The ‘sermon’ went all right, thank you for asking, Dandelion. It was Harvest Festival and the village schoolchildren came along – it is a Church of England school (although there is absolutely no admission selection on the basis of religion, nor is there indoctrination, we are totally against that). They brought their harvest offerings up to the altar early in the service and a bit later on, they came up again to sing a song. Because they were coming, I decided to base the talk on the three school rules, which are Be Polite, Be Kind and Work Hard. The children know them well, because they do talk about them in assemblies and think about how they apply to all aspects of school life.
So, I talked a bit about each one – Work Hard came first, and I talked about the work involved in growing food, whether in our gardens or on farms; what you get out of it, in terms of both the produce and the satisfaction, is related to what you put in; how vital the harvest is, although we aren’t too aware of it in this country because we have all we need.
Be Polite – from their earliest age, children are taught to be polite, to say please and thank you, because it really matters that we are considerate to each other. Some people don’t approve of Harvest Festival because they say it is not a truly Christian festival, it is pagan. This is true, it is not based on Christ as Easter and Christmas are, but that doesn’t make it unchristian, but a more all-embracing thing altogether, because it links us to our pre-christian past and to other faiths and other countries – I mentioned that the last time I visited India, my friends were going to visit their family village to celebrate the harvest with week-long celebrations with special foods and ceremonies (I felt self-conscious here as there was a Hindu family in the church, whose children go to the village school – I hadn’t known they would be there). So we should say ‘thank you’ to God for the food we have, and ‘please’, that people in other countries should have a successful harvest and enough food to live on.
And Be Kind. The harvest offerings are put in boxes afterwards and the children, with their teachers, visit old people in the village to give it to them. This is no longer a necessity, they all have enough to eat, but it is not the point – it is a symbolic gesture but appreciated as the people visited so enjoy it. It might feel embarrassing to knock on someone’s door and give a stranger a present, but the friendly gesture of giving a gift and thinking of others is what matters.
And thinking about others, looking outside yourself and caring about more than just your own immediate concerns, is what the school rules mean, and Jesus, similarly, summarised the ten Commandments into two – love God and love your neighbour as yourself. And the school rules, in their way, say the same thing.
Bless her, you’re thinking – a bit simplistic and it’s hardly based on the Bible, but she tried hard. Yup, true. And I won’t be doing it again. But I said what I had planned to, mostly in the right order, I didn’t dry up and I wasn’t overly hesitant, so at least I embarrassed myself only moderately. And the next time we have a Harvest Festival when we don’t have a vicar, I won’t be a churchwarden, so it won’t be my job.
I had done a slightly foolish thing just before the service, by introducing myself to the head of Music at the High School, as I’ve just become the Governor link with the music faculty. She and her husband are fine musicians, and I then had to play the hymns on the clarinet and I felt thoroughly self-conscious. At least it wasn’t the organ, more notes to go wrong there.