Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words by Cliff Reed
Humbly and thankfully we greet the harvest,
gift of the earth, gift of the Creator
who is the life of the creation.
Thank you for the life we share
and for the food that sustains it.
Thank you for the love that makes us
one with each other and with you.
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,
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.
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 not quite yet post-Covid world,
keeping in touch however we can,
and helping each other,
however we may.
May we remember that
caution is still needed,
that close contact is still unwise.
Help us to be grateful for the freedoms we have
and to respect the wishes of others.
May we hold in our hearts all those
Who are grieving, lost, alone,
Suffering in any way.
Reading On the third day – a roll call of the fruits of the Earth by Cliff Reed
Bring Apples to the Harvest Table, and Apricots;
and, with a whiff of salt-fish on a tropical breeze,
bring Ackees and Almonds.
Bring Bananas and Breadfruit, Blackberries and Blueberries,
Barley and Black-eyed peas –
and, from the shrinking rainforest, bring Brazils.
Let there be Cabbage on the harvest table,
and Currants – red, white, and black,
Chestnuts for an autumn fireside, Cranberries, Carrots,
Cauliflowers and Cashews. And Conkers,
for their beauty and their memories.
Bring Dill, Dates, and Damsons; Elderflower cordial and
Elderflower wine; Figs and long-forgotten Fat-hen and Feverfew.
Bring Ginger and Gooseberries, Grapes and Grapefruit,
Gherkins and Gunga-peas.
Find a place for Hazelnuts; for Hops and Hips and Haws; for
I-tal Illalu and Iceberg lettuce; Jackfruit and Juniper.
Bring Kiwi fruit and Kale; Lemons, Limes and luscious Lychees.
With thanksgiving, bring Marrows and Melons, Maize, Mint
and Mushrooms; even Nettles, neglected and reviled but good
for us and for butterflies.
Oranges and Olives, Onions and Oats, all have their place; and
Plums and Plantains, Pears and Peaches, Peppers and Parsley,
Potatoes and Pistachios.
Bring Quince. Bring Raspberries and Rice, Rosemary – for
remembrance – and Runner beans.
Put Strawberries on the table, and Starfruit; Spinach
(to make us strong!), Soya and Sugar – both beet and cane.
Bring Turnips and Tangerines; Thyme, even Truffles (if
you can find them!)
Bring Ugly fruit; holy Vervain and fragrant Valerian; Walnuts,
Wheat, and Watercress.
Xeranthemum, for eternity, takes its place at the table, and, for
mortality, autumn leaves, golden with Xanthophyll.
Bring Yams – and Zinnias, to represent the flowers!
Let us give thanks for this Harvest Table, groaning but far
from complete, and all that God found good on the Third Day.
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. Amen
Reading from “What do you mean by Harvest?” by David Mearman
In the current issue of our District magazine, MU Now, David Mearman of Stourbridge shared a wonderful conversation he once had with a crofter on the Isle of Lewis:
As it was September, I asked him whether a Harvest Service was held at his church… He said, “Yes, we do now, but if you had asked that question twenty years ago (pre-1980s) I would have said, ‘What do you mean by Harvest? Which one?’”…
“The Harvest is celebrated, and starts every day of the year, from the croft livestock, by gathering eggs and milk to drink, and to make butter and cheese. The daily Water Harvest from the local brook or stream (called a ‘burn’ in Scotland and the Isles) or from the local spring.”
“Then,” he continued, “In February, we had the Cod Harvest, as we fished for them before they headed back north.
From February to April, we had the Calving Harvest, when the cow would give birth.
From March to May was the Peat Harvest, in which the year’s supply of peat was cut for use as household fuel. Also the Lambing Harvest, when the sheep would give birth.
During May, we had the Early Potato Harvest.
Between May and September, we had the Green Vegetable Harvest.
May to August saw the Trout Harvest.
June was the Herring Harvest. We fished for them on their outward southern migration.
June to July would be the Wool Harvest, with the sheep shearing.
August would see the Wild Berry Harvest – raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, redcurrants and gooseberries.
August to September would see the Hay Harvest – the hay was gathered into traditional tepee-like haystacks.
August would see the General Root Crop Harvest, of carrots, turnips, swede and parsnips,
and the Oat, Barley and Corn (if you could get it to ripen) Harvest.
September would be the Tree Fruit Harvest, for crofters with trees, and the main Potato Harvest.
Autumn sees the River Salmon and Trout Harvest, but they are available at sea in all seasons except winter.
November would see the late Herring Harvest, as they returned on their northern migration.
