This year Harvest Festival will be celebrated at St Mary's on Sunday 17th September and at Dagnall Church the following Sunday. Over the centuries, celebrations of Harvest Festival have changed to reflect changing times. In the Middle Ages, the festival was at the beginning of the harvest gathering season on 1st August. Farmers made loaves of bread from the new wheat crop and donated them to their local churches. These were used as communion bread in a service giving thanks to God for the harvest. The festival was known as Lammas or 'loaf mass'. Over time, the Lammas celebrations died out.
The tradition of celebrating Harvest Festival in churches was reintroduced by Reverend Robert Hawker in 1843. He was vicar of St Morwenna and St John the Baptist church in Morwenstow in Cornwall from 1834 until his death in 1875. When he arrived, there had not been a vicar in residence for over a century so he had much to do. On September 13th 1843, he put up a notice inviting his parishioners to a special thanksgiving service during which the old custom of making Eucharistic bread from the first corn would be revived. The notice read: 'Let us gather together in the chancel of our church, and there receive, in the bread of the new corn, that blessed sacrament which was ordained to strengthen and refresh our souls.'
The custom of gathering to give thanks for God's provision spread so that Harvest Festival celebrations became widespread. Victorian hymns such as 'Come ye thankful people come' became popular, as well as 'We plough the fields and scatter' which was translated from German.
These all helped to make the Harvest Service a special occasion. Another custom which caught the public imagination was the idea of decorating churches with home grown produce from people's gardens and allotments.
Linked with thanksgiving for God's provision was the recognition that many people struggled to have enough to eat. School records of the Victorian era show numerous occasions on which children were absent because they were working to contribute to the family finances. Fortunately this no longer happens in the UK but in many other parts of the world, child labour is common.
This year at Harvest, St Mary's will be supporting the Bishop of St Alban's Harvest Appeal 'Full of Beans'. All money raised will go to a project in the Philippines where the lives of people in the remote rural villages in the Tinglayan Mountains are being transformed. They are being given the means by which to grow crops with plentiful harvests, especially beans which are well suited to their climate. Good crops of beans enable families to eat well and the surplus can be sold at market so that they have money to spend. This will provide basic household supplies such as soap, sugar and salt. It also means that children can have educational resources for their schooling.
The 'Full of Beans' appeal will enable more families to experience this transformational change, to become more self-reliant and hopeful for their futures. Churches and schools across the diocese will be participating in the appeal and there is a just giving page for those who want to give directly.
I hope you will come along to our Harvest Festival celebrations and support the Bishop's Appeal to help transform the lives of some of the poorest communities in the world.
Joy (Vicar of Eaton Bray with Edlesborough)
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About the Vicar's Letter
The Vicar's Letter has been appearing in the villages Focus magazine since August 2002.
The Rev. Peter Graham also used to publish The Vicar's Letter in the parish magazine of 1964. Please see the Vicar's Letter area for these.