On Sunday September 21st our new minister Christine Gillespie led our harvest festival service. Worship began when we sang ‘Come ye thankful people come’ before Christine led the prayers. We sang ‘To thee O Lord our hearts we raise’ before we heard the readings from Exodus 3 v 14-17 and 1John 4 v 7-12. During the first hymn gifts for the homeless hostel were brought out. We sang ‘For the fruits of his creation’ before the sermon.
Christine said that some traditions families have seem odd to others; one such tradition in their family was always having pork pie for breakfast on Boxing Day! Her brother in law tried to change it but discovered it could not be changed!! Sometimes we feel the same about the way we have always worshipped, but people are changing some aspects of worship such as ‘Messy Church.’ Children and parents make crafts based round Biblical stories and share a meal together. People recognised the messy lives of families and decided to invite families to come as they were; the idea came originally from Portsmouth and now 100,000 local churches are now involved in this new tradition.
Today we are celebrating the older tradition of the harvest festival. A 30 year old commented that, now no longer attending church, he misses the harvest tradition. That tradition was begun in 1843 when an eccentric vicar arrived at the church in a small village, which had had no vicar for 100 years. He loved colour and wore bright colours and Robert was a caring pastor who gave sailors who had died in a local shipwreck Christian burials. For the first harvest service he made communion bread and suggested that people bring fruit and vegetables to make the church bright and cheerful. Gradually other villages nearby copied that and gradually this new tradition spread all around the country.
Today we recognise the long hours of work needed to bring us food and recognise all the stages en route such as preserving the harvest and transportation. Traditions are modified over time and although the harvest remains a time of thanksgiving it is also now a time for sharing with those who don’t have enough. Traditions are not necessarily set in concrete but adapt to circumstances. Now there are ever increasing poor people in our society who don’t have enough to eat; even in a so-called wealthy town like Harrogate needs at least 2 food banks! At the end of the season when all the stores were used up people longed for fresh food or even enough food. The first fruits were given away before storms could damage it.
Now the circuit has taken over the running of Wesley Centre, although we as a congregation continue to worship here. It was an act of faith to hand our church centre over to the circuit to run under the leadership of our former Deacon David Hunt. Christine reminds us that God does not strike down those who don’t give; they even prosper. We have the choice about whether to give or not. Some give generously to other charities or to those in need, but others are not struck by a lightening bolt if they fail to give. Love is at the heart of compassion; a mother usually loves her child and we give to strangers when they are caught up in emergencies. We also give in response to God’s forgiveness and the gift of his only Son. We are called to give the first fruits as he invites us to choose to respond or not. May the wonderful love of Jesus lead us to respond with compassionate generous love to the needs of those around us?
After the sermon we sang ‘Now we join to praise the creation’, before Christine led the prayers of intercessions. Our worship concluded when we sang ‘I sing the almighty power of God.’ It was a thoughtful challenging and thankful act of worship.