I have some ideas for Harvest. Yes, I know it’s ages away, but things in churches move very slowly, and unless I start making noises now, it will suddenly be upon us. My reason for wanting to do something stems from last Harvest, when I arrived at church, saw someone had made a pretty display of fruit and branches, and thought, “Oh, it’s Harvest!” And that was it. Harvest meant nothing to me any more, and I’m not sure it’s meant to be like that.
Harvest used to be quite exciting. When I was in infant school, we all took in tins and packets of food, and the teachers decorated shoe boxes. We had a special service, which I remember nothing about except that there was this heap of food in front of us, and we sang the same songs each year – you know, the ones about farmers, and hunter’s moons, and fields being ploughed. I’m not sure I had ever seen a field being ploughed, and I had no idea what a ‘hunter’s moon’ was. But that mound of food was so enticing. We didn’t have much money in those days, and to see packets of biscuits, and fruit, and tins of chocolate pudding – all the things that never appeared in our own home – made the service very interesting. Then, when we were in the ‘top class’, we were allowed to walk around the council estate where I lived, carrying the shoe boxes of produce, delivering them to the old people’s homes. All very exciting.
But things have settled since those days, and now that I don’t teach, Harvest has become bit of a non-event. Which is not, I feel, how it should be.
Now, I’m not sure that Harvest itself is particularly important in its own right, but I do think festivals and traditions in general are hugely important. I have been reading though the Bible, from start to finish, and as I ploughed through all the laws and instructions in the early books (not, if I’m honest, thrilling reading) I became aware that people were designed to have festivals. We need physical things to remind us about God, traditions to make sure we remember things that are important. Which led me to think that perhaps I am missing an opportunity with Harvest, perhaps it needs to have more importance in my year.
Originally, I think that our Harvest Festival was based on the Jewish festival of ‘Booths’ or ‘tents’. The Israelites were told to make little shelters, using boughs from trees, to decorate them, and to camp in them for a week. How much fun would that be! My kids would’ve loved to do that every year, they used to love making camps. For the whole family to camp in the garden or lounge for a week, to remember what God had given us, would’ve been something they’d have really enjoyed. The Israelites were told to use the festival to remember their escape from Egypt, and later, to use it to remember to thank God for what he had given them – and it was held at harvest time. Even pagan civilisations have celebrated harvest time, the time when the barns were full of food ready for the next year.
So, how can we, with our mobile phones and busy schedules, celebrate harvest in a meaningful way? How can we have a significant Harvest Festival?
The main elements seem to be decorating a space, sharing food, and making an offering to say thank you to God. I have some ideas about these (which I have not yet ‘shared’ with my church – so I will keep you posted on which ones actually come to fruition).
I recently went on a course on how to make table decorations and arrange flowers. Not really my ‘thing’ but most people were very enthusiastic. Perhaps therefore, we could run a similar course at the church. We could invite a demonstrator, people in the village could come, and everyone could spend a couple of evenings making decorations and flower arrangements. These would then be used to decorate the hall (and taken home by the people who made them after the festival). People from the village would also be sharing in Harvest, the church would be leading the community in a festival of thanks.
The food could be a ‘pot-luck’ supper. The whole community could be invited to the church, we could set up long tables with white cloths, in the space that has been previously decorated. We could provide some basic food – perhaps french stick loaves and slices of gammon – and everyone who came could bring one dish to share. It might be a slightly strange menu, but for a supper, I think it would work fine.
At the side, would be two tables. One is a ‘thank you’ table. On here, people put symbols of things they want to thank God for. Maybe photographs of pets or people or things. There would be a time when we say a simple prayer, thanking God for the things represented on the table.
There would also be an ‘offering’ table. People would put on there things that they want to offer back to God, a ‘sacrifice’ for want of a better word. Perhaps if someone can sew or knit, they might put a pair of gloves on there. If they paint, they might give a picture. I could give some of my books. The emphasis is on giving – giving something back to God. Something which has cost us, either time or money or both. Something of value. There would also be a box, for those who want to give money.
Of course, in Old Testament days, all the things offered for sacrifice were burnt or eaten by the priests, which doesn’t seem appropriate today. It might be better to sell the things, and send the money to Tearfund. We could either save them until the Christmas Fair, and have a stall, a “Thank You Stall”, where people could ‘buy’ the items by making a donation which would then be sent to Tearfund; or we could sell them at the Harvest Supper. But I think Christmas is a better option. It makes harvest a ‘giving back’ time, and the value of the items is the value of what the giver has given, not the value that might be raised by selling them.
The building would then remain decorated for the service the following day. At our church, the main thing God has given us is people, who have then moved into ministry in different places. I think it would be poignant if they were all invited back, and asked to give a five-minute sermon on giving thanks. It would remind us of what God has given to our church, it would mean that they could invite their families and old neighbours to share in the celebration, and it would be fun – seeing old friends is always fun.
So, there are my plans. Now to let them settle, share them with other people, and see which ones are from God and which ones are just my ideas. I will let you know in the autumn what actually happens!
Thank you for reading.
Anne E. Thompson writes a post every week. You can follow her blog at anneethompson.com
Anne is an author, and has written several novels and one non-fiction book. You can find her books in shops and on Amazon.