This week, the combine harvesters have been at work in the fields opposite the vicarage. It doesn’t matter how old I get, I find I am still fascinated by this process as the large agricultural harvesting machinery moves slowly across the field, the tractors and the vehicle that collects the harvest (sorry farmers – my agricultural terminology is a bit lacking here) conveying the contents to an unseen destination before returning to collect more. How fortunate we are to live in such a beautiful part of the country to be able to witness the ploughing, the sowing and the reaping of the bounties of the earth. At our services during October in all our churches of the G7 Benefice, we will have a chance to come together to celebrate the harvest, to remind ourselves of God’s gracious provision and to pray for our farmers and all who work the land.
Although it is highly appropriate that we come together for the annual harvest festival to give thanks to God for the rich bounties of the earth and the sea, we are increasingly mindful of those in countries where the harvest has failed, where drought has led to poverty, where gratitude for God’s provision seems like a hollow echo. And we all know that poverty is not to be found only in the developing nations but is here on our doorstep too. Contributions to the Foodbank boxes located in all the churches are gratefully received and allocated to families in need almost as quickly as they are received. Thank you for all your contributions so far. Let us not stop contributing in this way, for it is a certain fact that the poverty that drives people to the Foodbank will not stop overnight either.
There are very many charities that dedicate themselves to bringing relief overseas and to the UK, who raise money to offer education in farming, in finance, in health care and other ways of relieving poverty and need. No doubt you have your favourite charities that you choose to support. In recent months I have come across two new ones that have caught my attention that I share with you here.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has taken a very public stance on the need for a more just financial system and to kick start the Mustard Seed Appeal, he has donated a generous gift of money. Over 8 million people in the UK are struggling in financial distress. Without access to other finance options, many resort to high cost loans to cover basic needs such as food and fuel. This is having a devastating effect on physical and mental health, families and entire communities.
Work has already started to address these problems. The Mustard Seed Appeal aims to support the development of Credit Unions and the training of volunteers to provide budgeting and debt advice, thus addressing the problem of financial insecurity at source rather than trying to alleviate the effects of poverty at a much later stage. (http://www.cuf.org.uk/mustard-seed-appeal)
Shared Interest (‘Investing in a fairer world’) is another financially related ethical investment initiative where money raised through the purchasing of shares goes into a shared interest pot. The interest is used to provide fair finance across the globe. The aim of the charity is to alleviate poverty by enabling people in remote and disadvantaged communities to trade and earn a living. (http://www.shared-interest.com/ Be sure to add the hyphen!)
I finish on another agriculturally related matter – the licensing of Rev Chris Hodgkins to the new post of Associate team Priest and Rural Business Chaplain in the Diocese of Canterbury and the Diocese of Chichester. The church in Rolvenden where the licensing took place was packed for this occasion. Before singing the harvest hymn “God whose farm is all creation” Bishop Trevor Willmott spoke to the gathered crowd using Psalm 104 as the basis for his words. “You cause the grass to grow for the cattle and plants for people to use, to bring forth food from the earth, wine to gladden the human heart and bread to strengthen the human heart”. We are all labourers in God’s farm tilling the land and reaping the harvest for the building of his kingdom. Let us continue to pray for Chris and Julie and family as they settle into their new roles.