“Come, ye thankful people, come,
raise the song of harvest-home…”
Living, working and worshipping in a rural area, it is fairly easy to appreciate the cyclical farming calendar. Fertilising, ploughing, sowing, nurturing, reaping, storing… Working the land is a time-consuming process. And for what? To bring us our daily bread? To provide us with our morning cereals? To produce the protein on our plates? To fill our glasses with calcium-enriched goodness? For every mouthful of food we eat and every sip of liquid we drink, some farmer, somewhere, has enabled that to happen.
“We plough the fields, and scatter
The good seed on the land,
But it is fed and watered
By God’s almighty hand…”
(M. Claudius 1740-1815)
It’s unsurprising then, that the ancient ritual of Harvest, was a special time for celebration and a highlight in farming communities. It provided a chance to stop and take stock. An opportunity to be thankful for the plentiful fruits of many months’ labour. Traditionally, it was a time to preserve God’s gracious bounty for nourishment over the winter.
It was against this backdrop, that the worshipping community of St. James’ Stalmine, came together to celebrate Harvest, in song, words and deed.
The morning’s Holy Communion service took place in a beautifully decorated church, rich in autumnal colours. Abundant flowers, glistening berries, ripened produce – apples, onions and potatoes filled every nook and cranny, visual evidence of the gifts from the land. Gifts, soon to be re-gifted to recipients who may be struggling with health issues.
Parishioners brought forward carrier bags, bursting with non-perishable items, ultimately destined for Vincent House – a local project which provides food and accommodation for the homeless in Blackpool.
“Praise him for our harvest-store;
He hath filled the garner floor…”
Further afield, the DEC (Disasters Emergency Committee) will benefit from a generous Harvest donation of £500 to support their ongoing work with the Pakistan Floods Appeal. The organisation are helping to care for the 33 million people affected by the devastating recent flooding which has left more than six million people in desperate need.
During the service, the youngsters were able to engage in some crafting activities and produce some colourful Harvest wreaths of their own – a visual reminder of the abundant gifts we should be thankful for.
Traditional Harvest hymns were much enjoyed throughout the service and audibly reinforced the key messages of celebration and thanksgiving for the fruits of human labour and generous God-given gifts.
“Accept the gifts we offer
For all thy love imparts,
And, what thou most desirest,
Our humble, thankful hearts…”
(M. Claudius 17-40-1815)
Following on from the service, the congregation came together to share a ‘Jacob’s Join” lunch. Sweet and savoury plates of deliciousness graced the table, kindly donated by one and all – a harvest feast fit for a parish!
BUT, that wasn’t the end of the Harvest celebrations.
An elegant and atmospheric Choral Evensong rounded off the day. A seamless blend of familiar harvest hymns, bursting with language suggesting plentiful gifts, abundant generosity and fruitfulness with more formal choral pieces such as William Smith’s five part Preces and Responses, the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis were sung by the choir of St. James’, with additional choristers from Preesall, St. Oswald. The words of the Anthem – ‘Thou Visitest the earth’, based on Psalm 65, with music by Maurice Greene reverberated round the church, reiterating the glory of God’s world.
“You care for the land and water it;
You enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water
To provide the people with corn…”
Candlelit window ledges, framed by nature’s finest floral gifts provided a lovely setting for the traditional sounds of Evensong, readings and prayers.
Certainly, a day to remember. A season to be thankful for.
“Praise, O praise our God and King;
hymns of adoration sing:
for his mercies still endure
ever faithful, ever sure.
Praise him that he made the sun
day by day his course to run:
And the silver moon by night,
shining with her gentle light:
Praise him that he gave the rain
to mature the swelling grain:
And hath bid the fruitful field
crops of precious increase yield…”
(H.W. Baker 1821-77)