My earliest memories of the harvest festival are of apples and leaves on every windowsill of the church, baskets of fruit and vegetables at the chancel steps, and homemade bread and grapes on the altar. I remember the opening hymn Come, ye thankful people, come. I remember children’s talks based on another hymn, We plough the fields and scatter, and its message that the seed is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand. “He sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain, the breezes and the sunshine and soft refreshing rain.” And from the time that I began to listen to the sermon with intent, I remember our priest, Leonard Hatfield (later Bishop of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island), teaching us that this festival has two dimensions.
One is a call to lift up our voices in thanksgiving for the return of seedtime and harvest, for the gathering in of the fruits of the earth in their season. The other is a call to remember those who do not know the joy of harvest. Leonard taught us to be mindful of those who suffer through lack of basic necessities – food, clothing and shelter; those who suffer in the aftermath of natural disaster; and those who through oppression and war are displaced from their homes. He taught us to not only be mindful of their needs but conscientious in endeavouring to meet them.
By word and example, Leonard called us “to be kind and to share what we have with others” (Hebrews 13:16). He called the congregation to keep the shelves of the food bank in the parish hall well stocked at all times. And he taught us about the Primate’s World Relief Fund, as it was then known, and urged us to be generous in our support.
As we prepare to mark the 50th anniversary of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) it is worth noting that in its first 49 years Anglicans in Canada have given $90 million to support its witness to God’s compassion for his children in need. “In joy and struggle,” reads the mission statement, “PWRDF engages in development work, responds to emergencies, works to protect refugees, and educates and advocates for change.” As we continue to learn about that work, let us give regularly and generously.
In many respects Leonard’s teaching reflects a petition in Psalm Prayer 135 “God . . . deliver us from every temptation to be satisfied . . . with thanks for plenty that leaves the poor unfed” (p. 893, Book of Alternative Services, 1985).
In the tradition of the prophets of the gospel, the scriptures continually call us “to discover new and just ways of sharing the goods of the earth, struggling against exploitation, greed, or lack of concern.” (Litany #4, p. 114, Book of Alternative Services, 1985)
Let us then raise our voices in thanksgiving for our creation, preservation and all the blessings of this life; and let us join hands in helping those in need, knowing that
“In our world-wide task of caring
for the hungry and despairing,
in the harvests we are sharing,
God’s will is done.”
(Hymn 259, Common Praise)
Archbishop Fred Hiltz is primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.