Pastoral Letter for October
Every country has its own particular customs and traditions, unique to its life, history and culture. In Britain we have our own fair share, and many of them are associated with the countryside. Sadly some of them have died out, not least because of the advancements made in farming today compared to the labour intensive methods of previous generations. I am glad to see, however, that some of those old customs have undergone something of a revival in recent years. I served as a minister in Yorkshire for eleven years, and the Circuit where I was appointed was made up of both small town and rural chapels. A number of folk were part of the farming community and had served in it all their lives. They had an intimate knowledge of the ways of the countryside.
It was in this setting that a custom surrounding “Plough Monday” (the Monday after Epiphany) was restored. It was customary that on this day a hand-plough, the kind pulled by a horse and steered by the farmer, would be taken into the local chapel to be “blessed” by the officiating minister, symbolising that the ploughman’s labour (no doubt a job done by some women too) might be commended to God, culminating with the words, “God speed the plough.” I believe this practice still speaks to us today with regard to the future. For it was the ploughman’s role to take a long view of life and to see ends in beginnings. If he didn’t plough in hope, he might as well not plough at all. The farmer today still has to look beyond the possibility of floods, frosts and droughts in the hope of a good harvest.
Christianity is just like this really. It is above all a Gospel of hope. Our furrows may be lonely at times, and the challenges of the world in which we live today are very real indeed, but they are not hopeless. Like the ploughman, we too are concerned about the future. As Christian men and women our task is to plough peaceful furrows in order to heal a broken world, and to bring a harvest of hope to lives which may be lonely, sad, and disillusioned. Our labours should take us beyond ourselves and out into the world. Finally, let us never forget that God will use the work we faithfully offer in ways we cannot always see or understand. Christ once told a wonderful little parable about a seed growing silently, which would germinate when given the right conditions. God is at work in our lives, sometimes imperceptibly, but know this: HE IS AT WORK.