Moving from Guildford Diocese to a rural setting has been enjoyable and interesting. We thought we lived in a tiny village when we were in Surrey - but that had a population of 2,500 - so not so tiny by Gloucestershire standards.
There is more space here too; though our last setting was rural for Surrey it always had a feeling that you were never far from the next road, town or housing development. New houses have to be built and there are certainly controversial schemes around here too, but overall I have loved to see open fields that are used for real farming and are not just being held pending the granting of planning permission. I don’t even mind (too much) being stuck behind slow moving farm machinery on narrow roads as I know the tractor is probably engaged in important business.
Farming is a vital part of the Gloucestershire economy, providing livelihoods for local people as well as helping feed the nation, and that is reflected in the importance of Harvest Festivals. Most of the churches in Churn Valley Benefice will be having special services of thanksgiving for the safe gathering of crops and the continuing provision of the land, and it is clearly significant and important here.
Of course, these days we have all manner of ways of providing food for the year ahead. We can buy in our local shop in the village if we have one, or pop into Cirencester or Cheltenham where the shelves of the food shops are never empty. The hard work of our farmers is added to by the regular supplies flown into our country from other farms across the world and arriving in our supermarkets, processed and packaged. This is certainly progress; whether it is all good is another debate.
However, with all this technology surrounding our food supply it is all too easy to forget to give thanks to God, who provides our wonderful earth which yields its food to our benefit. Right at the beginning of the Bible we see in the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, even Noah and his family how God has given the earth to us to enjoy and to cultivate. It is a wonderful gift and a reminder of how much God loves to give good things to us.
Sadly, even today there are parts of our world where people do suffer drought, devastation through war or weather, and thus starvation, but that is more to our shame as there is more than enough food for everyone: in the created world God has given us all we need; and so we come to give thanks – we have much to be grateful for.
Across the Benefice we have been observing the season of ‘Creationtide’, a period set aside in the church at this time of year to concentrate on the importance of the planet.
Encouraged by our own Rev’d Arthur Champion, who just happens to be the Diocese of Gloucester’s Environment Officer, we have been looking afresh at a series of Bible readings, asking how they challenge and guide us in our attitude to the planet on which we all live and depend.
We don’t have any rights to our planet – we don’t own it. Whatever we have is lent to us by God for the short time we are here; we are stewards of God’s property.
The challenge of changing how humanity interacts with our complex modern world may seem daunting, but seemingly small gestures can make big differences. Our Harvest offerings will go to support Foodbanks and homeless people, we can volunteer time to help, we can give to international aid or environmental charities, we can write, talk, pray and keep issues of the environment high in our thoughts. The church community at Elkstone, faced with the need to build a toilet, and already thinking ecologically about their place on God’s earth, invested time and money in sourcing a good environmentally friendly solution, and now Elkstone’s ‘Eco Loo’ has become widely recognised as a fine example of churches being willing to place the planet high in our priorities.
God has given us a wonderful home in our world, and our Harvest Festivals will be great celebrations of thankfulness. Even people with no faith find themselves at times wishing to say ‘thank you’ for the good things they see around them. And I want to express my thanks to God in those wonderful hymns of ‘harvest home’ and ‘ploughing and scattering’.
I’m sure you will find a warm welcome at any of the churches in the Benefice, and will be able to join together as a grateful community to give thanks.
I hope to see you soon around the Benefice and wish you every blessing.