As Christmas approaches and we draw closer to the end of a strange year, the Yorkshire Agricultural Society’s Honorary Chaplain, Canon Leslie Morley, offers his own poignant reflections and a seasonal message of solidarity and hope.
There is one element of the Christmas celebrations that I will really miss this year – joining a carol service at one of Yorkshire’s auction marts. Each year it brings home to me the earthy reality of the birth of Christ.
Gathering in places where farmers congregate with their animals, where the smell of cattle and sheep and the sound of lowing and bleating lingers in the air, brings the first Christmas alive for me and grounds it in the realities of our everyday existence; of good or disappointing trade, of unpredictable outcomes, uncertain weather and of good, honest friendships.
It was no accident that shepherds were given the honour of being first to be told of the birth of Christ and the first to be invited to greet the newborn Son of God.
I think this was God’s deliberate choice, part of his message of joy and peace, that God is to be found in ordinary places, among ordinary people.
He is discovered in the darkest moment of the night and at the heart of our lives. He comes in our midst not as a ‘spirit’ but in the messiness of birth and the muck of a stable.
God seems to want to emphasise the tangible nature of Christ’s presence among us. He invites farmers, who are in touch with earthly things, to be the first to show us where we might look for the Christ child in our own lives.
‘A challenging year but we stand with you’
This year, the Covid pandemic has heavily restricted activities at marts and means that carol services are not generally taking place. This has been a loss for farmers. Regular mart meetings offer welcome opportunities to socialise. For some, it has deepened a sense of isolation and has impacted upon wellbeing.
Yorkshire has 14 such marts and it has been the aim of the churches to appoint, with the mart’s approval, a chaplain to be a supportive Christian presence at each one; someone to listen, to be a friend and a signpost to sources of help and support.
Farmers are wonderfully self-reliant but that means it is not easy to admit to feeling overwhelmed or lonely, and not easy to find someone to talk to.
Chaplains may not have been able to attend marts recently but they want farmers and their families to know they are not forgotten. We extend our good wishes and wish a very Blessed Christmas to all those we would otherwise see.
With the turn of the year, we realise agriculture is entering a prolonged transition as post-Brexit arrangements bring radical changes. This will present some welcome opportunities, but by it is estimated that by 2024 the income of livestock farmers could be substantially lower.
The NFU anticipates real financial pain for some, though the details of new schemes are still awaited.
The impact of international trade deals and the future of our trading relationship with the EU, also remain unclear and are a source of anxiety for the farming community.
As we move towards another year in hope that we can gather together once more, the Mart Chaplains, the Yorkshire Agricultural Society and the Farming Charities are here as a supportive and prayerful presence.
That first Christmas, farmer labourers were the first to be invited by God to show us where to find the Christ Child, and to reveal that: where there is muck… there is Christmas!