Speed the Plough!

On Sunday 11th January I had the most interesting experience of playing for a Plough Sunday service in a country church. I wonder how many in our City parish have even heard of this special annual event, which clearly still means so much to the farming folk who packed the church and sang so lustily.

The Blessing of the Plough formed a most impressive ceremony at the heart of Evensong in the beautifully maintained church at East Stoke, just off the Fosse Way on the way to Newark. After special prayers and responses, the plough was brought up to the chancel step and a solemn benediction was pronounced over it. The four men who carried the plough up were in white coats and clearly knew that it was an honour to be chosen to perform the task, in this Christian ceremony.

For me it was not only a link with our Christian forbears, who had tilled the land in all weathers, but even more strongly with our pagan ancestors who were even more dependent on a good harvest in an even harsher environment. I could not help reflecting how hard it must have been to wean these early settlers from belief in the Earth Mother, the Green Man, nature spirits of all kinds, first crop ceremonies and the symbolism of corn dollies, and so on. The unpredictability of nature and the relentless swing of the rhythm of the seasons was very real to them, their senses not dulled by any comforts of town life.

I found the occasion strangely moving and I wonder if any others who have been to such a service have felt the same. Certainly for me "We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land" has taken on a completely new significance!

Kendrick Partington

St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 31st January 1998