Churches lead the way with celebration of Plough Sunday

TOMORROW is Plough Sunday – at least in some churches.

Many have abandoned the old ceremony, especially in the cities, and others have another date for it for assorted reaons.

But in the traditional Anglican calendar, it is the first Sunday after Epiphany – meaning the day the Wise Men arrived to announce the birth of Jesus as the coming of God, which the Church of England reckons to be January 6, following the 'Twelfth Night' of Christmas.

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In the old days, it was the end of the arable farm worker's main annual holiday and signalled the start of ploughing in readiness for spring planting and summer growing. It would have been followed by a night of carousing and carolling for drinks money on Plough Monday, after the work had begun.

Nowadays, the fields are ploughed in September and October for winter crops and the farming year barely stops. But Christmas is still a quiet period.

Canon Gordon Taylor, vicar of Tickhill, near Doncaster, will hold a Plough Sunday service at St Mary's Church at 6pm tomorrow, including the blessing of a 100-year-old plough which is hauled into the church by local farmers for the historic benediction starting: "God speed the plough and the ploughman."

He said this week: "The agricultural year used to be much more closely tied to the religious year. Potatoes were always planted on Good Friday, for example, even though the date can vary by four or five weeks. Now the farmers would follow the natural season much more. And in the same way, Plough Sunday has lost some of its significance. But it is still symbolically important."

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St John's Church, Knaresborough, will hold a service at 10.30am, including a Plough Sunday dance by the Claro Sword & Morris Men, from Harrogate, who will move on to perform in Knaresborough town square from around noon.

Travelling vicar Keith Hale will hold a service at St Leonard's Church at Wortley, near Barnsley, from 6.30pm tomorrow, and another from 11am on Sunday, January 16 at Holy Trinity, Thurgoland, near Penistone.

The Farm Crisis Network is organising a Plough Sunday service at Howden Minster on January 16 and there are others around Yorkshire, this weekend and next.

Jill Hopkinson, national rural officer for the Church of England, is attached to the Arthur Rank Centre at Stoneleigh, which promotes Plough Sunday as part of its mission to support rural Christianity, with support from the Methodists and the United Reform Church.

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Dr Hopkinson said: "It is not now a commonly celebrated festival but it has grown in popularity in recent years, with increased awareness of the importance of food and of supporting our farming community."

The Arthur Rank Centre offers a template service through its website.

CW 8/1/11