Unlike the United States and Canada, Britain knows no official Thanksgiving feast. Yet local celebrations to show gratitude for a plentiful harvest have formed an important part of British tradition and folklore even as far back as pagan times.
Although in many rural communities the folkloristic character of harvest thanksgiving still continues, it is primarily as a celebration in church and school that Harvest Festival has come to be best known. It may therefore be surprising to learn that a liturgical thanksgiving for the harvest is a relatively recent introduction into Church of England practices and subsequently the calendar.
The modern Anglican tradition of celebrating Harvest Festival in churches began in 1843, when the Reverend Robert Hawker invited parishioners to a special thanksgiving service at his church at Morwenstow in Cornwall. Such Victorian hymns as “We plough the fields and scatter”, “Come ye thankful people, come” and “All things bright and beautiful” helped to popularise his idea of harvest festival and spread the annual custom of decorating churches with home-grown produce. The parish Harvest Supper became another important element of the thanksgiving celebrations.
Several Ordinariate communities up and down the country make an annual effort to enrich their worship, fellowship and outreach with a typically Anglican Harvest Festival and Supper. Here, for example, are two brief reports from Bournemouth and Pembury.
“Distinctive Patrimony, and working with long-time Catholics. That is the balance which Cardinal Vincent Nichols held out as an ideal when he addrssed the Ordinariate in Westminster. Not always easy to achieve, but the first weekend in October gave us the perfect opportunity. The readings at Mass were about the Vineyard of the Lord, so it was a good time to celebrate that essentially Anglican occasion, Harvest Thanksgiving..
The Anglican Patrimony bit at St Thomas More in Iford came mostly in our hymns. We ploughed the fields and scattered, we joined the song of harvest home, we waved the golden corn, and we collected for the Christchurch Basics Bank.
Before all that, on Saturday evening several of us joined parishioners at their Harvest Supper.”
Mgr. Edwin Barnes
“There were good numbers at Mass yesterday as we celebrated Harvest Festival. This involved singing the great harvest hymns with gusto and gathering up non perishable produce just prior to the singing of the Angelus which was then blessed for distribution to local people in need.”
Fr. Ed Tomlinson