Fall festival celebrates evidence of the Lord’s bounty

Published 1:53 pm Friday, September 30, 2022

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By Alan Neale

In a few days, I celebrate my first anniversary serving as Minister to Zion Episcopal Church. In 1988 we moved from the UK to South Dakota, then to Rhode Island, then to Philadelphia and then, eventually, to North Carolina. Zion is the church that many of you drive past as you travel on the 264 East between Washington and Bath. The central building is Douglas Hall where we meet as a church family to talk, to serve and to learn. Only very recently did I notice an old photograph in the entrance. I had passed by this picture often but this time I stopped, paused and paid attention… it was a sort of Burning Bush experience.

There is no date on the reverse of the picture, so I am left to wonder when it was taken but it is definitely Zion Church and the altar is adorned with what looks like vegetables, probably specially adorned to celebrate a Harvest Festival.

Seeing the picture reminded me of the church I attended in inner London. There were no fields to be seen, no vast expanses of land being worked and yet every year we held a Harvest Festival. The festival gave us opportunity, landlocked though we were, to praise the God of Creation, to pray for clement weather and to ask God’s blessings on all those who worked the land for our benefit. And after church, all the vegetables and more were gathered into boxes and delivered to local homes.

The Victorian church was crowded with vegetables, wheat and more. Every possible ledge carried evidence of the Lord’s bounty, and we even had tins of food. To enter the building on Sunday was a tremendous olfactory experience; the fresh smell and sight attacked the senses and we felt ready and eager to give thanks to the Lord of the Harvest.

On October 2 at Zion, we will renew this custom and remember in our worship the fruit of the earth and those who labor to produce that fruit. I am not sure quite how we will decorate the church. We obviously cannot use the altar as it is used now regularly for our celebrations of Holy Communion.

As we think of harvest of the land, so we recall the many Biblical references to the harvest of righteousness, the harvest of the soul. As we recall the harvest of the land, so we recall how Jesus used the Sower to describe broadcasting the seed as well as caring for the Word of God in our hearts. As we recall the harvest of the land, so we recall Jesus’ description of a plentiful harvest but with few workers to harvest.

Over nearly 200 years (Zion celebrates its Bicentennial in April 2023) Zion church has been a spiritual place of rich harvest where souls have been comforted, challenged and strengthened. I hope that many will attend our October 2nd Harvest and Homecoming to give thanks for the impact that Zion Church has made on their lives by the grace and goodness of God. You are invited to this special celebration, to come and enjoy a Zion Potluck after the service.

My wife and I regularly travel to Edenton; in our travels we often encounter enormous farm machines making their way slowly along the road. Sometimes I confess to a little impatience but, from now on, I will try to make it a spiritual practice that I pray for the driver and give thanks for the wonders of machinery, I will pray for a rich harvest and I will pray for the safety of those who work the land.

Many of us have endured trials, pain and disappointments that combine to make our hearts hard and our spirits suspicious; we need turn to the Lord of the Harvest who will tend our lives with care and hope and will, in due season, produce a rich harvest of love, kindness and confidence.

Alan Neale is the minister at Zion Episcopal Church in Washington.