October starts with our Harvest Festival, a celebration of creation, abundance and blessing. Marking the Harvest goes back to the biblical idea of giving thanks for the first fruits of the land, and acknowledging them as the gifts of God. This idea was continued throughout the centuries and was formally marked on the 1st August as Lammas Day by the English in the Middle Ages. The practice disappeared after the Reformation and all that was left was the secular ‘harvest home’; a celebratory meal at the conclusion of the ingathering of the crops and the origin of our Harvest Supper (or lunch in this parish!). In 1843 the Revd R S Hawker revived the Lammas Tradition in his Cornish parish of Morwenstow but kept it on the first Sunday in October as it was closer to the usual time for the traditional ‘harvest home’. The idea proved popular and spread to many other parishes and in 1862 the Church of England made official provision for the harvest service.
I’m sure that you will agree that we are so privileged to live where and when we do. We live in a land of plenty. Our farmers work tirelessly to produce our food, a wonderful range of goods is imported from all four corners of the earth and the shelves of our supermarkets are always full. There is so much to be thankful for. Yet once again as we count our blessings we cannot ignore the harsh reality that tonight, as every night, millions will go to sleep hungry. And this year our harvest thanksgiving takes place against the backdrop of numerous conflicts, which have forced millions to flee their homes in the face of terrifying and unrelenting violence.
Isn’t it true that any conversation about poverty inevitably leads us to talk about wealth too? And both can make us feel deeply uncomfortable as we reflect on our own place. Jesus’ words ‘blessed are the meek… the poor… and the broken-hearted’ were said for a very good reason, since humanity has always been very good at trying to fix the problems of others, whilst forgetting that all are in need of the riches of Christ’s kingdom. Maybe we should learn to see those in need through the lens of Christ’s own poverty, and then we might finally see all people as brothers and sisters in Christ, instead of treating others as simply needing our generosity.
A record number of people received aid from UK foodbanks in the last year. The Trussell Trust said three days’ food was given out 1,084,604 times in the 2014/15 financial year. That roughly works out as 1 in every 200 people needing help in this way. Of course, the problem of poverty in this country is far more substantial and complex than a single statistic about food banks; but the need is there and food banks meet part of it. Did you know that we get the word bank from the old Italian word banca and the French word banque, and that both originally meant table? Maybe the term ‘food bank’ gives us the wrong idea of what is going on. Is it really a place where transactions occur? Where we pay in and let others pay out? No, food banks are more like food tables, places where we sit with others to eat. So how do we support the work of the food banks and how do we support those who use them?
The food offerings at our Harvest service this year will be given to Truro Foodbank and the Cornwall Women’s Refuge Trust, both serve people of this parish and Truro. Your food offering will mark the start of a relationship, of a meal with friends. So please give generously.
While Germany and Sweden are building camps, providing aid, and taking refugees into their own homes, the British Government is building walls, fences and deploying guard dogs. Despite all this the overwhelming majority of people in this country are very eager to show compassion. Surely David Cameron and –dare I say it - our Archbishops can see that we must put aside the politics, statistics and scapegoating and assert our intention to help these people in need.
With your help, and the help of many other likeminded people All Saints Church took 100 boxes of food, clothing, shoes and toiletries to Calais to give out to the refugees. People donated nappies, children’s toys, shoes, blankets and tents. On sorting all the donations I was joined by teenagers on their summer holidays to do their bit! I received letters and messages of good will with donations to cover petrol and transport. It was incredibly moving to see the generosity of others in action; it made me think that there are some people in Britain who would even be willing to welcome the refugee in their own home too, and to treat them with the dignity they deserve, as a friend, instead of an interloper.
Jesus, and therefore we also, belong to a people indelibly marked by stories of Exodus and exile. Like the millions of Syrians today, Jesus and his family were forced to flee their home and find refuge. In Jesus’ case it was Egypt, the very place their own ancestors fled in the time of Moses. Today it seems that some Christians in the West act as if a comfortable existence is their divine right, that for some reason we have earned the right to take up a higher place in humanity, and to protect our privileged status at all costs. But closing off our borders to the needy, the oppressed, the persecuted, the desperate and the displaced of this world is an anathema to the Gospel of Jesus.
Jesus was forced to wonder from place to place, as King of a world hostile to him. He was ejected from the Holy City, the place his own Heavenly Father was said to inhabit, and then crucified on a rubbish dump. How many more children will wash up on the shores of Turkey until we realise enough is enough.
How many more debates will we have about net migration figures and EU border controls until we see that our own humanity is drifting away with the bodies of dead refugees?
We are one family under God, a single Body formed in the image of Christ and shaped by the Holy Spirit. It is my hope that our recent project to help the refugees in Calais, will enliven our commitment to look for the image of Christ in the migrant, the sojourner, the outcast, the refugee, and in all of us. So that together we can reclaim a humanity for those with an outstretched hand, both theirs and ours. Jeremy
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.