Harvest Festival a Much-loved Tradition
October 2, 2015
Epworth Chapel on the Green will celebrate its annual Harvest Festival during the 10 a.m. worship service Sunday, October 11.
The tradition is ancient. Harvest Festival is one of the oldest known festivals, with its roots going back to Old Testament times. Of the seven festivals prescribed in Leviticus 23, three were harvest festivals: "First Fruits" (after Passover) and "Weeks" (now the 50 days between Easter and Pentecost Sunday) in the Spring, and "Tabernacles" in the Autumn.
These festivals centered, especially, around the harvests of the seven "species" of the Promised Land listed in Deuteronomy 8:8: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and honey.
"First Fruits" marked the beginning of the barley harvest (and was also the day of Jesus' resurrection).
"Weeks" marked the wheat harvest (and, of course, as Pentecost Sunday, was the day the Holy Spirit was first poured out upon the Church).
"Tabernacles", the feast of ingathering, marked, especially, the harvest of vines and olives (and anticipates the Second Coming, the final judgement, and the age to come).
These harvest festivals were to be marked by both celebration and sharing. In Deuteronomy 14:22-29—and repeatedly elsewhere—God's people are commanded to use the tithes of their produce both to rejoice and to give to the poor.
In England harvest festivals date back to pagan times when people gave thanks to their gods for the successful in-gathering of the harvest that would sustain them for another year. The now-widespread practice of celebrating Harvest Festival in churches began in 1843 when the Rev. Robert Hawker invited parishioners to a special thanksgiving service at his church at Morwenstow in Cornwall. This led to the long-practiced custom of decorating churches with home-grown produce and fresh baked bread called "harvest loaves".
It is traditional for worshipers to bring food, whether homemade, home grown, or purchased, to the altar at the time in the service when the other offerings are brought forward, to form a colorful display of God's bounty in the front of the church. At the end of the service the food offerings and food decorations are given to the poor.
Victorian-era hymns such as “We Plough the Fields and Scatter,” “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come”, and “All Things Bright and Beautiful” are sung at a typical Harvest Festival, and most parishes follow the service with a Harvest Feast. Epworth's Harvest Festival will follow many of these time-honored practices.
Make plans now to join in this celebration of God's goodness to us:
* Invite your friends and neighbors to share this ancient custom with us on October 11 as we give thanks for God's bounty;
* Enjoy worship with traditional harvest decorations, music and liturgy which will reflect the theme of the day;
* Bring your food gift for the poor and participate in carrying it to the altar in the Great Thanksgiving march; and
* Rejoice and feast with fellow Epworthies at the potluck dinner in the Parish Hall following the morning service (in lieu of the usual post-service discussion). Please bring a salad or desert.