St Bartholomew and All Saints

Royal Wootton Bassett

Dear Friends,

This time last year I wrote about the origins of our church Harvest celebrations, and how, rather surprisingly, we have only been celebrating the end of Harvest in church in the way that we do today for the last one hundred and seventy years or so.

What used to happen before then was that whole communities would still come together, but more often than not in the village hall, or the local barn, sometimes even in an empty field, to celebrate the harvest’s completion. There would be feasting, and invariably a song and a dance as well. People thanked Mother Nature for her goodness, for the crops safely gathered and stored, and for the secured fruits of their labours. Farming communities celebrated in this way. So too did fishing communities.

Now the Church has muscled in. And we also dedicate one particular Sunday in the year to the harvest thanksgiving – our chance to thank God for the bounty and generosity of his nature, for the amazing richness of his creation, and for the miracle that is life and growth. Because what better clue is there to God’s loving nature, what better indication of God’s loving purposes for us, his children, than that he sends rain from heaven and crops in their seasons, and gives us food and good cheer in plenty.

Sometimes, admittedly, the harvests could be better. Some years our summers have been so wet that crops have ended up rotting in the fields. This year, according to the farming websites, the very wet spring and very dry summer have hit the sugar beet and oilseed rape harvests badly. But for most of us our refrigerators and kitchen cupboards will still be full, and our tables laden with goodies. Only right then that in our Harvest celebrations we thank God for his goodness and care in providing for us so generously. And only right too that we respond to God’s generosity to us by being generous ourselves, and ensuring that the harvest is fruitful and a blessing for all who need it. Which is why we bring our gifts.

And which is why this year our harvest gifts, whether foodstuffs or toiletries or money, will be going to the Swindon Food Collective*, formerly known as the Swindon Food Bank. This is a group which works to reduce the impact of food poverty on people in crisis in the Swindon and district area. And we have a base here in the Croft on Monday afternoons.

We are very used to seeing pictures on our television screens of starving people in other countries. But food poverty, or food insecurity, has now crept into the UK too. As one newspaper website recently reported:

One in four low-income families struggles to eat regularly. Children go to school hungry, because there is no food in the cupboards for them at home. Parents will lie, talking over the sound of rumbling stomachs, and say they’ve eaten, and that they couldn’t eat another mouthful. And they’ll fill up on water and marked-down bread whilst wondering how on earth they’re going to pay all the bills.”

No wonder the Food Collective here in Bassett was very busy this Monday. And no wonder it needs all our support today.

Here in Royal Wootton Bassett we might feel a step removed from the labours of the farmers and the rumble of the combine harvesters. But we have a lot to be thankful for – for the harvest, for all the good things with which we are blessed, and for the full measure of God’s goodness to us in the past, in the present and in the future to come. So…

Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest-home!

All is safely gathered in ere the winter storms begin.

God, our maker, doth provide for our wants to be supplied;

come to God’s own temple, come, raise the song of harvest-home!

Canon Jane Curtis

P.S. And continuing with the theme of God’s generosity and our thanksgiving, and during October we will also be thinking about our Christian stewardship (which includes the way we live as disciples of Jesus Christ and also the way in which we collectively nurture and use all our resources to support the mission and ministry of the church).

St Bartholomew and All Saints is much loved for its service to the town: for welcoming families for baptisms, weddings and funerals; and for its links with our local schools via Collective Worship and Open the Book; and with children and young families via our Church Children and Youth group on Sundays, Little Stars Babes and Tots group, and Toddler Time. Members of our Pastoral Team reach out to those who are struggling; and we offer hospitality and friendship, as well as a venue, to many who pass through the Croft and Church Hall. We host a number of civic and artistic events for the town; and support the work of a number of charities, including the Swindon Food Collective. We help people explore their faith and grow in relationship with God. We keep the church open all day and every day for quiet prayer and reflection. And week by week, and on holy-days and festival days, we gather to worship.

The big-heartedness and generosity of many in the parish to-date has meant we have been able to do all this. But year-on-year it is a challenge – and we would love to do even more and even better. This October we will therefore have a chance to look afresh at our stewardship, and think and pray about how we continue to resource our mission and ministry in this place. I look forward to exploring this with you.

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