As I write this, we’re enjoying a beautiful early April afternoon, with the sun shining brightly, blossom on the trees and spring flowers in abundance. Gardeners are already beginning to note that, after the quieter months during the winter, there is now just too much to do in the garden, as the grass and everything else grows with all the vigour of spring. Looking out on an afternoon such as this, it would be all too easy to assume that the pattern of seasons, the progression of flowers into fruits or seeds, is assured, and will simply happen in front of our eyes as the year passes by.
Those who tend their gardens, though, are all too aware of the effort that has to be put in to produce what we’re hoping for from our flower beds, vegetable plots and lawns, and of how easily things can go wrong if we get late frosts, insufficient sun, or too much or too little rain in the coming weeks and months. This can still affect us when we go to buy food – there was a time earlier this year when it was very hard to purchase courgettes because of colder than usual winter conditions in the Mediterranean – and for those in the less developed world, the failure of a crop can have devastating consequences, as the recent images of famine from Africa and elsewhere have reminded us.
Even in the twenty first century, then, it feels right for us not to take things for granted, and to pray for the success of our work in growing food. This is still done in the church each year, in what is known as Rogationtide (from the Latin rogare, to ask), which takes place in the run up to Ascension Day. This year, Rogation Sunday falls on 21st May, and is followed by three Rogation Days on May 22nd, 23rd and 24th.
The observance of this season goes back a long way in church history, to when the town of Vienne in France suffered a series of storms and earthquakes so bad that many crops were destroyed and there was a serious shortage of food. The Bishop, Mamertus, instituted prayers and processions on the three days before Ascension Day, and the practice soon spread to other places.
The custom of Rogationtide processions is still kept in those places where the people beat the bounds of the parish on Rogation Days. The seventeenth century priest and poet, George Herbert, widened out the meaning of the tradition beyond just praying for good weather and successful crops, explaining that the reasons for beating the bounds are:
1) a blessing of God for the fruits of the field:
2) Justice in the preservation of the bounds:
3) Charitie, in living, walking and neighbourliy accompanying one another, with reconciling of differences at that time, if they be any:
4) Mercie, in relieving the poor by a liberal distribution of largess which at that time is or oght be made.
As many places became more industrialised, the things for which we pray at Rogationtide also became more broadly conceived, to include the effects of all different kinds of work for the common good, and more recently still, to think also of our responsibility to care for the natural world, the needs of the unemployed, and the welfare of animals.
As we approach Rogationtide again this May, may we reflect on some of these themes, and perhaps be prompted to pray and to consider taking some action in response, whether in charitable giving or in making peace with any of our neighbours with whom we’ve been in dispute. We end with one of the Church of England’s special prayers for Rogationtide:
God our Father,
you never cease the work you have begun
and prosper with your blessing all human labour:
make us wise and faithful stewards of your gifts
that we may serve the common good,
maintain the fabric of our world
and seek that justice where all may share
Making time to pray together on the
first Wednesday of the month
Wednesday 3rd May
Led by Rev. Frany Long
The Beacon -
Guided Tours of
Church Hill, Caterham
Starting at 3pm
Monday 1st May
Sunday 14th May
Monday 29th May
Adults: £3 Children: Free
All proceeds go towards the
upkeep of the Church
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Rev. Catherine Downland-
Afternoon Teas at St. Lawrence’s
Tea, Coffee, Home-
There will also be FREE musical entertainment later in the year.
Every Sunday Afternoon
3pm to 5pm