Online service for 20th September 2020: Autumn

Prelude Clouds by Elizabeth Harley


Opening Words


In this time of continuing insecurity and social upheaval,

When most of us are unable to meet in person,

I invite you into this time of online worship.

For this short space of time,

Let us put our worldly cares aside,

Close our eyes and imagine ourselves

To be in our places of worship,

Surrounded by members of our beloved community,

And be together, if only virtually,

At this one time.


Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point. I will be lighting my chalice for worship at 11.00 am on Sunday morning) (words by Cliff Reed)


As leaves flame yellow, red and gold,

then fall,

and flames and sweet aromas

rise from autumn bonfires,

so too we kindle our chalice-flame

in thanks for the season’s beauty

and the love that makes us one.


Opening Prayer


Spirit of Life and Love,

Be with us as we gather for worship,

Each in their own place.

Help us to feel a sense of community,

Even though we are physically apart.

Help us to care for each other,

In this difficult time,

Keeping in touch however we can,

And helping each other,

However we may.

We hold in our hearts all those

Whose lives have been touched,

In whatever way,

By painful events, in their lives,

And in the wider world,

Of which we are all a part. Amen


Reading To Autumn by John Keats


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-eaves 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; to set budding more,

And still more, later flowers for the bees,

Until they think warm days will never cease,

For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.


Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?

Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find

Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,

Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;

Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,

Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook

Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:

And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep

Steady thy laden head across a brook;

Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,

Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.


Alternative Lord’s Prayer


Spirit of Life and Love, here and everywhere,

May we be aware of your presence in our lives.

May our world be blessed.

May our daily needs be met,

And may our shortcomings be forgiven,

As we forgive those of others.

Give us the strength to resist wrong-doing,

The inspiration and guidance to do right,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

We are your hands in the world; help us to grow.

May we have compassion for all living beings,

And receive whatever life brings,

With courage and trust.





Reading A Harvest of Gratitude by Percival Chubb

Once more the fields have ripened to harvest, and the fruitful earth has fulfilled the promise of spring.

The work of those who labour has been rewarded: they have sown and reaped, planted and gathered.

How rich and beautiful is the bounty gathered: the golden grain and clustered corn, the grapes of purple and green.

The crimson apples and yellow pears, and all the colours of orchard and garden, vineyard and field.

Season follows after season, after winter the spring, after summer the harvest-laden autumn.

From bud to blossom, from flower to fruit, from seed to bud again, the beauty of earth unfolds.

From the harvest of the soil we are given occasion to garner a harvest of the heart and mind:

A harvest of resolve to be careful stewards of all life’s gifts and opportunities.

A harvest of reverence for the wondrous power and life at work in the things that grow, and in the soul.

A harvest of gratitude for every good which we enjoy, and of fellowship for all who are sustained by earth’s beauty.


Prayer The Beauty that is Autumn by Cliff Reed


God of the earth, divine mystery,

whom we perceive in creation’s majesty,

we pause in wonder before the beauty that is autumn.

We are grateful for the glory of the dying leaves,

on their way from greenness to leaf-mould –

but so much more.

We give thanks for migrating birds:

those that filled the summer woods and skies,

but have now gone,

those who seek our winter land

in flight from fiercer cold.

We are grateful too for the strange ways

of fungus and toadstool,

drawing brief lives from death and decay,

yet so soon dead and decaying themselves.

For all that enriches our lives in this season,

for all that awakens our souls to the splendour of life –

so varied, so ever-changing –

we offer our gratitude.

Make us worthy of the world that is in our care.




Reading: Here, there and everywhere by Joan Wilkinson from With Heart and Mind


Stepping through the gate into Chatsworth Park early this morning, I saw the yellow, brown and golden leaves quietly swirling to the ground, glinting in the sun that was just breaking through the cold, damp mist of morning. I crunched through the dead leaves piled at the bottom of the great gnarled trees with their roots going deep into the earth. This avenue of trees reaching high above created a canopy which had caught the morning mist whose weighted drops dislodged the last of the season’s leaves.


