22 Sep 2021 • From the Clergy
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; …..1
Thus wrote John Keats in his ode to my favourite season. Perhaps it comes with having an October birthday, but I have always loved autumn. The air has a special freshness about it; the leaves take on glorious colours and I even enjoy the fact that darkness falls earlier - I like walking home and seeing the lights coming on in the houses. Somehow it feels friendlier than walking past those same houses at any other time of the year!
In the church calendar, of course, autumn is the season in which we celebrate our harvest festival. We decorate our church buildings, bring produce into church, representative of all that God gives us and we give thanks for all those who work so hard all through the year to produce our food for us. For one week at least, we don’t take this for granted but offer the thanks we so often and so easily forget to give.
In modern times, when so much of our food is mass produced or shipped in from abroad, we have a much more varied diet than our ancestors of even only a generation or two past. We have largely lost sight of “seasonal” foods as almost everything can be bought throughout the year. Whilst this has many obvious advantages, perhaps it also makes it easier for us to take things for granted and to grumble if things disappear from our supermarket shelves for whatever reason there may be.
Over the last eighteen months or so, it seems to me that any problem, in any sphere of life, has been put down to “The Pandemic” and the shortage of some foods and other goods that I have noticed recently in the supermarkets has been no exception. The lack of items on the shelves is due to a shortage of lorry drivers and this shortage is due to “The Pandemic” – so many drivers either have Covid or are isolating because of it. Only time will tell if this situation will be reflected in our displays and offerings at our harvest festivals. I would like to think that it will heighten our awareness of the difficulties faced by those who provide our food and increase our gratitude to them and to God.
This year all the churches of the Worcester City West Team will be holding their Harvest Festivals on October 3rd, but how and when did this tradition begin? Here are a few “Harvest Facts” I’ve discovered for you:
Giving thanks for the harvest is a pagan tradition which pre-dates Christianity.
The name “Harvest” derives from the old English word Haerfest which means Autumn.
An early Harvest Festival, known as Lammas (Loaf Mass), used to be celebrated at the beginning of the harvest season, on August 1st. Farmers would take loaves of bread, made from the new wheat crop, to be used as the Communion bread at a special service in their local church.
The Harvest celebrations with which we are familiar today began in 1843, when Reverend Robert Stephen Hawker invited the parishioners of Morwenstow, Cornwall, to attend a special service of Harvest thanksgiving in his church.2
In recent years our Harvest Festivals have added another theme: as well as giving thanks for our own plenty, we focus on those who are far less fortunate. In many parts of the world a good harvest is very rare and people go without even the most basic of foods and other goods.
The New Testament is full of stories which encourage generosity; the best known of these is probably Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan. All people are our neighbours and are deserving of our kindness and generosity. Jesus also taught that any act of kindness we perform, we do for him. (Matthew 25, 31-46). Harvest is a good time to put these teachings into practice as we reach out to those in need and do what we can to help them.
May God grant to us all at this season of harvest, hearts that are full of gratitude for our many blessings; compassion for those who are less fortunate; and the will to do something about it!
1To Autumn – John Keats
2Harvest Festival – Origins, facts and customs. https://www.lockiechurch.com