One of my favourite  TV programmes is a BBC One series called “the Vicar of Dibley”. It ran for about 4 years and I still enjoy re-watching it, although it’s somewhat scary to realise the programme is at least 20 years old. Dawn French starred as the vicar, Geraldine, along with a remarkably unruly collection of parishioners. It was a series about characters and the little details which lead either to the humour or, sometimes, the sadness of everyday life.

Highclere Church – built by the 4th Earl of Carnarvon when he replaced the earlier, smaller church by the Castle I serve as treasurer for our own Highclere Village Parish Church and attend various PCC meetings led by our vicar, Christine. Highclere is also blessed with a diverse group of members although when I once inadvertently referred to it as just like the Vicar of Dibley and there was something of  a frosty silence. For my own part, I am never quite up to date with the accounts but the bills are paid and I always know what is in the bank account, even if the accounts themselves are something of a moving target. Opinions can be given quite forcibly during meetings which are rarely brief and I feel happy to be in the back row of the stalls at such times.

One episode in the series which I particularly loved was the animal service episode so I am enthusiastically combining that idea with our own harvest festival service on October 7th. Simon, our farm manager, will hopefully produce a small tractor for the churchyard, some sheaves of wheat, sacks of oats perhaps some sheep, I have lots of apples, flowers and I can, for sure, bring along some dogs. Karine (Hagen) from Viking Cruises may bring some of her puppies to be blessed, Muffet the Shetland pony will be attending and I hope children and families will come along to church and enjoy themselves.

The Harvest Festival always reminds me of the changing seasons. The majority of the population live, today, in cities rather than the countryside and this Sunday is all about the  life cycles of the countryside. At the current time the UK is debating farming and there is much talk about “farming the landscape”. It sounds rather good and I hope Highclere itself is a beacon for species diversity from beetles to bees, from birds to rare wild flowers and other endangered species, but I would also observe that we need to farm for food, we need to eat and to know what we are eating.

Collecting the seed from the wild flower meadow. Every country in one way or another subsides farming and food, there is no level playing field, just politics. The debate has also called into question the nature of landscape, the sheep grazed uplands, the man made English parks which we all admire for their “naturalness” or what species of animal should or should not be reintroduced. Interesting times.Although we are all more divorced from the land, we can still tell that the air has changed and that the trees and shrubs are beginning to die down.

Autumn is such a beautiful time of year here. After the long hot summer we can look forward to some spectacular colour on the tree clad hills around the Castle. It is now generally known that the Downton movie is currently being filmed here, which is a different time of year to when the TV series was filmed, so the season  will create a different coloured backdrop to the “film set.”

Sermons and church services tell stories  – stories tell us about who we are, our identity and helps guide our beliefs. I wonder if, in the past, it gave us time in a week to think. I hope our Harvest Festival service will be fun but there is no point trying to choreograph it. We have a span of time and everyone is welcome, which I think was the spirit of the Vicar of Dibley. We all sing a hymn called the Hymn of the Hampshire Countryside, which I can clearly remember my father-in-law who had  a wonderful voice, singing  with gusto – it has many many verses. Geordie continues the tradition  very well today. I hope we will all carry on in the same vein for years to come – the ritual and pattern and memories are rather comforting. This year though perhaps the last song should be “Puppy Love”, just like in the BBC 1 series!