph’s in the church hall, the St. Mungo Singers sent them out in positive mood with the exhuberant motet by Thatcher “Come, ye Faithful” which reminded us that this is indeed the “Queen of Seasons”!