Robert Hawker was acutely aware of the life-and-death importance of the harvest to his parishioners and he was convinced that the germination of the wheat was supernatural. He liked the old customs and, despite criticism from neighbouring clergy who thought him most peculiar, he held a service in 1843 to which everyone was invited to bring their produce as a way of saying thank you to God. And thereafter he urged his parishioners each year to come to church for harvest thanksgiving. And so the idea caught on. Along with the service, the traditional readings, hymns, and fruity decorations, went a Harvest Supper with an abundant supply of cider. People would come from far and wide and there were many harvest-festival enthusiasts who would do the rounds of country churches during the harvest season.
If I were to ask the question “On which building in the City of London will you find the following words from Psalm 24: ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof’, some of you may well have said, St Paul’s Cathedral and, indeed, that would have been a good (and perhaps logical) answer. It is in fact on the Royal Exchange building. On the building, which symbolises the creation of material wealth in the developed world, we have a reminder that material possessions don’t actually belong to us. We hold them in trust from the one to whom everything in heaven and earth belongs. Harvest is a time to celebrate our links to the earth and the fullness thereof. We have received much from God in trust. And now we have an opportunity to reflect, to give thanks and to spread that bounty. Human beings collect all sorts of things which we haven’t grown, but which we possess because we can afford to buy them. ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein’.
Harvest is also a time for us to pause and to give thanks for those who produce our food, sometimes under difficult conditions and dependent on the weather and other factors beyond their control. It is also a time to spare a thought for those organisations who support our farming community, such as The Farming Community Network (formerly The Farming Crisis Network) and The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution – and if you felt so inclined, to send a donation towards their work! So I encourage us to reflect on the good things we have received, on our farmers who produce our food, and also on people who are in real need, and to use this time of Harvest to share our blessings with others.
Your friend and Rector