Harvest Celebration – 20/09/20

Opening Music: ‘The Light of the Spirit’ by David Kent

Opening Words: It’s the season of harvest, of golden leaves and corn, of ripe fruits and plentiful vegetables. Our planet is spinning, moving us towards the autumn equinox when for us here in the northern lands, the days and nights are of equal length. And we are gathered here, a community of the spirit, Kensington Unitarians, welcoming you to this Sunday morning harvest celebration. In music and silence, words and beautiful images, we’ll be exploring what autumn time brings us and expressing our gratitude for life’s gifts to us.

For any visitors here with us today my name is Sarah Tinker and it’s a pleasure to have you join us. A warm welcome too to any of you who may be listening to this as a recorded service in a podcast sometime in the future and a welcome to anyone watching on a video through YouTube. I hope you’ll find something that speaks to you in the next 40 minutes or so – may the wearied find some rest and rejuvenation, may the worried find some yearned for peace of mind, may the joy-filled find ways to share their good fortune with others. There’s a place for you here, however you’re feeling, wherever you have come from, whoever you choose to love, and whatever is going on in your life. If you are with us in person, please feel free to sit back and switch off your video if you’d feel more comfortable not being on view.

Chalice Lighting: Each week when we light this chalice flame we remember the worldwide communities it connects us with. Today I wanted to mention the work of the ICUU, the International Council of Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists. The ICUU’s mission is to empower existing and emerging member groups to sustain and grow our global faith community, committed to a progressive, unfettered religious faith. Each month the ICUU asks someone from one of their member countries to write words for chalice lighting and these words for September were written by minister Roos Van Dorn from the Netherlands:

We are gathered here and now,
For a moment we’ve stopped working, studying, doing dishes,
There are no tasks, no e-mails, no phone calls.
We are gathered
To feel closer to each other
To feel closer to ourselves
To feel closer to our deepest inspiration,
The stream of Life that runs through our body and runs through the world
May we be opened to see and hear in each other
What our soul wants to say.
May this lit chalice flame remind us of our connection with one another, with gratitude for the stream of life that runs through us all.

Joys and Concerns: Each week when we meet in our building in Notting Hill or here in our online congregation, we share candles of joy and concern, where we invite one another to light a candle and share something that is in our heart. So here in our Zoom service we’ve an opportunity for some of you to tell us of a joy or a concern, and to light a candle, real or imaginary. When you are ready to speak you can unmute yourself and speak out so everyone can hear and then re-mute yourself when you’ve finished speaking. Do give it a go if you’d like to, as it’s heart-warming to hear your voices and perspectives, and let’s stay aware of how long we’re speaking for so others have chance to speak too. And I suggest we each now switch to gallery view on our own screens so we can see everyone. Our hosts Jane and Jeannene will do their best to spot if someone wants to speak and can’t unmute themselves. (thank each speaker by name)
Let’s take a moment to reflect on the words we’ve heard spoken. Our joys and our sadnesses, spoken and unspoken, weave us together in the fabric of community.

Time of Reflection and Prayer:

May the divine spirit of life and of love be with us now and bless this time we spend together. As we gather in this place of worship with Harvest gifts, as many generations have done before us, may our hearts be filled with gratitude: grateful that we have food to eat, somewhere to live, and fresh water to drink. Above all, let us be thankful for those most precious gifts: the gifts of life and love. This autumn time let us give thanks for the abundance of our natural world – for the crops of the harvest time that delight us with their plenty. May each of us find something for which we can give thanks now and every day of our lives, however tough the roads we must travel…..

As our planet slowly but steadily moves our northern lands towards a time of less light, may we find ways to keep our light burning within – through our work and our hobbies, through connections with one another, through the comfort of our homes…

And as we hear the troubles of our wider world – especially people in places of conflict, who yearn to live once more in peace and all those suffering and dying through migration seeking better, safer lives – let us be the people who hold hope in our hearts, and who by the beauty of our own lives bring some counter balancing acts of love into our world…

At this turning point of the year let us find ways to re-balance our own lives… And may we this day know a love that transcends all human limitation, a love that fills us and spills from us and connects us one and all, with each other and with our wider world, and may this be so for the greater good of all. Amen

Carolyn Appleby’s Reading for Harvest Celebration 2020

I’ve called this piece of writing September Harvest. You probably don’t know that I chose the surname Appleby when I got divorced. It makes me think of all things rural, including my favourite fruit, apples.

My favourite apples have always been coxes. I am not sure if they are necessarily Coxes Orange pippins or not. Each species in nature has so many varieties. Shop bought ones are not often flavoursome nor available in supermarkets and I can’t get them in my local shops.

