The great outdoors
Each spring, around the month of the festival of Ascension, rural communities across the country perform a special service to seek blessings upon their crops to support their health, growth and their journey towards a rich harvest, and upon their parishes to promote the common good and to be faithful stewards of their land.
This service of Rogation underpins the relationship between the village and the natural world and fosters a spirit of hope and faith in the sustainability and fruitfulness of that covenant.
Nowhere is this more important than in such agricultural parishes in southeast Cornwall as Lansallos, on the coast to the west of Polperro, and Lanreath, halfway between Liskeard and Fowey, just south of the popular wildlife park at Porfell.
Both parishes fall within the benefice of Trelawny, whose rector is the Reverend Richard Allen.
This year’s Lansallos service was held in the barn of local farmer and parishioner Marjorie Crews. The congregation brought soil, seeds and growing plants for the Reverend Richard to bless.
Richard spoke of the parable of the sower and of those seeds that fell on good ground and flourished. Afterwards, everyone gratefully tucked into a proper Cornish farmhouse tea.
This year, Lanreath’s roving Rogation saw parishioners visit a series of key places across the village: the village well, a wild uncultivated space, a beautifully tended garden, a local farm, the churchyard of St Marnarch, and nearby fields replete with livestock and crops.
“This is one of the remotest parts of Cornwall,” Richard says. “What we’re trying to do is to reconnect church with the farming community. One of the ways we do that is through these services. They’re a classic way of saying we really care about you. We realise it’s very difficult to make a living from farming, and we’re here to support you.”
Richard leads a range of outdoor services for agricultural communities throughout the year. He runs services for lambing, for ploughing, for harvest, and even for the blessing of tractors and combine harvesters. These services can attract as many as 80 people each.
“They’re social spaces, places where farmers can meet,” Richard says. “Farming can be a very lonely job. Not only are we bringing church to them, we’re offering practical support and encouragement. It’s a brilliant way of reaching people. The local farmers are very supportive. You just have to have a bit of enthusiasm and a bit of fun, and people come with you and are so grateful for it.”
This spring’s Rogation events were focused upon people’s duty of care for the natural environment.
“We’re trying to understand the importance of caring for what God has given us and not wasting things,” Richard says. “We have a real heart about caring for creation – it’s part of our Christian responsibility. We know that in the past we’ve used too many chemicals on the land. We prayed that we can care for the soil properly. We prayed that we can look after the land and leave it fallow when it needs to rest.
“Our farmers are dependent upon the seasons, on the sun and the rain, for the germination and fruition of their crops. Our farmers look to nature. When you talk to them about the cycles of nature, they agree that it’s the good Lord who sends the rain and who sends the sun.”
Richard recalls, during this year’s service at Lanreath, a large bumblebee landing on his trousers and climbing up his leg.
“It was a great sign of the beauty of nature and the importance of allowing all nature to flourish,” he says.
He observes that these forms of outdoor worship are very much part of a long Christian tradition.
“Jesus went out to the people,” he says. “And when the monks came to Cornwall there were no churches. They preached in barns and on village greens. That’s just what we do.”