We are now in the middle of the Creation Season of the Church Year. Running from 1st September to 4th October it is the newest of the declared festivals and season of the Christian Calendar. Why have it, we may ask? There are other times of the year that we consider the natural world, and since the nineteenth century the succession of Harvest Festivals have been held up and down the country usually from the end of September until the end of October, and based upon the Jewish festivals for celebrating harvest. Especially the later ones of these can be in the darkening nights of autumn and bring back memories from years ago. The modern Creation season has a slightly different emphasis to the traditional harvest thanksgiving, as the focus is upon what is God-given and precious, and how we may avoid destroying it - having caused enough damage already. It is a worthy addition to the Church Year and a vital emphasis for our day.
In parallel, harvest festivals will be beginning soon and they too have changed in emphasis over the years, from purely a celebration of bounty and the harvest is gathered in, to an increasing concern for those who, across the world, are unable to reap the harvest of the soil due to floods or drought or contaminated or degraded land.
I have always quite enjoyed a country harvest service with a well-decorated church and the familiar hymns of the season. In years gone by many country areas would ensure that each church held their festival on a different Sunday, so that the evening services would welcome those from other churches and nearly always with a visiting preacher too. I have been round many of these and yellowing sermon notes would gain another church and date upon them to remind me where I preached that sermon last. I was not alone, and most of us in those pre-computer days, with everything hand written and re-used would have some trusted and tried scripts that covered the text from the lilies of the field and the birds of the air under God’s eye, to the fields ripe for harvest and the heavenly reapers, bringing a missional interpretation to harvest theme.
On one gloomy late October harvest evening service I had been invited to preach at an evening harvest service at a hall near the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. My memory of it may drift imaginatively, but this is what I recall: I arrived as the people were gathering from all parts nearby, and the car park, such as it was, continued to fill up. Inside everyone was making themselves comfortable with an assortment of chairs and blankets. An harmonium was against a wall and was to be our only source of music. It was a chilly night and the heating was non-existent, so a turf fire was built in the grate and the smokiness of the air caught one’s breath with the smell of smouldering peat. My abiding memory was of hymns sung with gusto and between low-wattage lightbulbs and a thick atmosphere, I preached to a congregation - that I felt I could hardly see - of farmers and others working the land, of families whose lives were lived out life-long in that beautiful and windswept north Irish coastal area. It was long before popular tourism caught up and branded the area with new signage and holiday cottages. It was like something out of a century earlier. It will live on in my mind.