I had, in fact, always dreamed of having my own apple tree but didn’t think this was feasible in my small garden. However, last year a distant friend told me she has a dwarf one. Therefore, I bought one too and it was planted in March 2019. It replaced a self-seeded buddleia.

I had been told that it would flower and fruit that year but it did not. However, this year its fortunes were different. Firstly, in springtime, the pink and white blossom appeared. Then, thrill of thrills, the fruit ripened giving me a small number of sizeable apples plus some though small, even so are ripe and tasty. There are a few that have bites out of them by wild little creatures. I don’t begrudge them. After all, they can’t go to the shops! And it’s good of them to share them with me.

You will see from the photo that the apples are amongst my crop of Michaelmas daisies. These too are self-seeded, as much of my garden is. Another name for these light, traditional, purple daisies is September. Carolyn Appleby 20/9/20

In a moment Jane is going to show us two photos from my garden and two pictures of Pat Gregory’s allotment. You’ll see my little apple tree with its springtime blossom and its fruits, alongside the Michaelmas daisies.

Four photos shown as slides

Doesn’t Pat’s allotment look wonderfully full of growing plants, especially that pumpkin? Pat has called this description Pumpkin Time. She writes:

The allotment is a magical place where all sorts of wonderful things grow and this year I decided to grow pumpkins for the first time from seed. I had just two plants which were hit by a sharp frost in the spring and they looked dead but I left them in the ground and they started growing new leaves. Every time I visited the garden I went straight to them to see how they were doing and I would praise them. Then I started to hear all the other plants shouting “what about us? Look at us carrots, look at our flowers, look at our beans!”

What a good lesson to be reminded to share the love and, of course, the whole community of plants grew more and more beautiful. Words from Pat Gregory about her allotment.

Meditation: Thank you Carolyn and Pat for your thoughts about this time of year. And lovely photos. We’re heading into a time of meditation but before we settle down – a few things to mention, a few items to introduce you to. This mighty sunflower head only two weeks ago was at least twenty foot high – I’ve never seen such a tall sunflower in my life before – it was grown by Charlotte my god-daughter and her assistant gardener two year old Isla Ray. And when they finally harvested this mighty plant they brought it for me to show you in this harvest celebration. And then it’s going to be hung up in the garden to feed the birds.

It’s such an example of nature’s generosity isn’t it. And nature’s determination to reproduce. Not just one or two seeds – no there are hundreds of them.

Actress Helen Mirren wrote about sunflowers: “I don’t think there’s anything on this planet that more trumpets life than the sunflower. For me that’s because of the reason behind its name. Not because it looks like the sun, but because it follows the sun. During the course of the day, the head tracks the journey of the sun across the sky. A satellite dish for sunshine. Wherever light is, no matter how weak, these flowers will find it. And that’s such an admirable thing. And such a lesson in life.”

So with sunflowers in our thoughts and gratitude for nature’s abundance in our hearts I invite you to settle in to a time of meditation – after a few more words from me we’ll join in the fellowship of silence held by us all, and our silence will lead into a beautiful and cheery piece of music played by Abby Lorimier our music scholar in one of her excellent YouTube videos. A tune from the film La La Land called Another day of sun. It sounds to me like a celebration of light’s ability to strengthen and re-energise us.

So I invite you now to settle yourself in a way that works for you, stilling your breathing, allowing your body to relax a little more deeply, perhaps release your breathing or any tensions you might be carrying when you could let them go. And you might choose to focus on nature’s generosity and beauty or ways that you might keep your face turned towards the light as the seasons turn.

Silence followed by Music


We suggested that you brought a piece of fruit or a vegetable to this harvest gathering – and this might be the ideal time to switch to gallery view for a moment and let’s wave them at one another. Let’s hold our harvest fruits aloft so we can all see them. (mention some that you can see). If you’re like me and adore fruit and vegetables this is a marvellous time of year isn’t it. We are spoilt for choice.

Our local farmers’ market had a fine array of squashes this year and I bought two fine specimens to colour co-ordinate with these sunflowers and marigolds.

I’m going to read a few lines from a piece called a harvest of gratitude written by Percival Chubb in the late 1800s – Chubb was one of the founding members of the Fabian Society – a socialist reforming movement and when he moved to the States he joined the Ethical Society and became one of their leaders.

Reading: A Harvest of Gratitude

(Once more the fields have ripened to harvest, and the fruitful earth has fulfilled the promise of spring.
The work of those who labour has been rewarded: they have sown and reaped, planted and gathered.

How rich and beautiful is the bounty gathered: the golden grain and clustered corn, the grapes of purple and green.
The crimson apples and yellow pears, and all the colours of orchard and garden, vineyard and field.)
Season follows after season, after winter the spring, after summer the harvest-laden autumn.
From bud to blossom, from flower to fruit, from seed to bud again, the beauty of earth unfolds.
From the harvest of the soil we are given occasion to garner a harvest of the heart and mind:
A harvest of resolve to be careful stewards of all life’s gifts and opportunities.
A harvest of reverence for the wondrous power and life at work in the things that grow, and in the soul.
A harvest of gratitude for every good which we enjoy, and of fellowship for all who are sustained by earth’s beauty.