The Great World Soul of our Mother Earth is in the coming to birth, growth and death of each leaf and each tree, wherever it may be. So, too, is every child born of Mother Earth, bound in loving relationship to her through the seasons of their lives.


Worship is here, right now, and wherever we might be as we turn in reverence and give thanks for life in all its wonder and diversity.


The Great World Soul is in the golden leaves falling in season and for that we give thanks. But when we plunder Mother Earth, the Great World Soul weeps through the tears of mothers no longer able to feed their children. Seasons are no more. Kill Mother Earth and we will die.


Time of Stillness and Reflection (words by Joan Wilkinson)


May we live in peace within the community of Mother Earth,

Respecting all that to which she gives birth.

From the smallest grain of sand to the greatest mountain range, she is there.

We are fed from her abundance.

May we learn to plant and reap in harmony with her laws.

Both microbes and men are sustained from her bounty.

Forgive our greed and teach us how to live modestly,

that all living beings may be sustained in their season.

It is with awe, reverence and joy we walk upon this sacred earth.

Let us ponder these things in the silence…




May we celebrate and care for our earth community

In all its diverse life forms – for you are there.


Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley


Address On Autumn


This is a beautiful time of year, as the days begin to get shorter and the nights longer. Tomorrow marks the Autumn Equinox, when day and night, light and dark are of equal length. The long heat of the Summer is over (even if it came at times we didn’t expect, like all through May), and we can settle down and enjoy some warm, golden days before the Winter sets in. In our hemisphere at least, the harvest has been largely gathered in; although this doesn’t mean what it once did. For the last few days, the sounds of this traditional agricultural task have been drifting in through my open window, reconnecting me with the rhythms of the natural world. Even if it is now largely done by machines.


I think it is a shame that Western society has grown so far away from the cycle of the seasons, and the agricultural round. Even when I was a child, which I know my children think was sometime in the Dark Ages, but really isn’t so long ago, harvest still meant something, at least to a child brought up in the countryside. But now, ask anyone where their food comes from, and they are likely to reply, “from the supermarket”. You can buy pretty much anything all year round – strawberries in December, parsnips in June. We’ve got a recipe book at home called The Cookery Year, which is full of wonderful recipes to cook for each month of the year, using “seasonal ingredients”. And at the beginning, there is a four-page table entitled The Fruit and Vegetable Year, which explains what you can get from which country at particular times of year. It makes fascinating reading.


It is very odd. Each Spring, I declare that Spring is my favourite season. And each Autumn, I declare that Autumn is my favourite season. I guess I love the in-between seasons, when the weather is neither too hot nor too cold, when there is a reasonable chance of warm, sunny days, and still-light evenings, when it is a pleasure, rather than a penance, to walk abroad, either round the village, or in my beloved Salcey Forest.

I go up into the Forest as often as I can – it only takes five minutes to walk from my front door, to the gate which leads to the path to the Forest. I can be in the “Forest proper” in ten or fifteen minutes, which is such a blessing. The Forestry Commission has done a lot of work to ensure that the path is navigable all year round (when we first moved to the village twenty years ago, it used to be “wellies only” except in the driest part of the Summer). Nowadays, I can walk in trainers for most of the year, and walking boots for the rest. Working from home as I do, I can choose my times of walking, whenever the weather seems propitious, or to clear my mind, or to soothe my spirit.

Some years ago, I wrote a blogpost about the changing colours in the Forest in Autumn, which remains at the top of my blog’s “hit parade”. I’d like to share a part of it with you this morning …

“The Autumn colours have been glorious this year – the leaves have been every possible shade of red-russet-copper-brown-gold-yellow-green that the eye could see or the heart could imagine. The sheer beauty of it all has taken my breath away” (and does every year) “especially when the multifarious colours have been backlit by sunshine against a vivid blue sky. Which is why I count myself so blessed to live within walking distance of it all, on the outskirts of Salcey Forest, although the wonderful displays of colour have been everywhere this year, not least in the trees lining the roads that I drive along.

