Saturday, 4 October 2008

Harvest Time is here again

... and you're not going to find a scripted sermon to go with it.

I've some ideas as to what I'll say tomorrow morning - and some visual aids. But visual aids and homilies are rather superflous, I suspect, on a Harvest Festival Sunday. The whole church will be a visual aid - thanks to the skill of those who decorate it. And it's an occasion for real participation as people bring up their harvest gifts - we encourage everyone, but it will be the children who take the lead.

This year we're going to use an introduction to the Offering of Harvest Gifts from Common Worship's volume Times and Seasons. It starts like this:

Let us bring forward symbols of the harvest,
gifts that God has created and his sun and rain have nurtured.
Thanks be to God.

Bring forward the harvest of the cornfields,
the oats and the wheat, the rye and the barley.
Thanks be to God.

Bring forward the harvest of roots,
the swedes and mangolds, turnips and sugar beet.
Thanks be to God.

Bring forward the harvest of seeds for next year’s crops,
for clover, for hay and for corn.
Thanks be to God....

And continues in like manner. Because we take our Harvest offering to a centre which works with homeless people we ask people to bring dried food, tins, tea, coffee, toiletries etc which can be stored. So we may invite people, "Bring forward the mangolds!" but we'd have a long wait if we expected them to appear.

And what is a mangold? Also known as a mangel - and more properly as a mangold-wurzel - I think it's time we brought it back into our harvest services. It's a form of beet, generally fed to cattle, but also popular - it seems - for hurling (at whom or what?). I guess you have to move in the right circles. See the picture to recognise it when it's in growth mode.

R. S. Thomas, famously grumpy Welsh priest and poet - and a very good thing - mentions the mangel in his poem, A Peasant:

Iago Prytherch his name, though, be it allowed,
Just an ordinary man of the bald Welsh hills,
Who pens a few sheep in a gap of cloud.
Docking mangels, chipping the green skin
From the yellow bones with a half-witted grin
Of satisfaction, or churning the crude earth
To a stiff sea of clods that glint in the wind -
So are his days spent, his spittled mirth
Rarer than the sun that cracks the cheeks
Of the gaunt sky perhaps once in a week.
And then at night see him fixed in his chair
Motionless, except when he leans to gob in the fire.
There is something frightening in the vacancy of his mind.
His clothes, sour with years of sweat
And animal contact, shock the refined,
But affected, sense with their stark naturalness.
Yet this is your prototype, who, season by season
Against siege of rain and the wind's attrition,
Preserves his stock, an impregnable fortress
Not to be stormed, even in death's confusion.
Remember him, then, for he, too, is a winner of wars,
Enduring like a tree under the curious stars.

All rather better than the sugary fare which many might prefer for Harvest Thanksgiving. Perhaps it should be required reading in place of a homily?

Meanwhile, a team of St. Cuthbert's folk has been getting things sorted out in preparation for our Harvest Lunch. I suggested that perhaps I should miss out the preaching bit tomorrow. "Oh no, you can't do that," was the response. "We need time for the jacket potatotoes to cook."
You can learn more about mangel-hurling by clicking on this link. The site is well worth a look!

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