Celebrating Harvest Festival in church is a relatively recent practice. It was in 1843, that the Reverend Robert Hawker, from Cornwall, started the trend of holding a service, offering communion bread made from the first of the processed grains of the harvest and choosing appropriate Victorian hymns to be sung: We Plough the Fields and Scatter, Come, Ye Thankful People, Come, Now Thank We All Our God, All things Bright and Beautiful. As the 20th century progressed and became the 21st century dependent on the harvest in a particular part of the world become less and less an issue and instead of being thankful for the harvest, we give thanks to God for our abundance, and observe this festival as an opportunity to focus on those in need, those who are hungry in our communities, and do not have access to the abundance that the majority of the population enjoys.
It is also a time to express our gratitude to God through beautiful displays of liturgical art and St. Christopher’s, West Vancouver is a parish where liturgical art and beauty are valued. From the autumn leaves, dried corn and green apple mantles around the sanctuary to the large wicker basket/cornucopia positioned near the altar the folks who decorated the church did a great job. The shift over the last few decades to Harvest Thanksgiving being a time of contributing to the greater community was manifested by the groaning table of non-perishable food items displayed in the narthex titled, “Bounty from the Pantry.”
The Parish of St. Christopher’s has undergone some changes of late, rector the Reverend Michael McGee resigned in June of 2017 to undertake an interim contract as a chaplain at CFB Borden and long term organist, choirmaster, director of music, Dr. Annabelle Paetsch resigned about the same time to accept the position of Music Director at the neighbouring parish of St. Stephen, West Vancouver. However, things are beginning to turn around for the best with the arrival of interim priest-in-charge, the Reverend Karen Urquhart, a newly hired director of music, Konstantin Bozhinov and the return of former parish administrator, Lorraine McNeight. The Harvest Thanksgiving Eucharist was well attended and it was evident from the energy in the room that the congregation very much appreciates the preaching skills of the priest-in-charge and the musical talents of the director of music.
Rev. Urquhart took the Gospel, Luke 17: 11-19 for her text, the story of the 10 men with leprosy. “Anyone considered a leper was unclean and shunned, they had to live outside of the city. They were ostracized from their family, their friends and their community – they were outcasts.” In the gospel story Jesus comes across a group of lepers. Jesus sees them, tells them to go and show themselves to the priests and they find that they have been cured. One of the lepers sees that he is cured. Rev. Urquhart examined the meaning of the word that is translated into English as “see” but in Greek has three meanings: to physically see; to theorize; to deeply perceive, “seeing and knowing are linked”. Through this lens she examined the various components of the worship experience taking place that day on Harvest Thanksgiving “to see with all our senses”: the offertory, the peace, the Eucharist - which means thanksgiving and urged the congregation to look deeper “may we really see the significance of this meal, and really see and know the presence of Jesus among us.” She concluded the homily with a quote from Rabbi Abraham Heschel:
“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ....get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”
Reverend Urquhart’s sermon is linked to this story here on the diocesan website.