When the Stanborough Park Seventh-day Adventist Church family in Watford, England, end their annual Harvest Festival, their closing act of worship is usually to sing the rousing hymn, “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come,” reflecting gratitude to God for His continual provision in their lives. As they sing, their eyes focus on the magnificent and colorful display of fruits and vegetables, some even homegrown.
It was different this year. Thankful people could not come together in the traditional way.
But inspired people adapted by extending their own harvest festival to become a Watford Community Harvest with an invitation “Come — drive through and donate your food gifts.” Strategically located within the borough, the church campus is blessed with spacious parking and ideally positioned to be the food donation point.
Organized jointly by Adventist Community Services and the One Vision Project, the services delivery arm of Stanborough Park church, on Sunday, October 4, 2020, a steady stream of cars drove into the car park to deliver gifts in a COVID-safe manner. Once sorted, the gifts will be distributed to local Watford charities to support families in need.
As leaders and volunteers gathered together in the open space around the church, with only umbrellas for protection from the relentless rain, spirits were of good cheer due to the response from the community of all faiths and none. Stanborough Park church associate pastor Geert Tap used one of his favorite themes to describe the experience. “It was as if the church had left the building.”
Emmanuel Osei, president of the South England Conference, reflected on how harvest is “a reminder that the God who provides is the God who binds us together to do what He wants us to do.”
For the previous five months, Stanborough Park church had hosted the One Vision food hub and provided 13,230 hot meals and more than 3,000 food bags during the COVID-19 lockdown, staffed by a mix of volunteers of many different backgrounds working for a common cause.
One such volunteer is Liz Burns, who has been a friend of the church family from as far back as 1977. For the past six months, Burns has been a volunteer to help manage the daily meal program. “In volunteering for One Vision, I feel that God has again been telling me this is where I belong. This was proved to me one morning after learning of the sudden death of a member of this church. For some reason, I got in my car, and it brought me to Stanborough at 7:30 a.m. It felt as if I had ‘come home.’” Burns is planning to be baptized on October 24.
The volunteering spirit is ingrained in the Stanborough Park DNA, as it has been for many decades. It was through support for the “welfare team” that Burns first connected with the church. Sometimes seen as unfashionable in these times, the “welfare room” located on the right-hand side of the building serves a growing clientele of people in need. Back in service for four weeks after the COVID-19 lockdown, each Friday night, a minibus filled with food and supplies leaves for the London West End, providing hot soup, sandwiches, and drinks for the homeless, staffed by youth and adults volunteering together.
Senior pastor Terry Messenger witnessed how he can still give thanks in these difficult and challenging times. According to Messenger, it’s all about living “with the attitude of gratitude.” And, he added, “I find it marvellous that the One Vision partnership builds and widens Stanborough Park’s commitment to serving the community,” he said.