The church exists first to offer worship (honour) to God and to thank him for the gifts he gives us, and secondly to honour and support each other because we're all fellow creatures of God, and so by honouring each other we honour him too.
As well as the Seasons and Major Festivals which help us worship God, the church celebrates several 'Special Days' throughout the year to remember, honour and support each other and our work in God's world. Celebration of the "Special Days" is usually optional, Christians chose which they want to remember, including: (Return to top)
In years gone past, the completion of the Harvest was vital to ensure enough food to last though the year to the next harvest. It was the custom, no doubt influenced from earlier more superstitious times, to bless the preparation of the ground (Plough Sunday), then the seedlings (Rogation), and finally to give thanks for the harvest completed. (Return to top)
The full moon nearest the autumn equinox is called the 'Harvest Moon', so the ancient tradition was to celebrate the annual harvest on the Sunday nearest that moon, usually near the end of September but occasionally in early October. It should be no surprise, then, to learn that the word 'Harvest' comes from the Anglo-Saxon hærfest meaning 'Autumn'. (Return to top)
Several customs are associated with harvest. An early custom was to make a loaf of bread from the first wheat crop and offer it to God. This event was called Lammas, meaning 'Loaf Mass'. Another was to decorate the horse bringing in the last cart load of wheat with garlands of flowers and colourful ribbons. Also, it was not uncommon for the grateful farmer to put on a grand feast for the workers, often in the fields, when the harvest was completed.(Return to top)
The modern Harvest Festival can be traced back to the Reverend Robert Hawker in Morwenstow, Cornwall who, in 1843, invited parishioners to a special harvest thanksgiving Service in church, where newly written Victorian hymns were sung, such as "We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land" and "All things bright and beautiful". (Return to top) Today it's common to decorate the church with some of the best of the harvest - fruit, wheat, bread, etc. In rural churches, locally produced food is usually still used but in suburban and town churches it's not uncommon to use tins and packets of food bought from the supermarket. The food so presented in church is then packaged up after the Service and offered to local people such as the elderly or homeless. In both cases, it's common to have a feast afterwards for the congregation, known as the 'Harvest Supper' or 'Harvest Lunch' depending on the time of day it's held.(Return to top)
Whilst in the west we're not so reliant today on the vagaries of the weather, farmers are still affected by too little water, or too much, and sudden diseases such as Foot and Mouth or Potato Rot, so it's not unreasonable to give thanks to God for the harvest and to acknowledge his part in its successful outcome. (Return to top)