And November to February would see the start of the Cod Harvest.”
Prayer Harvest Thanksgiving by Cliff Reed (adapted)
Spirit of Life and Love,
At this celebration of harvest, we give thanks
for the golden grain we saw in our summer fields,
and for its harvesting.
We give thanks for the fruit of our orchards and vineyards,
for the vegetables that swell in the rich earth
or grow green in the sunshine and the rain.
We are so blessed, and yet we take it all for granted.
We hold in our loving thought and prayer the people
of our one world who suffer the devastation
of natural – and not-so-natural – disaster.
We pray for the lands where the harvest seems one
of hatred and of death; where terrorism, cruelty, and
war raise bitter crops of misery and vengeance.
We give thanks for the harvests of earth and spirit.
We pray that all who are denied them now will
soon receive their bounty through the workings of
your love in human hearts like ours.
This we ask in the spirit of Jesus
and all your messengers.
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.
Time of Stillness and Reflection
Creator of all, we thank you for once again bringing the annual miracle of growth to fruition.
We thank you for the sunshine and the rain, combining to nurture the plants and help them to grow.
We thank you for the good soil of the earth, which feeds the seeds and enables them to burgeon and bear fruit.
Make us aware that we are the guardians of the earth; that it is the only one we have; and that it is our duty to preserve it for future generations.
Help us to make wise choices, so that we can save what we still have; and try to put back something of what we and past generations have squandered.
Remind us that we are the lucky ones, with full bellies, clean water and full store cupboards; help us to remember that for the vast majority of the world’s people, such things are a luxury beyond imagining. Let us give thanks in the silence…
Help us to turn our prayers into action and to strive for a fairer world.
Creator of all, hear our prayer. Amen
Address Harvest and Thanksgiving
This is a beautiful time of year. The long heat of the Summer is over and we can settle down and enjoy some warm, golden days before the Winter sets in. In our hemisphere at least, and in spite of the not-so-wonderful Summer we’ve had, the harvest has largely been gathered in, although this doesn’t mean what it once did. For the last few days and weeks, 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.
These past few weeks have seen the fields around my village change from golden fields of corn and barley and rapeseed to brown, ploughed-in fields of stubble. The weather has been perfect for Harvest, and the farmers’ only complaint must be the lack of hours in the day. They are starting early and finishing late, and the roads around the village are full of tractors and other agricultural vehicles, which we hardly see for the rest of the year. It doesn’t pay to be in a hurry!
I have always felt immensely privileged to live in the countryside, where I can still be in touch with the changing seasons of the year. Every year the same, and every year different. It invokes feelings of awe and gratitude, as I watch the first green shoots growing strong and high, flowering, and then ripening, as the year advances. Then the crops are harvested and the countryside exhales and settles down for its Winter season of dormancy. Every year the same, and every year different.
And on the village allotments, the runner beans are nearly over, as are the courgettes, which have been delicious this year (my brother-in-law has an allotment and has been generous). The raspberries and the salad vegetables have been harvested and the maize is coming on nicely. There too, it looks like being a bumper harvest. All the back-breaking work of digging, weeding and anxious tending has paid off. Every year the same, and every year different.
I love the words David Mearman sent me for MU Now – the reminder that every day of the year can be harvest time for someone, or for some gift of creation, as Cliff Reed listed in our first reading.
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, some fifty years ago, harvest still meant something, at least to a child brought up in the countryside (or to people who still live closer to the earth, like the crofters of Lewis). But around Britain, ask anyone where their food comes from today, they are likely to reply, “from the supermarket”. You can buy pretty much anything all the year round – strawberries in December, parsnips in June.
But this universal bounty has its downside (or so I believe). We have lost contact with the changing order of the seasons – and I think it is a loss. The Western demand for all kinds of everything all the year round has had far-reaching effects, all over the world. Farmers in developing countries now grow “cash crops” such as coffee and bananas, instead of food to feed themselves and their families. And irreplaceable tracts of rainforests, the lungs of the Earth, are cut down to make room for more fields, in spite of the fact that the earth beneath cannot support such intensive agriculture.
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.
The disconnection of our modern, industrialised society has meant that we have lost contact with the cycle of harvests, so eloquently explained by David Mearman’s neighbour. So why do we still celebrate Harvest Festival? Is it out of a feeling of nostalgia for a more structured past, one in which the seasons followed one another in order and still meant something? I think it is significant that it is the only pre-Christian festival widely celebrated in Christian – and Unitarian – churches. Not to mention in the temples, mosques and gurdwaras of other faiths. I believe that in spite of our outward severance from the cycle of the seasons, our innermost selves still believe in its importance and like to mark it in this way.
