Monsignor Gerry Fitzpatrick, who’s been involved with GCT since the beginning, tells its story. This article was written in 2004.
The national context
ACTS (Action of Churches Together in Scotland) based in Dunblane, is the official body established by all the major Churches in Scotland which have committed themselves to working towards Christian Unity. ACTS aims at encouraging mutual understanding, and reconciliation, for the benefit of the people, the churches and Scottish society.
Glasgow Churches Together is the ACTS organisation in our local area. Formally launched in 1990, GCT is very much aware of the particular local history and needs in the Glasgow area.
Before 1990 there had been many years of less formal contact and collaboration between local churches. Then in 1988 the Churches committed themselves to working closely together to participate in the Glasgow Garden Festival. This provided the opportunity for co-operation at city level. It was out of this very positive experience that GCT was established.
During the Festival the churches worked together providing daily services in a specially-built glass chapel which is now located in Carfin. They produced their own ecumenical worship book, and promoted special events such as the Songs of Praise of the Christians and Jews – and even a Mass with children from 43 schools. After the Festival the churches realised that they had the basis for a local ACTS and GCT was born with an opening service in Glasgow Cathedral.
Current membership of GCT includes the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church, the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Catholic Church, the United Reformed Church, the United Free Church and the Salvation Army.
Since liturgy and prayer are at the very heart of the church’s life, over the years since 1990 Glasgow Churches Together has been responsible for a great variety of events and services.
As well as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, there have been Christian Passovers, services for the health of the city, for the sick, for Princess Diana’s funeral and for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.
A gathering of hope celebrated Refugee Week in conjunction with Glasgow City and the Refugee Council. A service of welcome was held in Glasgow Cathedral for the Archpriest of St Sophia’s in St Petersburg, jointly with the Cameron Foundation.
And there have been services for the anniversaries of the Celtic Saints – Ninian, Columba, Constantine, Patrick and Mungo – for peace in South Africa and Iraq, as well as a number of annual services of Carols for Peace in the City Chambers.
Since 1997, the Year of the Celtic Saints – the 16th centenary of St Ninian and the 14th of St Columba – the Music and Worship Committee of GCT has organised popular pilgrimages to Iona, Whithorn, Rosneath and Cardross.
In 2003, to mark the 14th centenary of St Mungo, two bus loads visited Culross Abbey and were given a warm welcome in the local Kirk where they all prayed for the communities in Culross where Mungo grew up and Glasgow where he later made his home. People have many happy memories of lunch on the lawn in the spectacular sunshine.
GCT has initiated several art exhibitions, including a major exhibition of the work of Alex Cunningham, the then Clerk of Glasgow Presbytery.
There have been stained-glass competitions featuring St Mungo and the Celtic Saints, and a poster competition for St Margaret’s 800th anniversary, along with song competitions and Children’s Choir Festivals. 1999 was the Year of Architecture and GCT was glad to sponsor the Cornerstone Festival.
Events involving children have been aimed at encouraging greater co-operation among the schools and even enhancing their hymn and musical repertoire.
The art competitions and the Cantatas and Festivals brought together a significant number of schools from both the Catholic and the non-denominational sectors. The St Mungo Cantata has been sung by schools and choirs in venues as diverse as Glasgow Cathedral, St Mungo’s Church, and notably the Kelvin Hall, with 68 schools, St Andrew’s Brass, the St Mungo Singers and choirs of the Archdiocese with support from a youth drama group associated with Wildcat Theatre.
GCT has been involved in the national ACTS services in Inverleith Park, Edinburgh, in the SECC, Glasgow, and in the first Scottish Ecumenical Assembly held in Edinburgh in 2001.
It has established an ecumenical witness cairn at Whithorn marking the year of the Celtic Saints in 1997, prayer cards for the Millennium, bookmarks for the Year of Mungo, and it has devised a common prayer initiative for use among the churches.
The St Mungo 1400 celebrations gave us much to rejoice over in the St Mungo Vigil/Vespers in Glasgow Cathedral, the City Chambers Service for the City, the pilgrimage to Culross, the Scottish Episcopal celebrations at Hoddam, the St Mungo Cantata in Our Lady and St George’s, Penilee, and the subsequent planting of a tree in Cathedral Square by Glasgow schoolchildren. A commemorative granite plaque can be viewed from the pavement on the John Knox Street edge of the square.
A number of secretaries and organisers have served GCT over the years, beginning with Robin Pullar and Christine MacPherson.
Two outstanding members of the GCT Committee have just retired after many years of committed service: Rev Alex Cunningham, Clerk to Glasgow Presbytery of the Church of Scotland, and Mgr Noel Woods, the senior representative of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Glasgow on GCT.
The work continues apace with the election of our new Chair, Rev Angus Kerr, of the Church of Scotland, and the appointment of Brother Stephen Smyth as the Ecumenical Officer on an almost full-time basis.
Building for the future
We are building more securely on the foundation laid down by the many who have contributed since the hopeful beginnings of formal co-operation at city level in 1988. The church leaders of Glasgow meet regularly to facilitate mutual understanding and collaboration and to look to the future.
Now, we have a website, an expanding database of contacts and local ecumenical groups within the city and throughout the country, and the most cordial of relations with the City Council.
The increasing time needed for the growing work of the GCT committee and the Ecumenical Officer is a heartening sign of hope for the future of ecumenism in Glasgow.