In October, both churches will be holding harvest festivals (Sunday 3 October at St Cross and 10 October at St Matthew’s). At the time of writing, details are to be confirmed, but it seems likely that both churches will welcome donations of (non-perishable) items that can be forwarded to the foodbank.
In the past, when more people were employed on the land, a harvest celebration was a time of joy – and relief – after a successful harvest. As I have often said in harvest festival sermons and talks, most of us today live our lives somewhat detached from the realities of food production. Events in recent years, however, have reminded us that we are still heavily reliant on what can be a precarious system. Early in the COVID pandemic, we were faced with empty spaces on supermarket shelves and restrictions on the items we could buy. We have seen the disruption of Brexit, a shortage of lorry drivers, and, at the time of writing, a hike in the price of carbon dioxide – essential to food production – which has resulted in the government paying £50m to keep a CO2 plant operating.
The modern shopper may face the absolute horror of not being able to get hold of avocadoes for love nor money! But most of those reading this won’t go hungry and are fortunate to be in a position to donate to the foodbank rather than being in need of its help. Perhaps for us, harvest is a time to think about how fortunate we are and to consider our responsibility for God’s world and its people.
In November, the city of Glasgow is hosting the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference. This is the 26th ‘Conference of the Parties’ (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, so is also known as COP26. In 2015, an international treaty on climate change was agreed by those attending COP21 in Paris. The Paris Agreement committed governments to act to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. (In 2017, US President Donald Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from this. On his first day in Office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order returning the US to the agreement.)
Religious leaders are among those who have called for action on climate change. On 1 September 2021, the Archbishop of Canterbury united with Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, in signing ‘A Joint Message for the Protection of Creation’. They noted the ‘devastating effects of a global pandemic’ and the realisation that “in facing this worldwide calamity, no one is safe until everyone is safe, that our actions really do affect one another, and that what we do today affects what happens tomorrow”. The declaration calls on “everyone… to endeavour to listen to the cry of the earth and of people who are poor” and to pledge ‘meaningful sacrifices’ for the sake of the earth which God has given us.
The three Church leaders reflect on the bible which speaks of our stewardship of what God has given: Jesus tells stories of a rich man who hoards wealth and doesn’t consider his life’s true value (Luke 12.13-21); a ‘prodigal’ son who squanders his father’s wealth (Luke 15.11-32); and the wise and foolish builders who make very different choices (Matthew 7.24-27). The creation narrative of the book of Genesis sees God creating humanity and putting the first person in a garden “to till it and keep it” (Genesis 2.15). We are here to act as stewards rather than to despoil God’s good earth.
Church leaders have also supported a multi-faith declaration which pointed out that all the major faith communities are “united in caring for human life and the natural world.”
The scientific evidence is clear that human activity is causing our planet to warm at an alarming rate. The consequences of this are felt disproportionately by the those who live in poorer countries and communities. We have seen flooding in the UK, but the impact of that on us, while devastating to those who have lost homes and businesses, does not compare with the problems faced by the world’s poor.
You will have seen in the news that protestors have been disrupting traffic by blocking the M25. Their campaign is intended to put pressure on the government to insulate social housing in Britain in order to reduce CO2 emissions. You might wonder if there was a better way to protest than stepping out onto a busy motorway, but it has made the headlines, so presumably they would see that as a success. Some churches are planning a rather less disruptive (but hopefully newsworthy) protest to draw attention to COP26: they are calling for groups of people, dressed in yellow, to come together in public places (not on motorways!) to act as ‘canaries’ – just as canaries were used in mines to warn of carbon monoxide poisoning, these ‘canaries’ will warn of the damage being done to the earth by human activity.
Whether you can see yourself dressing as a canary or not (and I would actively warn you against disrupting traffic), the harvest season is time to think about the impact we have on God’s good earth. Our lives are linked with that of the planet and with all who share it with us. We can pray for those who will be meeting in Glasgow. We can make ‘meaningful sacrifices, and lower our own carbon footprint. We can urge those in power to promote renewable energy, greener homes, and cleaner transport.
In the creation story in Genesis chapter one, God looks at the creation and says that it is good. How should we live our lives in the light of that?