There was a wonderfully warm and indeed welcoming feeling about the first Glasgow the Welcoming City event to be held in person since Covid lockdown. The service was held in its usual venue of the Banqueting Hall of the City Chambers on 12 June 2022.
Numbers were restricted as we still work our way out of lockdown but we managed to accommodate the St Mungo Singers, our St Mungo Ensemble, a brilliant group of children from St Denis Primary School with teachers and many of their family members, the Rutherglen Salvation Army Band, church leaders and civic representatives, as well as members of the public.
The weather could have been better but this did not dampen the spirits of all involved, and there was a buzz in the air as we waited for the service to begin. As was traditional for the Welcoming City service, piper Willie Park played outside the City Chambers before coming upstairs to pipe in the civic and church leaders. Meanwhile Carissa Swan played the harp inside the Chambers to welcome people.
Then the service began with the singing of God our Creator to the tune of Highland Cathedral which really set the tone of joy for the rest of the day. Baillie Thomas Kerr, representing the Lord Provost, welcomed everyone to what he described as the highlight of the ecumenical calendar for Glasgow -something which reflected Glasgow at its best with its diversity, music, enjoyment, and recognised that the city was famed for its friendliness as well as its straight talking.
Appropriately in the year of Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee, the Salvation Army Band next led us in the singing of God Save the Queen before Rev Bob Johnston read the opening prayer and reflection on thoughts of homeland and welcome, compassion and love for all. These themes were echoed then in the song sung by St Denis’ Primary – Coming Home written by Glasgow songwriter Steven Clarke – with its wonderful chorus:-
Coming home to a place they’ve never been. Coming home to a land they’ve never seen. Coming home to a family they’ve never known. All Jock Tamson’s bairns are coming home
It was an emotive plea for welcome for refugees and all who come to our city, and it was made all the more affecting by the visible diversity of the children who sang it.
After the scripture readings and the singing of the much loved Crimond version of Psalm 23, Bishop Kevin Pearson, the Scottish Episcopal Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway gave the reflection. Referring to the first reading from Isaiah 55, he spoke of the Todd River in Australia which flows underground at certain dry times of the year. The whole community watches for when it will erupt again onto the surface.
He invited the children to think of this as an image of the yearning deep, deep within us for love and to be with God. The truth of this yearning was brought home during Covid when we felt the need to love and be loved, and the eruption of that love was seen in the many acts of kindness during lockdown. Love, like the River Todd, is necessary for life. It erupts and brings peace, allowing our city to flourish.
As we reflected on Bishop Pearson’s words, cantor Helen Healy sang the words of a hymn attributed to St Columba – My dearest Lord – appropriate in this, the 1500th anniversary of his birth in Ireland. The St Mungo Singers then led the congregation in singing another hymn attributed to him- All Glory to God, the Father of all.
The intercessions which followed gave the opportunity to pray for our world and our city, all those who serve the city, for peace particularly in Ukraine and for all who come to our city as refugees or asylum seekers. An collection was then taken up for Glasgow the Caring City charity, for their work for Ukraine.
The final section of the service lightened the mood again as the children of St Denis’s gave us two pieces to mark Scotland’s Year of Storytelling, introduced in an impressively assured way by Kamsiyochukwn Jaibulu. Leo Tetteh gave us The Ballad of Janitor MacKay before the children sang and acted the brilliant Ballad of Sam the Skull, an East End Glasgow Cat!
The service finished with the saying of the Lord’s Prayer, the blessing by the Church leaders present and the final, very relevant, hymn For the healing of the nations. Then there was time for a cup of tea and a chat, courtesy of the City Council.