Letter from Rev. Dr Iain Ballard, October 2020
I have found in ministry that my year is usually punctuated by our festivals. Last year I took six different Harvest Services and yet this I will take none. How times have changed. One of my memories of Harvest is that where I come from there would be the usual gifts of fruit and veg, alongside tins of soup or beans as there would have been in services here. However there would also have been in pride of place, usually on the Communion Table, two others gifts. One a piece of pottery, a plate or a cup and saucer and the other a few pieces of coal. These are both gifts from the earth representing the harvest of the potteries. We would be reminded that just as the seed grows from the soil the clay and coal both came from the ground. Coal itself is a sedimentary rock, formed from peat and therefore plant matter, the clay is soil containing particles of rock ‘clay minerals’. You may wonder why coal is placed alongside the clay. The answer is that it takes 7 ton of coal to fire one ton of clay. The Potteries are in Stoke because there is coal. We were also reminded of the skills needed in making the pottery. Forming its shape, decorating it, firing it, each process requires skill, knowledge and experience just as is true for food grown in the field. The harvest is about giving thanks to God for the gifts of creation and for the gifts and skills which the human race has developed. It should also remind us that those gifts and skills are best employed when they are in tune with creation and not against it. Over the last few months I have become more and more reliant on technology as a way of communicating with others. A year ago I had no idea what zoom was. Today I am reliant on its ability to help me see other people and be seen by them. It has enabled church services, meetings and even family get togethers. Yes it isn’t the same as being physically present to one another but in these times of having to be distant it is a good tool for my work. Just as a plane is a good tool for a carpenter or a tractor for a farmer and I wonder if this harvest time alongside our giving thanks for food and drink we might also give thanks for other fruits of the earth, our computers and technology which allow us to continue to communicate with others. After all every part of my computer begins with natural products, altered by human hands and processes. Equally when at harvest we consider those who have less than us. Those who are malnourished are starving, perhaps we should also consider those who are being starved through a lack of technology or a lack of knowledge of how to engage. There will be many, often the oldest or poorest in our society who do not have access to the same technology that we have. How might we share what we have, both our physical possessions, our knowledge and perhaps more importantly our most precious gift our time with those who do not have. So at this harvest time I encourage you to thank God for all the good gifts and to offer yourselves again to helping those who have less or even none.
Praise God for the harvest of orchard and field,
praise God for the people who gather their yield,
the long hours of labour, the skills of a team,
the patience of science, the power of machine.
Praise God for the harvest that comes from afar,
from market and harbour, the sea and the shore:
foods packed and transported, and gathered and grown
by God-given neighbours, unseen and unknown.
Praise God for the harvest that's quarried and mined,
selected and smelted, or shaped and refined:
for oil and iron, for copper and coal, praise God,
who in love has provided them all.
Praise God for the harvest of science and skill,
the urge to discover, create, and fulfil:
for plans and inventions that promise to gain
a future more hopeful, a world more humane.
Praise God for the harvest of mercy and love
from leaders and peoples who struggle and serve
with patience and kindness, that all may be led
to freedom and justice, and all may be fed.
StF 126 (Brian Wren b.1936)
- Priory Road
- CV8 1LQ