Monday, 14 October 2013

Harvest in Rural England and Thanksgiving in Canada | Alastair McCollum

Following on from last week's article Harvest in A Tin? I'm very pleased to be sharing several interviews based on the theme of Harvest. Today, Alastair McCollum (@revdal) shares his experience of Harvest in a rural English setting which he also compares with Thanksgiving in Canada. 

How does your country celebrate Harvest? Are there any local traditions?

Where I am now (Canada) has a Thanksgiving Holiday, but not harvest, as such.  Unlike the USA, which remembers the early settlers and has a nationalist vibe (not that it's necessarily a bad thing to be proud of one's nation) Thanksgiving in Canada is much more about thinking about the bounty of nature and of working in harmony with one another and the world around.

In my last group of parishes I was in a rural context in England - there harvest was a key celebration in the Church and village year - where we had harvest festivals in every church, no matter how small the community, and indeed in every school. We also had other events such as harvest suppers and harvest lunches.

Do you celebrate Harvest in a religious context? Are there any special traditions you enjoy?

The Church here will celebrate thanksgiving, I have yet to experience that. In Rural England there are Harvest festivals in most Churches, even (in my past experience) in Churches which are no longer used regularly for worship. I have tended to use the Scriptures set for harvest by the lectionary of the Church of England, along with a version of what is called the 'Service of the Word' with special prayers.

I noticed in the past few years a move back to celebrating the farming community and the providers of our food and goods.  In very rural areas the farmers were invited to be an active part of the service, which included reading the Scripture lessons and/or prayers and talking about their lives as farmers within the service. 

This went hand in hand with the celebration at the start of summer, the Rogation festival, which also marked part of the agricultural year.  I should also say that I love the fact that the celebration of harvest is always an all age friendly service in the Churches I have served.

If you collect food/donations, are they going to a particular charity/project this year?

We are having a Thanksgiving 'underwear drive' here in Victoria, BC, with underpants and socks being collected for one of our local homeless charities. In England I noticed a move away from taking a harvest offering of (mainly) fresh produce and then distributing that to local people who might appreciate it, particularly the elderly, to a more practical offering. 

Churches would either auction off the goods brought and give the money to charity (often one associated with homelessness) or just ask for financial offerings to give away, or encourage parishioners to bring tinned/dried goods that could be passed on to homeless shelters or food banks.

Do you celebrate Harvest as a family?

Here we have been invited to a number of thanksgiving meals - the turkey, yams and pumpkin pie based celebrations which many would associate with Thanksgiving in North America. In England we used to go to at least one Harvest meal/event as well as attending Church and School services for Harvest.

Personally, what do you reflect on during Harvest? Does it have special meaning for you?

I would always take the idea of Thanksgiving as being at the heart of any marking of harvest - an acknowledgement of our riches, particularly in the West, and a reminder that we have a part in a just and equal sharing of all that God has given us.  

Though I have encouraged a local celebration, with local people involved, I have also tried to add a global perspective and a reminder that this world is interconnected, and that the wealth of some countries comes at the price of poverty in others. I have been very pleased by the materials produced by agencies such as Christian Aid and Tear Fund to mark harvest in the past few years and tried to include the idea of a 'Harvest of Justice' in my own preaching at Harvest.

Alastair McCullum is the rector of St. John the Divine in Victoria, BC. He has worked as a pastor in the UK and now lives in Canada. You can find him at @RevDal.

1 comment:

  1. It's nice to get a different perspective of things! I didn't really see harvest as just a UK tradition until now. :)


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