AT this time of the year I often recall Lily, a lady I visited when I became a minister in rural Co Fermanagh in the early 1970s.
The traditional harvest services in October attracted the largest congregations of the year, even outdoing the great Christian festivals of Christmas and Easter.
Indeed, for many the harvest was the only service they attended in the year.
One such was Lily (not her real name), a woman with a sharp turn of phrase and great sense of humour.
“I’ll see you at the harvest,” she said to me one day when I was visiting at her home.
True to her word, I spotted her sitting halfway down the church and made sure to shake her hand as she left the service.
I still remember it vividly; she looked straight at me with a twinkle in her eye and commented: “I will see you next year, Reverend.”
After further visits to Lily’s home, I was soon to become aware of the reason for her once-a-year attendance.
“I am as good as many of the people that go to that church,” she would say.
“And you don’t need to go to church to be a Christian,” she added.
With that I would have casually agreed, but tried to explain that church-going by itself is not the way by which we are accepted by God. Rather, it is our acceptance of the unconditional love of God shown in Jesus Christ by His death and resurrection two thousand years ago in Jerusalem, repenting of our sin and receiving Jesus Christ into our lives as our Lord and Saviour.
However, I was never sure at the time whether Lily with all her frankness and humour quite understood that.
What I was to discover was that her views would be expressed to me on countless occasions by many people I encountered.
I am always reminded that many church services at this time of year are called harvest thanksgiving.
The emphasis is on thanksgiving with particular reference to the material provisions God provides for us.
New Testament Christians met on the first day of the week to celebrate the risen Lord and to worship, pray and listen to the word of God.
That’s what we do every Sunday at church worship, or better described as the Lord’s Day, not just at the harvest.
So whether we are searchers, seekers or believers, if we or my friend Lily truly discovered the true wonder of God’s grace and forgiveness we would all want to say – “See you next week, Reverend.