Every faith has its festivals, which are important punctuation marks in the religious year. Of these, Harvest is possibly the oldest, and certainly the most universally celebrated. Every day of the year, a harvest is being gathered somewhere in the world. Wherever there is a successful crop, people hold a festival. It is a time for thanking their god for providing them with food. The common features of these harvest festivals are the ideas of celebration, giving thanks and sharing.
The tradition of celebrating the safe gathering of the harvest is a very ancient one, far older than Christianity. So I thought it would be interesting to find out how other faiths celebrate Harvest. We know about Harvest Festival in Christianity – at the end of the harvest, people take gifts of food to their church – either produce they have grown themselves or something bought from a shop. There is a special harvest service to give thanks for providing all these good things. Afterwards, the food is given to people who are in need – the elderly of the community or the homeless. In America, Thanksgiving is not only to thank God for the harvest, but also a symbol of gratitude to the Native Americans who helped the Pilgrim Fathers when they landed in New England.
Jewish people have two festivals which are closely related to the harvest. Shavuot, which takes place in May or June, was originally known as the Feast of the Harvest. It is when the Jewish people offer the first fruits of the field in thanks to God. It also celebrates God giving the Torah to the prophet Moses on Mount Sinai. There is a lovely story that the Jews waited so long for Moses to return that their milk turned to cheese. This is why cheesecake and cheese-filled pancakes are traditional Shavuot foods.
The second Jewish festival is Sukkot, which takes place in the autumn. It is a week-long festival during which the Jews remember the time that their people travelled from Egypt through the desert to the land of Canaan, the promised land. They celebrate by building a special shelter called a sukkah, to remind them of their ancestors’ wanderings. Every day during Sukkot, four plants – citron, palm, myrtle and willow – are waved to and fro to represent the harvest and the fertility of the land.
Hindus also give thanks for harvest at different times of the year. In January, the sugar-cane harvest is celebrated. In the south, the festival is called Pongal, and lasts for two or three days. Hindus in northern India celebrate Lohri, also in January. This is a joyful festival when families and friends visit the homes of children who were born in the past year and share a special meal.
At the end of the rainy season in August or September, Hindus in Kerala, on the south-western tip of India celebrate the festival of Oman. People decorate their homes, wear new clothes and give each other presents. After they have been to the temple to give thanks for the harvest, they hold a wonderful feast of spicy rice, vegetables and sweet puddings.
The Sikhs have an interesting variation on harvest festival. Baisakhi, which marks the beginning of the Sikh religious year, is held in April, just before the first corn crop is harvested in India. It is a joyful gathering – games are played, races are organised, they buy and sell animals and listen to speeches about the Gurus, their religious teachers. One of the features of the festival is spectacular dancing performed by troops of men. Only when the festival is over do farmers begin the work of harvesting the corn crop.
In the Far East, rice is the staple crop. In Japan, there are several festivals linked to the rice harvest, starting with one in the spring in which the emperor plants the first new rice. Later in the year, in August, there is the Lantern Festival in northern Japan, to celebrate the ripening of the rice crop. Then at Moon Viewing in September, people drink rice wine while looking up at the full moon and make up songs and pray for a good harvest. In November, once the rice is harvested, there is the New Taste Festival, which is celebrated by dancing and a wonderful feast at which lots of rice wine is drunk.
The Chinese also hold a festival in September called the Mid-Autumn Festival, when they watch the full moon and pray for a good rice harvest. Special moon cakes, made of a pastry crust filled with a mixture of ground lotus fruit and sesame seeds or dates, are offered to the moon.
Africa has many countries with different climates. Maize, cassava, plantain, beans and okra are all staple foods, and Africans have many rituals and festivals surrounding the harvesting and planting of their crops. I found out that some Christian Africans set aside land in their village which they call “God’s Acre”. They sell the crops that they grow there at their harvest festival and give the money to the church or to people in need.
These are just some of the ways in which the safe gathering of the harvest is celebrated all over the world. As we have heard, harvest is celebrated in many different ways, but the common features are the giving and sharing of food, and of thanksgiving.
So let us give thanks for the harvests all over the world, which provide us with the food we need to sustain our lives.
Our time together is drawing to a close.
May we return to our everyday world refreshed,
May we share the love we feel,
And do the work that is ours to do.
May the harvest of our lives be good and fruitful.
May we look out for each other,
And may we keep up our hearts,
Now and in the days to come,
Postlude For my Beloved by Elizabeth Harley