Church Matters Oct 2017

– Keith Browne It is the season for Harvest Services in our Churches. By the time you read this many will have already been held – some will be yet to come. I have vivid memories of Harvest Festivals as a child.

I was brought up in West London in the 1950s. There was still an air of post-war austerity – with very few luxuries around. My mother took my brother and I along to a Baptist Church each Sunday. The church interior was an austere space with minimal ornamentation. There was almost no colour – the small illuminated red cross in the light above the pulpit being the only bright spot. The abiding impression is that the church, in general, was a solemn place. I can’t even remember whether there were any decorations at Christmas. I think that in later years there was a small Christmas tree placed on a platform above the side pews.However, there was one Sunday a year when the church was filled with colour and decoration – Harvest. A large display was erected in front of the central pulpit, filled with samples of harvest produce. I wonder now where the sheaves of wheat came from – we were a long way from the country. Anyway I digress – for it was on this Sunday that we, as children, had a real part to play in the service.

Togged up in our Sunday best and holding displays of fruit and vegetables, carefully prepared by our mothers, we awaited the signal to bring “our” contributions to add to the display. I remember this as both a proud and a nervous moment – proud to have a part to play but nervous lest a rogue orange, or potato, should roll from our baskets (no clingfilm in those days to hold it all together). At the front we queued up patiently waiting to hand our harvest produce over to one of the adults organising the display – which seemed to grow enormous in front of our eyes – and we worried lest there wouldn’t be room by the time it was our turn. Of course there always was room. Even if some of it had to handed up to be placed on the ledge around the front of the pulpit! The sermon somehow seemed more interesting when the preacher was surrounded by fruit, vegetables and greenery.

And so we city children were encouraged to be thankful for the bounty of God’s creation and mindful of those in lands far away where food was not so plentiful. It was, of course, our parents who did all the hard work and gave gifts, not just of produce, but of money too (and we added our pennies) as we supported the work of agricultural missions.

So why this self-indulgent reminiscence? Because I am struck by the contrast of the harvest being successfully brought in around me, now that I live in the country, and the pictures on my television screen this week of islands in the Caribbean decimated by hurricane Irma. I am reminded again how fortunate I am to live in a country which is hardly ever devastated by natural disaster, where the harvest is almost always brought home. I am reminded that I should still be both thankful to God and willing to give to help those less fortunate than myself.