Monthly Letter

At Harvest I often find myself pondering about the different Harvest Services that I have been to. As a child I would attend our local Church in Hayes, armed with my obligatory tin of beans – and then spend the rest of the service marvelling at the mountain of beans on the altar and wondering who on earth would want quite so many beans.

But perhaps my most memorable was the Cornwall Young Farmers, Harvest Service. I was a member of Warleggan Young Farmers  who were a bit of a riotious bunch – but the one thing that they took seriously, in fact the only thing that they took seriously was Harvest. Now normally the Service would be a few weeks after all the crops were in. But this particular year the weather was abysmal with much rain, and constant stop, start. And it is fair to say everyone was miserable, stressed and tired.

So that year the Harvest service arrived, long before the crops were in. I presumed no one would be there, as for once the sun was shining with combines charging up and down as fast as possible.

But come 3 o clock you couldn’t hear a machine working any field. I arrived at the Church to find it surrounded by abandoned tractors and machinery parked in the most precarious of places, as we all, still in our muddy boots and overalls  literally ran to the door. For 45 minutes the fields fell silent, as the young farmers sang heartily and said a very loud “Amen”, as the vicar prayed for better weather. Whilst I am sure one or two may have dozed off, the vicar was very understanding as we ran back to our tractors and roared off in the distance.

At the time I wasn’t a church goer, and neither were most of my compatriots. But something very real struck me about the service. It was as if God had scooped us up into one place, to give us some rest and refreshment - before  rushing on. It was in fact probably the only 45 minutes that any of us had sat down for weeks.

But perhaps the most surprising thing, as I think back – was the fact that stopping for that 45 minutes had absolutely no negative affect on the harvest.

And that is so important to remember. At times most of us find ourselves rushing around like headless chickens, chasing unrealistic deadlines of a human making. Then beat ourselves up and get stressed when things go wrong. In those moments we convince ourselves that we have no time for anything else, and sadly this may result in not taking time to listen, to care and tragically even to love.

It is in those times – that I recall the young farmers fighting against the uncontrollable weather, stressed, tired and depressed…….and yet having the courage to stop – on the one day that the sun was shining. They stopped, gave thanks, prayed very hard and returned to God’s work.

The 29th September marks Michaelmas – a day which is heavily woven into the farming calendar. Michealmas is one of the four “quarter days” in a year , the others being (Lady Day (25th March), Midsummer (24th June) and Christmas (25th December)). They are spaced three months apart, on religious festivals, usually close to the solstices or equinoxes. They were the four dates on which new servants were hired or land was exchanged and debts were paid. This is how it came to be for Michaelmas to be the time for electing magistrates, and also the beginning of legal and university terms. Still today, many agricultural tenancy agreements are renewed at Michaelmas.

St Michael after all was the  angelic warrior, protector against the dark of the night and of course the Archangel who fought against Satan. So very appropriate as we move into a period of shortening days and increased darkness.

It was believed that negative forces were stronger in darkness and so families would require greater protection.

And that is interesting if you apply it to the farming community. A community who have more time to relax during the winter months. The darkness literally forcing them to down tools and go home. And yet it is at that precise time that Michaelmas would suggest they need greater protection…… and maybe they do. It is in those times that they perhaps are renewing, even repairing relationships that had been put on hold over the summer. And in this busy world that we live – maybe we ourselves even need help and guidance in knowing just how to slow down and relax. Learning how to cope with that time.

The local farming community this year, have lost a few of their family……..and even in those sad occasions I see the uniqueness of the farming industry shining through, in much the same way as those young farmers.

I think of a funeral that  co incided with the start of lambing for many. The busiest time of year for sheep farmers. And yet, once again for that 45 minutes, the farms fell silent as people in their droves made their way to Church. The only difference, was that no one rushed off. Farmers realising that they needed time to stop and share stories of their life, and to truly thank God for that gift of life…….and once again, there was no negative impact on lambing.

All of us can learn much from our farmers in the way that we listen to nature ,work with it and for it, and accept both life and death.

But above all we must have the courage of those young farmers, to stop and give thanks – no matter how pressurised we may feel.


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