If you want a real and inspiring alternative to the traditional Hogmanay celebrations, the annual Watchnight Service at Glasgow Cathedral, hosted by Hope Alba and Glasgow Churches Together offers a wonderful end to one year and an uplifting beginning to the next one.
The service began at 11 o’clock and, as people arrived for it, they were greeted by the Cathedral Strings playing carols old and new. They finished with a lovely rendering of “Silent Night” which they invited the congregation to join in with by humming softly with them. Prof. Roger Sturrock gave the introductory remarks and invited everyone to stand as a candle of remembrance and hope was lit in the sanctuary – remembrance of the tragedies that had affected Glasgow, both 12 months before and more recently, and hope for the future. The service continued with a mixture of hymns and prayers (the opening prayer by Mgr. Paul Conroy is shown* below) and reflections. There were lovely solos by Marjorie Fullarton – “Sleep quietly, my Jesus” and “If I can help somebody, as I pass along”.
Rev. Alan Hamilton from Killermont Parish, Bearsden chose “God-with-us” as the theme for his reflection for the coming year. He immediately caught the attention by saying “What is past, is past and will not come again. Even walking in the same place where Jesus walked only takes us so far, and this is not what God offers us.” Drawing our attention to Matthew’s gospel, he pointed out that at its beginning and at its end, we are given the promise of God being with us. Jesus in Luke’s gospel invites his own town of Nazareth to consider what “God-with-us” looked like and they found it too close for comfort!
We often feel the need to ask God “Where are you and what are you doing?”, particularly when faced with tragedy, but Jesus himself experienced this bewilderment in his life. If we ponder this, the idea of “God-with-us” takes on a deeper meaning. The tragedy of Ebola can be seen as a “perfect storm” but it has also called out courage and sacrificial love from those caring for the victims. They have answered the call of Christ and in their responses to the Ebola crisis today, we see the answer to the question “Where is God?” – he is with the people responding to this crisis. Rev. Hamilton also reminded the congregation that God is not just with us in the bad times but also in the times of joy. So he invited those present to take words of hope to others that “God-with-us” is a statement of fact, it is truth and the reason for us to rejoice.
Each year at this service a collection is taken for charity, usually a local one. This year the collection was taken up for the work of the Scripture Union in Sierra Leone which is so badly affected by the Ebola crisis. The Scripture Union has worked in Sierra Leone for 130 years and it is trying to use its influence there to help stem the spread of the disease through dissemination of health hygiene information.
Dr. Lawrence Whitley, minister of the Cathedral, led the final reflection as 2014 drew to a close. His thoughts, he said, went to the prayer boxes which are kept in the crypt of the cathedral. There are so many prayer cards deposited there by people seeking help for loneliness or isolation, finding themselves in impossible situations, or asking for guidance on the path to take in life. His response was to invite them (and us) to put everything into the hands of the pilot of our lives – God.
The final hymn seemed a fitting response to this reflection – “Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided, urged and inspired us, cheered us on our way” – and the congregation sang it with enthusiasm before making their way out into the New Year, as the sound of fireworks were heard from George Square, heralding 2015.
*Opening PrayerAll-powerful, ever-living God, during these days of Christmastide we continue to thank you for the human birth of your Son. As one year draws to a close and we see to the beginning of another approaching, we look back in thanksgiving for the many blessings you have poured out upon us, but above all for the grace of the abiding presence of Jesus, your only begotten Son, who has said: “I will be with you always, even to the end of the world.” Gathered here on this night to make our prayer, we offer to you as a spiritual sacrifice the joys and sorrows, the achievements and the failures, the hopes and fears which have been woven into the tapestry of the past twelve months. We have laughed and we have wept, we have rejoiced and we have mourned, and at particular times we have borne together the sorrowful burden of tragedy and loss. We have continued to grieve for the Clutha victims and again in recent days been struck down by the City Centre bin-lorry accident. As we look across the world, we recognise the suffering and disasters faced by so many of your children, who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We joyfully welcomed our brothers and sisters from all over the world to our city for the Commonwealth Games and celebrated their presence with us. In this year when we have marked one hundred years since the outbreak of the Great War and its countless dead, we pray for an end to war, violence and oppression and we entrust those driven or taken from their homeland to you tender care and mercy. May the New Year which lies before us provide us, under the guidance of your Holy Spirit, with many opportunities to grow in faith and in love for you and each other. In good times and in times of difficulty let us never forget that the human birth of your Son is the source and perfection of our life and worship. Since you have numbered us among your people, give us the grace to recognise the signs of your presence with us in the unfolding events of the year to come. May we find in the birth of every child our hope for the future; may we find in all our joys a taste of the everlasting happiness of heaven; may we find in tragedy and suffering the mark of the Cross which has won for us our salvation; may we find, even in death, the victory of Resurrection. Help us to approach the threshold of the New Year with confidence, knowing that Jesus, who assumed our humanity, has gone this way before us so that with your grace and love we will always place our trust in him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit. God forever and ever. Amen.