This ecumenical service was organised by Hope Alba and hosted by Glasgow Cathedral. Despite the snow, ice and freezing fog (and the fact that the starting time was 11pm), the service was well attended and the Cathedral had pulled out the stops to make the building warm and welcoming.
As well as a number of church representatives, including Dr. Whitley, Archbishop Conti, Rev. William B. Ferguson and Mgr. Gerry Fitzpatrick, we had a small music ensemble ( the Cathedral Strings), a soloist (Bethany Hamilton, a student from the RSAMD) and guest preacher, Elaine Duncan (Chief Executive of the Scottish Bible Society).
As the congregation gathered, the ensemble played Christmas carols and then the service started with “O Come, All ye Faithful”, and “Be Still, for the Presence of the Lord”. Dr. Whitley welcomed everyone to the service with a beautiful opening prayer, one line of which was “You were the hand in the darkness”. Then Bethany Hamilton sang a haunting anthem “I will magnify” set to the music of Bach’s First Prelude.
Sgt. Mark McCaffrey of Strathclyde Police then spoke of the difference his faith has made to him in the carrying out of his duties in Glasgow. Despite experiencing so much violence caused by domestic arguments and drink/drugs, he still faces the New Year with hope because he has also witnessed the capacity of communities to support those in trouble.
There followed a reading from 2 Corinthians by Archbishop Conti, before the congregation were invited to “get with the rhythm” to sing a very lively hymn “Jesus puts this song into our hearts”. Bethany Hamilton then sang “God has his eye on the sparrow” reflecting again this theme of hope.
The sermon was given by Elaine Duncan on the theme “Words of Hope”. She reminded the congregation that the word “hope” can be used in many different ways. Human beings can live for quite lengthy periods without food but can last only minutes without hope. Trouble is part of everyone’s life, and we need hope to face this. Paradoxically, God’s plan of salvation in the bible often looked hopeless, hanging by a thread, as he chose the weak and fragile to carry out his plans. Yet God’s strength is shown in weakness. We in our turn are challenged to bring God’s hope to others, having drunk deep of the love, mercy and comfort He gives us.
As midnight drew near, Mgr. Fitzpatrick led the countdown to the New Year with a brief reflection, beginning with a quotation from the opening words of the “Te Deum” which had been sung for centuries at the end of the year. The Te Deum themes are praise of God, and trust in Him. We look forward to the New Year which will have many important anniversaries – 1000th anniversary of the Cluny reforms, the 450th anniversary of the Scottish Reformation, the centenary of the Edinburgh Ecumenical conference – and are thankful of the work of those who have gone before us, work on which we will build.
As the bells rang for the New Year, everyone turned to those around them, to wish them a Happy New Year, and the service finished with the rousing and very appropriate hymn “Lord, for the Years”