In the Church we are progressing through the season of Advent while in the city it seems as if Christmas is well under way. There is no denying however that the decorations enhance the centre of Dundee: the tall and magnificent tree in City Square provides a beacon of light in the darkness, while overhead coloured lights spell out messages and describe traditional symbols of the season. At ground level, shoppers struggle along the streets with bulging carrier bags, all too often passing by on the other side to avoid those who are huddled in sleeping bags and leaning against shop fronts. The two sides of Christmas.
Some of us, of course, and not only those who are Christians or members of other faith communities, try to do our bit to close the gap between these two ever-diverging groups (the comfortably well off and the disastrously poverty-stricken). And not only at this time of year either.
But perhaps the image of the young couple walking from Nazareth to Bethlehem, who find nowhere better than an animal shelter in which to rest for the night, pushes us to do a bit more than we manage at other times of the year.
The organist of St Andrew’s took part in the Big Sleepout in Dundee, with some of the congregation contributing to the several hundred pounds she raised to combat homelessness. At Meadowside St Paul’s today, the usual Wednesday Club volunteers were offering wrapped gifts of socks, hats, gloves and toiletries in addition to a feast of hot snacks and filled rolls.
Perhaps John the Baptist, whose candle we lit last Sunday, would have appreciated a change to his diet of locusts and wild honey. In both congregations we are singing the carol whose chorus begins, “Christmas is coming”, so that we are reminded of the meaning behind the Advent candles (or at least, one interpretation, for there are several different versions).
On Advent Sunday a few members from the two congregations attended, or took part in, a special evening service in St Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral, which sits between our two churches. I don’t think I was the only non “Piscie” to particularly appreciate the heavenly singing of the choir, the atmospheric change from darkness to candlelight, and a service of scripture and other words which were both meaningful and challenging. As so often, worship was followed by fellowship, and a veritable feast of stovies and wine!
On the Monday at St Andrew’s the Girls’ Brigade paid a visit to the sanctuary, where the first candle was again lit and we sang two songs about Advent. Not all of the girls are in the habit of attending church, so there was also much to explore, notably the view from the pulpit. The stovies and wine of the previous evening were replaced by tea/coffee/juice and cakes/mince pies, with some of the girls’ families joining us in the hall. We hope to make this kind of evening a more regular event.