Friday, 7 October 2011

The Harvest Festival

The fog and the rain became more dense as I drove home after work mid week - the journey took longer than usual as the traffic lights at the busiest, most complicated traffic junction had failed. It was like dicing with death - or he who was bravest - wins...and gets to go home. I had to edge forward and weigh up all the directions traffic could be coming from. Then I had to size up the make of the cars (and the drivers if possible). Big, blacked out windows and huge exhaust - I stop. Small, red cubes on wheels - I go... and eventually I reached home, tired and crotchety. The Curate then reminded me that he was taking the Harvest Festival in the small church a few miles away on the edge of the moor and could I please hurry up as we were both supposed to be at the Harvest Supper.
A quick shower and change of clothes and I was back in the car. We drove through the brightly lit town and on, through the rain, to the dark country roads that led to the small village on the edge of the moor. We could see that the church lights were on and, just as we were about to turn into the parking area, two bright headlights came towards us from the direction of the upper fields. Through the rain we could just make out three sheepdogs barking and running alongside a quad bike that had a very dead looking sheep lashed to the front. It was driven by the local farmer who was returning home to his farm in the middle of this village. In a very short time he too, would be joining us in the church with his family.
I love the simplicity of this church. For this evening, it had been decorated with autumn produce and flowers - laid on window ledges, on choir stalls and around the font. The harvest loaf was in its place on the altar and we were able to enjoy a few minutes of calm before the bells were rung to draw people to church. The Curate chatted to the bell ringers and the other folk who had prepared the church and then set about readying himself. I found myself a seat near the back of the church (a true Anglican!) and watched as the people began to arrive.
Everyone seemed to know everyone else and there were greetings with handshakes and hugs. Slowly church filled up - the side aisle first and then the central aisles (- with the very Anglican empty front two rows). When the local quad bike riding farmer arrived, The Curate discovered that it was not a dead sheep being taken off the moor but a very live one who needed to be dipped. No wonder the dogs had been barking! When the church was nearly full, the service began. 
I imagine the same hymns were sung in hundreds of rural churches this autumn - as they have been sung for many years. Come ye Thankful people come, raise the song of harvest home, For the beauty of the earth and We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land. I found the words very thought provoking as this evening, in this small rural village in Devon, they were raising funds for Shelterbox and Sightsavers. The Curate and I know a bit about Shelterbox as younger son met NQT (younger son's girlfriend) when volunteering there and NQT went out in August, to Dadaab, in Kenya, as part of a response team for the refugee camps. So The Curate used his sermon as an opportunity to speak more about these charities - and as the rain continued to fall outside, he talked of the drought ridden areas and the lack of hope for so many.
Our booty - plus the misshapen pumpkin!
 At the end of the service all the produce was gathered up into baskets and we made our way in the rain, across to the village hall. The tables were already laid with supper and we enjoyed a very convivial meal. But the real entertainment came with the auctioning of goods - when we were all refreshed with cider, and ready to bid!  A professional auctioneer - more used to auctioning cattle I imagine, was called upon to get the bidding started. Trays of vegetables, plates of saffron buns, bottles of elderflower champagne and even the spare meals from the harvest supper went under the hammer! We acquired a box of vegetables and some jams and pickles. The Curate was informed that the vicar always bids on the pumpkin (a very misshapen item this year) so we duly acquired this as well! There was much laughter and some high bids ("It'll only go to the taxman" was heard on occasion). When the evening came to a close, it was announced that over £700 had been raised for the two charities - a tremendous effort from  a small, rural village that was able to look outwards, despite the present economic climate in the UK.
Dadaab 2011
(Photographs  -  NQT)                                  


  1. My favourite book is The Magic Apple Tree by Susan Hill; yearly I devour her descriptions of life in England ... home/garden/church/village ... your delightful posting comes a very close second! Thank you for a lovely read.

  2. How I love your descriptions. I would love to attend a church in England. Maybe one I shall.

  3. I have just ordered a copy of the Magic Apple as I think you have mentioned it before Shirley I'm looking forward to reading it.
    Welcome Suze - Anglican churches aren't often like this now - I thik that's why I am attracted to this one. It hasn't changed with the trends that come and go - It just does what it always has done. How much longer it can go on is debatable. It is getting to expensive for the youngsters to stay in the villages - and once they leave they want something else.

  4. That is just like the Harvest Festivals we have in our local churches here in Mid-Wales and all the country churches I've ministered in over the years. Long may it continue.