A little blog-spat has broken out among the clergy bloggers over Harvest Festivals. The Church Mouse (who may or may not be a Reverend Mouse) started it, and now Thurible has weighed in on his side. What I'm really interested in are the comments on these posts, revealing a split between vicars who think Harvest is A Good Thing, and those who think of it in the same league as having a tooth drilled.
This blog is firmly pro-Harvest. And to be honest, I'm feeling a little unsympathetic to some of the points of view that my fellow clergy are putting forward. Vicars who don't get Harvest? Next they'll be saying they don't like funerals (hang on a minute...) Anyway, maybe I've just been following the Conservative Party Conference too closely, but Always Hope wants to dish out some no-nonsense advice to these Harvest refuseniks.
There seem to be several possible reasons for not liking Harvest:
1. "I'm not into country things". Yes, well, since you're probably writing in Central London anyway, your opinion doesn't carry much weight here (see below). But if you're saying that and your parishes are in deepest Devon, you need more help than I can offer.
2. "Nobody really understands what it's about anyway". #FAIL. What sort of an argument is this? Those who work in rural communities know exactly what Harvest is about. Of course not everyone will get it, but then, that would be the point of running a special Harvest service, wouldn't it? A good worship service helps people to understand why they are there. Mind you, if the vicar doesn't know why you're doing it, there's little hope that anyone else will.
3. "It's a sentimentalised Victorian invention". Dangerous ground for anyone who works for the Church of England, this. But I'm not 100% convinced. It's true that the modern Harvest Festival was the invention of R.S. Hawker, the eccentric Vicar of Morwenstow. But while Hawker may have been a sentimentalist, he was a popular one. He tapped into what people wanted to do anyway. Was there no Harvest Festival before Hawker? Maybe not, but it's difficult to believe that there was not some kind of Christian thanksgiving for the fruits of the land. What's Lammastide all about?
4. "Harvest isn't relevant in my parish". You live in Central London, don't you? OK, I'll accept you have a point. So just don't do it, and leave the rest of us to it, thanks.
5. There is of course another reason why clergy might have every right not to like Harvest, which is that your average rural vicar has to go to about eleven different Harvest suppers between mid-September and about now. But you don't hear that very often, because these tend to be the same ones who see the value of it and want to do it (at least for the first seven or so).
There may be a couple of serious points in what I'm saying here. Perhaps the main one is this - while we ministers have the task of offering theological leadership, we have to be careful that we don't confuse this with simply inflicting our prejudices on everybody else. Sometimes it's right to challenge long-established traditions. But sometimes you have to go with it, even if it doesn't press your button. Treat it as a mission opportunity, a chance to encourage people's flickering faith in Christ in a context where they are happy. If they want to come to your church to do Harvest, are you really going to turn them away?
People like Harvest, they find it fun and it hits some vague spiritual spot within them. This is not a reason for stamping it out. For similar reasons the Puritans banned Christmas, but it made a comeback and nowadays the church seems to be able to go with the flow, while also sharing the "real meaning". Harvest is just Christmas's little brother in this respect, a chance to help us celebrate God's faithfulness and generosity revealed in Christ.