In his wonderfully funny book, Notes from a Big Country, Bill Bryson muses about this wonderful annual display of vivid colour. ‘What is all the more remarkable about this’ (he writes) ‘is that no-one knows quite why it happens. In Autumn … trees prepare for their long winter’s slumber by ceasing to manufacture chlorophyll, the chemical that makes their leaves green. The absence of chlorophyll allows other pigments, called carotenoids, which have been present in the leaves all along, to show off a bit. The carotenoids are what account for the yellow and gold of birches, beeches, and some oaks, among others. Now here is where it gets interesting. To allow these golden colours to thrive, the trees must continue to feed the leaves even though the leaves are not actually doing anything useful except hanging there looking pretty. Just at a time when a tree ought to be storing up all its energy for use the following spring, it is instead expending a great deal of effort feeding a pigment that brings joy to the hearts of simple folk like me, but doesn’t do anything for the tree.'”

It is a mystery, but a beautiful one, and is one of the many reasons why I love Autumn so much – it is a feast for the eyes and the heart. I am looking forward very much to the next few weeks, when these glorious Autumn colours will make themselves evident again – it has already started.

The other main reason I look forward to Autumn is this: I don’t know whether it is hot-wired into my DNA, or whether it is the fruit of having spent so many years in or around education, but for me, the new year begins in September. Not January, which is a mere accident of the calendar, but September. So for me early Autumn is the time of year when I can stop frantically planning for the future, sit still for a while, and take stock of what I have achieved during the past twelve months. It is also, very importantly, an opportunity to be grateful and to give thanks for the good things that have happened in the past twelve months. I think we don’t do this enough. And finally, it is a chance to review what has not gone so well, particularly if it was my fault, and to resolve to do better next year.

Jesus lived in an agricultural community, and often used agricultural metaphors to illustrate his stories. One parable in particular has always reminded me of the connection between our actions and their consequences. It is the story of the sower who sows his seed in the Springtime, which appears in all three synoptic gospels, and which I have used in past Harvest services. Some of the seeds fall on the path, and were eaten by the birds; some fall on rocky ground, and do well initially, but wither because they do not have deep enough roots; some fall among thorns and are choked by them; and some fall on good soil “and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”

The explanation of this parable is that the different types of soil represent the different “hearts” or receptivity that people have towards God and his word. The first type don’t understand God’s word, and are unreceptive to it, so the evil one (the birds) take the truth away. The second type initially respond to God’s word, but fall away at the first difficulty. The third type, which falls among thorns, represents people whose hearts are choked by the worries and concerns of their daily lives. The fourth type is the individual who hears and understands God’s word, and whose heart then brings forth the fruit of a good life.

I believe that the significance of this parable is that we have to tend our own gardens, our own hearts carefully. We have to be sure that we are receptive to the presence of the divine in the world; that we are not discouraged by difficulty or apathy from doing the best that we can in our lives; that we try to cultivate an awareness of the divine in our lives, so that we are not distracted by worldly problems and worries from following the best that we know; and that we bring this awareness into our everyday lives.

If we can bear this in mind, not just in the Autumn, but throughout the year, our lives will indeed be fruitful.

I would like to close by repeating part of my last reading A Harvest of Gratitude:

From the harvest of the soil we are given occasion to garner a harvest of the heart and mind:

A harvest of resolve to be careful stewards of all life’s gifts and opportunities.

A harvest of reverence for the wondrous power and life at work in the things that grow, and in the soul.

A harvest of gratitude for every good which we enjoy, and of fellowship for all who are sustained by earth’s beauty.


May it be so in all our lives, not only at this time of Autumn Equinox, but through the weeks and months that follow.

Closing Words


Our time together is drawing to a close.

May we return to our everyday world refreshed,

May we appreciate the people around us,

May we share the love we feel,

May we look out for each other,

Sharing our joys and our sorrows,

And may we keep up our hearts,

Now and in the days to come,



Postlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley