Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest home!
All is safely gathered in,
Ere the winter storms begin;
God, our Maker, doth provide
For our wants to be supplied;
Come to God's own temple, come;
Raise the song of harvest home!
So begins one of the traditional Harvest hymns written back in 1844. The idea of celebrating a successful season of food grown on the land actually goes back generations. Usually celebrated around the time of the ‘Harvest Moon’, i.e. the full moon nearest the Autumn equinox, around the end of September. The word itself comes from an old English word ‘haerfest’, meaning ‘Autumn’.
It’s not exclusively a Christian event, within the Jewish faith it is called ‘Sukkot’ or ‘feast of Tabernacles’.(Exodus 23:16 where its described as ‘the feast of ingathering’) In biblical times it was also customary to give a tenth of the Harvest to God and was one of the special occasions when God’s people were to be reminded that God was the source of all
But a celebration of thanksgiving for the Harvest takes place all over the world and in different forms.
In times past in this country, it would be a community event and celebrated as the final harvest of crops were gathered. There would be a great procession around the final cartload as it came back to the farm where a great party with food, fun and dancing would take place. This would then conclude with a special service of thanksgiving in Church
However, fewer and fewer churches are celebrating Harvest as they once did. The idea that ‘all is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin’ does not have the same significance as before. There is little sense of seasonal food because most things can be bought anytime at a local supermarket.
However, the more rural churches and those connected with the farming community as part of their parish or congregation will still recognise the importance of gathering a harvest and of giving thanks to God ‘for all his love’
We continue to recognise Harvest and still celebrate in church around September /October each year. Heathfield is a market town in a rural area and therefore surrounded by local farms.
Here at Union Church, we like to take this opportunity to recognise God’s goodness and provision in all creation as well as the relative abundance of food that is available to us. Within the Harvest Service we will give special thanks and praise to God for the way He reveals himself to us in the wonders of his creation, we take time to reflect on all we have and pray for those who are less fortunate than ourselves and lacking in many of the resources that we can so easily take for granted.
The church is decorated with flowers, fruit and vegetables. It often includes a special bread that has been prepared and baked in the shape of a wheatsheaf –even to include a little mouse!
Much of this is ‘token and symbolic’, however we also combine this with an abundance of tinned and dried produce that will go to a local Foodbank. This way we recognise the needs that are also evident within our own communities in these days. Alongside, we also link with an organisation that works overseas, particularly in third world countries. This generally means we take up a special offering and make a significant donation to that work which could be towards the provision of fresh water, or seeds to encourage own food produce or even to support some specific work in a school or Hospital. In so doing we again recognise the ‘relative abundance’ we have in comparison to other places and needs around the world.
We believe that Harvest is a wonderful opportunity to be reminded of the many things we can take for granted, and to refocus on God who is the master designer and creator, who provides us with so much but also has made us stewards of all he has made, with a responsibility to care for this world as well as each other.
Rev Thomas Duncanson has been a Baptist Minister for almost 40 years in 3 previous churches. He has been Minister of Union Church Heathfield for the past 3 years.