notre dame montreal

Harvest Sermon 2006

Sermon by The Reverend Charles Royden


I went just recently to what was described to me as the most advanced dairy farm unit in Europe. I won’t say where it is because some animal rights folks might decided to go and attack it.

I waited to be impressed, not expecting that cows would be anything dramatic.

What greeted me was truly amazing

The cows, a couple of hundred or so are kept indoors, all the time. This avoids diseases, the cows don’t get upset by ramblers or have to walk along the road to the milking machines.

They are in the huge barn which has a continually moving scraper on the floor, mucking out the cows all day long. The cows just seem to get used to lift their feet up as it passes by.

The cows have a hay place to go when they are having calves and there are feeding troughs around the place. But the cows can’t go to just any feeding trough. There are transponders on the neck of the cow which electronically activate the right feeding place for that particular cow.

When the cow feels that it is milking time the cow goes to a special stall where there is very advanced computerised machinery. The transponder tells the computer which cow it is. The computer remembers the cow and sets up the machinery tailored to that cow.

The machinery remembers the shape and size of the cows udders and sends a special piece of kit to clean the udders. The another piece of machinery attaches itself to all of the udders and starts to milk the cow.

Whilst being milked the cow is weighed and a special feed mix is given to the cow to keep it occupied. The computer works out how much milk the cow is producing and adjusts its feed accordingly. The idea is that with the right data, you can ensure the maximum yield of milk per cow, hence need less cows.

The information from the computer is sent by laser to a laboratory where the information is analysed, and where they can tell if a cow hasn’t been eating as much, or hasn’t been milked etc. across the fields to t

When finished the cow walks off and joins the other cows. If it gets fed up it can go and stand by the wall where there is a large circular revolving back scratcher. Which is actually a jolly good idea.

Now all of this surprised me. I thought cows would be in the fields eating grass. It had never occurred to me that a cow could spend its entire life never feeling the sun. I am not saying that I disapprove of the facility. I am just aware that for most of us we are completely unaware of the scientific advances and the changes which are taking place in our society. When I thank God for the harvest, when I say thank you for the milk on my Weetabix, what am I thanking God for? Indeed whan I say thank you God for milk, does God say, how on earth can you drink milk from a cow which has never eaten a blade of grass?

There can come a time when the harvests which we produce are testimony to the ingenuity of humankind, but are abhorrent to God.

Whilst the church spends a huge amount of its resources arguing over whether women are proper people, science has started creating other forms of life. Cloning and stem cell research, for most of us, are completely beyond our comprehension.

So I want this harvest to just encourage you to think about what it is that we harvest and the effects of our use of the world, its resources and inhabitants.

This week I spoke to Richard Ledger. Richard is a geographer and something of a metereologist. Richard has been collecting data from his back garden in Brickhill for over 25 years.

I asked Richard what he had learned.

Apparently, and if you want to know more about all of this you will have to ask Richard, because he is the expert, he tells me that

Over the last 25 years every month has got warmer.
If you take the average the temperature for the last 25 whole years 9 of the last ten years have been warmer than that average.

I asked Richard what that means and he said that it is getting hotter.

Let’s go on. Take the temperature of 30c, that is a very hot day.
In the 1980’s Richard recorded 8 days of 30c or more
In the 1990’s he got 45
In the years of 2000, he has already recorded 40

July was actually the hottest for 350 years!

That’s the hot stuff, what about the cold ?

Take snow, in the 1980’s we usually had 2 weeks of snow. Now we get about 3 days of snow each

What about rainfall. In the 1990’s there were the three wettest and three driest years
The year 2004 was the wettest year ever.
In August 2003 there was no rain, in August 2004 there was 6 inches of rain, which is equivalent to three months rain.
August 2004 6 inches which is three months rain
This tells us that we are getting erratic wet and dry periods. Drought and flood. Rainfall has become much more variable.
How did nature cope in those Augusts ?

I am not going to start saying anything which will get people hot under the collar about global warming and greenhouse gases, I know that people have very different views on this. I think however that it should be safe to say that there is a consensus that people are responsible for some of the changes which are taking place on our planet.

We need to think about what we as a society are going to do about the changes in climate. I looked at the environment agency website and there are huge areas of Bedford marked blue. These are areas which are now thought at risk of flood. You may not want to look at those web pages when you get home!

I am not trying to say that there easy answers. Obviously Christian people will want to encourage a concern for the environment and a conservation of the world’s resources. We will also be eager to see a concern for use of energy, given that burning of fossil fuel is expensive and produces gases which contribute to the warming of the atmosphere.

But there are problems, some recycling is tokenism and uses more energy than putting the stuff in landfill sites. Some of you will know that we tried recently to put into St Mark’s some advanced energy saving devices. But even with 50% grants we cannot afford the technology which will take 25 years to pay back the investment, and that assumes that it does not require maintenance or replacement in that period. There are no easy answers, we are possibly in a very tight fix.

Moreover the situation is made much more complex by the fact that countries like China and India are developing, and they want to have the televisions, fridges, motor cars and aeroplane journeys that we have come to expect are ours by right. If the rate of industrial expansion in some of these countries continues, then anything which we do may be completely insignificant.

I have no quick fix to these answers. But it is important that today, at harvest, we are mindful of the problems. We cannot ignore the problems we have to be prepared to think through the issues and perhaps contribute to the debate as well as make our own choices.

I do not consider the story of Adam and Eve to be a scientific explanation of how God created the world. You all know that I cannot believe the world was created six thousand years ago, but I don’t think God will mind if we disagree on that. However there are important lessons in the Genesis story. One of them is this. God gave Adam and Eve the ability to do things, but asked them not to do it. They could work and create, but there was a place which they dare not go.

Humankind has tremendous abilities and capabilities, it is our duty as Christians to say that just because we can doesn’t mean we should. Perhaps never before has that message been so important.