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At St Dunstan’s Harvest Festival

October 20, 2014
by the gentle author

Angela Hancock, Church Warden

After the recent delights of the Royal Horticultural Society Harvest Festival, I was eager to see what home-grown produce the parishioners of Stepney would bring to their Harvest Festival at St Dunstan’s Church, and I had expectations of a similar display of long leeks and prize-winning onions, but what I found was far more surprising. When I arrived at this ancient stone church and walked down the aisle, I discovered a huge pile of groceries, as if someone had raided the corner shop and stashed their haul in front of the altar.

At first, I was disappointed by the apparent banality of this spectacle but fortunately Angela Hancock, the Church Warden, was there to explain the meaning of this curious sight, and it was a story which proved to be unexpectedly revealing of our times.

“Traditionally, this was when people gave thanks for all the produce at harvest and brought fruit and vegetables they had grown to place them on the altar. That suits a rural community but we are in an urban environment here, and we found it more purposeful to ask the congregation collect supplies that can be distributed through the Food Bank to people here in the East End.

The Tower Hamlets Food Bank gives us a list, so we can be sure we are supplying people with the essentials they need and today, before the service, our congregation brought their contributions and laid them before that altar. Next week, the Food Bank will come to collect them. This is the third year we have been doing this and we also do it at Christmas and Easter, and throughout the year

There is real hardship here in the East End, and it’s not just families that are out of work, but many who are living on low incomes. Just one big bill to pay, such as their heating costs, can take away their money to buy food. We have also found middle class families in need, where there has been redundancy and their savings run out. These people are not used to asking for help.

We have people come into the church who are really desperately in need and we have helped them with food. There always a food box in the church where people can leave contributions and, one day, we found someone helping themselves to it, but we were able to talk to them and help them out.”

Once I heard Angela’s sobering explanation, it became the most poignant stack of groceries I had ever seen and, rather than looking out of place in the church, it became emblematic of the spirit of Charity that you would hope to discover in a sacred place. If readers wish to support this valuable endeavour, you can volunteer, donate groceries or money at the Food Bank website or deliver your contributions direct to St Dunstan’s Church, Stepney.

Harvest Festival at St Dunstan’s, Stepney, 2014

Chris Morgan, Curate, Sarah Edwards, Schools Co-ordinator, and Angela Hancock, Church Warden

Learn more about Tower Hamlets Food Bank

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Vera Hullyer, Parishioner of St Dunstan’s

Fred Iles, Meter Fixer

Marie Iles, Machinist

Ian Lowe, Blacksmith

A Stepney Remembrance

7 Responses leave one →
  1. October 20, 2014

    Good idea to collect what people need! Valerie

  2. October 20, 2014

    A very special perception of things just as they are. Keep on acting this way!

    Love & Peace

  3. SBW permalink
    October 20, 2014

    Thank you GA for this interesting piece. As a child growing up in the suburbs of London, our Harvest Festival was traditional – we at the small church school next door took home-grown produce from our allotments and small gardens into church, and sang what has become one of my favourite hymns, ‘We plough the field and scatter the good seed on the land’. Although none of us had any experience of country life, this occasion annually fed my imagination with scenes of rural life. I enjoyed arranging the colourful vegetables in an old shoe box, and decorating it to make it a welcome gift. More than that, it helped me to think about growing food, tending gardens and then eating that produce. I like to remind myself and my own children (now teenagers) why we are giving thanks for our food, and for the harvest, the work which that involves for those who work on the land, and where our food has come from. Food banks play a vital role in enabling those who are struggling to have something to eat, so now throughout the year, we make donations to our local food bank. But we also enjoy the traditional Harvest Festival, and remember the words of that good hymn, and give thanks. Its wonderful to learn about St Dunstan’s, who give support to all those in need. I hope its a successful harvest.

  4. Naomi permalink
    October 20, 2014

    When I was at school, this was exactly the kind of harvest festival we had. I remember boxes of teabags, bags of sugar, packets of biscuits and cakes and tins of anything you could imagine up at the front of the stage in the hall where we had our assemblies. As a small child, I did wonder about the people who would be eating them – I think they were for the local elderly – and wondered if we had been able to give them what they actually liked to eat…

  5. RBuxton permalink
    October 20, 2014

    Delicately put. The media may be declaring that the recession is over, but the effects have yet to reach their peak.

  6. Heather Fenton permalink
    October 20, 2014

    I can tell you that the problem about food is only too real in the countryside too, I’m afraid. We have a few vegetables usually but now churches now focus in tins and packets for the local food bank. In this case ‘local’ means the Food Bank 25 miles away but I’m told people who qualify to use it can get a free bus pass to go to the town were it is! Celebrating God’s gift of harvest by giving what people actually need is now much more appropriate than giving an elderly lady a large marrow and wondering how she would use it all!
    Heather Fenton (Rev)

  7. Jan Marsh permalink
    October 20, 2014

    we were out walking a couple weekends ago and wandered into a country church in time to share coffee and cake and see their pile of packets and tins destined for an East London foodbank…

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