October 2018

What’s in a name?

It is the season for Harvest - the time when we celebrate fruitfulness and all that the fruitfulness means to us. And for me, it is particularly significant, as this is the first year when I have had a greenhouse and a vegetable and fruit garden, and I have been taking a deeply pathetic pleasure in growing my own food.

Obviously for many people around here, Harvest came much earlier in the year at lambing time, but now is the time when traditionally - a word that always sets my alarm bells ringing - Harvest is observed, so now we are observing it.

But how are we observing it? And what are saying in the way in which we observe it? The title often given to services at this time is Harvest Festival. And it could just be that I am hyper-sensitive, but I am not sure that Festival is the right word. The term implies celebration - the community coming together to say that ‘all is safely gathered in, ‘ere the winter storms begin’, and I cannot help feeling that there is just the tiniest hint of ‘I’m alright, Jack’ about that. Without wishing to rain on anybody’s parade, it is just not the case that everybody everywhere can be singing the same song from the same hymn sheet at Harvest tide. I am sure I irritate people by keeping going on about it, but when there is enough food in the world to feed everyone in the world - which there is - and millions are going hungry, there is something slightly grating about celebrating the fact that we actually have more than enough.

And so I don’t call our services Harvest Festivals: I call them Harvest Thanksgivings. The distinction might seem trivial, but it is important. If you have a festival, you are celebrating what you have: if you have a thanksgiving, you are recognising that what you have is not necessarily your due -not necessarily what you are entitled to. What you have is a gift, and if you have been given a gift - as parents annually remind their children at Christmas - you need to give thanks; need, because, if you don’t, you are saying that it is not a gift - it is your right. So this Harvest, we will be giving thanks, and I would like to think that, if we are celebrating Harvest in a church, we do not just give thanks to God, but we also pledge ourselves to do what we can do make sure that the resources of the world are more fairly distributed. And if that did happen, then it would really be something to celebrate.