May 2015

More than ploughing the fields and scattering the good seed on the land?

It strikes me as odd that, in an area where agriculture plays such a vital role, that the church does so little to observe the farming seasons of the year. Yes, we have our annual Harvest Festivals which are well attended and there has been the Rogation Day Walk, which is not at all well attended, but, apart from that, there is nothing. And it is not as if there is not a rich vein of services marking the agricultural year on which to draw.

First of all, there is Plough Sunday on the First Sunday of Epiphany. It goes back to Victorian times, but behind it there is a much older observance, associated with the first working day after the twelve days of Christmas, hence ‘Plough Monday’ in some places. In medieval times some ploughs were kept in the parish church, and some churches kept a ‘plough-light’. In days when work was scarce in winter, the observance looked forward to the time of sowing with the promise of a harvest to come.

Then there is Rogationtide, with its Procession The poet George Herbert interpreted the procession as a means of asking for God’s blessing on the land, of preserving boundaries, of encouraging fellowship between neighbours with the reconciling of differences, and of charitable giving to the poor. The tradition of ‘beating the bounds’ has been preserved in some communities, although. beating the bounds of this Benefice would be more of an expedition than a walk. In more recent times, the scope of Rogation has been widened to include petition for the world of work and for accountable stewardship, and prayer for local communities, whether rural or urban and in many places it is marked by having a service in an actual farm and blessing the land and the buildings etc.

Lammas or ‘Loaf-mass’ (derived from the Anglo-Saxon Hlafmaesse) is an English feast in origin, held on 1st August as a thanksgiving for the first-fruits of the wheat harvest. Traditionally, a newly baked loaf from the wheat harvest was presented before God within the mass of that day.While the ceremony ceased at the colourless Reformation, reference to Lammas Day continued in the Prayer Book calendar, and the practice has been revived in some places in more recent years. It is often marked by a Communion service with a ‘Lammas loaf’ baked specially for the occasion with buns also provided to be distributed to the congregation.

All of these festivities, of course, celebrate the Creation and God’s sharing of his work in creation with men and women. It would, I am sure, be good for us to celebrate that great gift imaginatively using the incredibly rich resources we have around us. I would very much appreciate hearing your views on this and hope that we can, by observing crucial parts of the farming year, develop an inspiring richness into our celebration of God’s creation and God’s goodness.