Rector’s News

//Rector’s News
Rector’s News2019-10-02T08:51:35+00:00

   Rector’s News October 2019


Towards the beginning of October, we shall celebrate our Harvest Festival when we give thanks for God’s provision of our material needs, especially food to eat.  We give thanks too for the gift and beauty of creation and remind ourselves that we are called to be stewards of the world around us.  On the evening of October 6th, we’ll remember all these things as we enjoy the customary Harvest Supper together… reminding us also that Harvest Thanksgiving is a community celebration.

Harvest Thanksgiving is traditionally a time when people join together in Church to thank God for a good harvest. The origin of the festival, as we know it today, isn’t that distant. If it hadn’t been for a Victorian vicar in Cornwall, there probably wouldn’t be harvest thanksgivings in any of our churches. The Revd Robert Stephen Hawker, for forty-one years Vicar of Morwenstow on the wild north Cornish coast, is said to have initiated the modern Harvest Festival.  He was regarded as somewhat eccentric… he once excommunicated his cat for mousing on a Sunday… but he has left us an important legacy.

However, during the Middle Ages the Church had a harvest festival of its own. It was called Lammas – meaning Loaf Mass. This was held on 1st August, before the harvest had properly started. Each farmer cut one sheaf of corn, and the flour from those sheaves was made into one huge loaf. Everyone went in procession to their village church and the loaf was offered to God as the first results of the coming harvest. Later, when the crops were all safely gathered in, the farmer would throw a big party celebrated with beer and plenty of excitement for all hisworkmen and their families. But these customs gradually died out and today Lammas has largely been forgotten. Towns were growing bigger and the people who lived there weren’t interested in farms or crops. Even in the villages people began to think that the Lammas celebrations weren’t very ‘proper’. 

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

Matthew Tregenza

Photographs © Bill Jerman