This idea of gratitude for the harvest – it links us modern folk not just back to a hundred years ago but back to pre-history. We can imagine those hunter gatherers can’t we – and their gratitude, their relief, at finding a rich supply of ripened berries or spotting the salmon returning to the river of their birth, the wild herds returning to a particular grassland or lakeside. Finding a bed of tasty herbs to dry for the winter months.

We know, us creatures of the 21st century, that we have lost our close connections with the natural world, many of us have become separated and estranged from the natural world of which we truly are part – we fortunate ones who live lives protected from the cold, the wind and the rain, who don’t rely on the success of our crops to avoid hunger. Yet way back in the 11th century mystic writer and composer and church leader Hildegard of Bingen wrote these remarkably modern sounding words of warning to the people of her time:

“Glance at the sun…the moon and the stars. Gaze at the beauty of earth’s greenings….All nature is at the disposal of humankind. We are to work with it. For without it we cannot survive. The earth which sustains humanity must not be injured. It must not be destroyed… (Now in the people that were meant to be green there is no more life of any kind. There is only shrivelled barrenness. The winds are burdened by the utterly awful stink of evil, selfish goings-on. Thunderstorms menace. The air belches out the filthy uncleanliness of the peoples… ) All of creation God gives to humankind to use. If this privilege is misused, God’s justice permits creation to punish humanity….If we fall in love with creation deeper and deeper, we will respond to its endangerment with passion. With nature’s help, humankind can set into creation all that is necessary and life-sustaining.”

If Hildegard of Bingen had been able to accompany me yesterday to the farmer’s market just round the corner from our church building here in Notting Hill she would have been astounded to see the variety of fruit and vegetables on sale. Because between the 11th century and today we humans have been busily at work improving on creation. Can we now as a world community find ways to work together to preserve the very earth on which our lives depend? I hope that we can plant those seeds of possibility that humanity might work in greater harmony one with another and that our good sense and our love for one another and for life itself might guide us away from our foolishness.

This weekend is the Jewish Festival of Rosh Hashanah meaning head of the year. Rosh Hashanah is a celebration of creation and one of its many traditions is to eat apple dipped in honey, to symbolize sweetness in the year ahead. May all our lives be blessed with the sweetness of creation in the year that lies ahead.

Hymn: There’s an opportunity to sing a song now but if you would rather just read the words that are going to appear on the screen soon that’s fine. If you like singing then you can join in with enthusiasm, safe in the knowledge that we will all be muted and no-one will hear you. This is a traditional song of gratitude for the harvest called ‘Give thanks for the corn and the wheat that are reaped’ sung to an old traditional melody. Thanks to the Unitarian Music Society for this recording.

And so some announcements: My thanks go to Jane and Jeannene for all the seamless background work of hosting today – and especially to Jane for bringing us the closing photos, many from her own garden, that we’ll be enjoying in a few minutes. Thanks to Abby for our music video.

It’s good to spend time with you here today. We’ll be back again for next week’s gathering at 10am here on Zoom, and you’re also welcome to join our 10.30 coffee morning on Tuesday. There are spaces left for this week’s Heart and Soul gatherings – well worth joining one of these – this evening, or Friday – contact Jane Blackall – and do get in touch with me if you’d like to join the West London GreenSpirit Autumn Equinox celebration on Tuesday 22nd September at 3pm. We have a lovely programme for us all – chance to focus in on this season and what it means for us.

Thanks to everyone who has made a donation or taken out a standing order for church funds – you’re helping to keep our message of love, equality and justice out there in the world so thank you.

We have a virtual coffee time to chat after the service in small groups if you’d like to join in – and we’d like to take a photo of us all as soon as the music ends, so do stick around if you don’t mind being in a photo.

We’re going to have some closing words in a moment followed by the hymn tune we plough the fields and scatter with accompanying seasonal images –
I invite you to select gallery view on your screen now so that we can all see each other for the closing words and enjoy a feeling of connection in community.

Closing Blessing: I extinguish our chalice flame but not the warmth of this community. And I send the light of this candle out into the world for all those who are not able like the sunflowers to turn their faces towards the light. As we step out into the week ahead may we harvest fruits of equality, love and justice and share our gifts with all those we meet, may we greet the changing seasons of our lives with understanding, knowing that this too shall pass – for all is movement, all is change. Travel well everyone. Amen, go well and blessed be.

Music and Harvest Photos

Rev. Sarah Tinker

20th September 2020