Sunday, September 28, 2008

Harvest Service ... in a supermarket!

James McCaskill

If you can remember back to November 2005, Channel 4 ran a short series of three programmes with the slightly disingenuous title of Priest Idol. It focussed on the appointment of a new priest for the Church of England parish of St Mary Magdalene Church in Lundwood, Barnsley.

Like many smaller congregations, it was a shrinking urban church, with an ageing attendance, and buildings in a bad state of repair soaking up money.

James McCaskill took up the challenge and was filmed for the first year as he sought to revive the parish. A sympathetic advertising agency created a set of ideas under the brand Church Lite ... and their parish website is still live (though hasn’t been updated for quite a long time).

It is was great series - though I guess fairly intrusive on the parish’s activities.

It’s been a while since Lundwood was in the news: a fire broke out in the church hall roof and gutted the interior as workmen were felting the roof - not an intentional part of Church Lite, though it has provided a chance to refresh the shape and use of the buildings, at a cost.

But Lundwood was (briefly) back in the news again, with a short snippet in The Mirror explaining that:

Barnsley vicar is shopping for parishioners at supermarkets [Though the original headline may have been “Buy One Get God Free” if the URL is to be believed!]

A vicar is shopping for parishioners - down at his local supermarket.

James McCaskill will be swapping one aisle for another this Sunday when he takes his harvest festival service to the Asda in Barnsley, South Yorks.

Rev McCaskill said: “On a typical Sunday there are far more shoppers in supermarkets than there are worshippers in church.

We've decided to meet the people where they are on a Sunday rather than sit in church wondering where they have gone to.”

So often Harvest services in Northern Ireland become a celebration of flowers and fruit - admittedly two kinds of thing that God provides for us - but not really typical of the product of ordinary people’s labour. At a harvest service last October up on the north coast, I was taken by the Fair Trade window display ... but did note the absence of Bushmills whiskey from the distillery up the street!

Fair trade produce on display at a harvest service

Taking harvest to the supermarket seems like a fairly sensible idea (even if it is a gimmick!) for a faith community to consider. Celebrating God’s provision amongst the local produce that most supermarket chains are so keen to remind us of, as well as the product of people’s labour from further across the world. I hope Lundwood’s harvest went well this morning.

I think it’s harvest in our church in a couple of weeks time. What’s my harvest? Should I bring a small pile of printouts of Powerpoint slides to set on a window sill?

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