EAST LIVERPOOL-In a day when most people get their food from the sanitized shelves of grocery stores, the idea of a festival to celebrate the fall harvest may seem passe.
That doesn't stop St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in East Liverpool from holding its Harvest Home Festival every year in early October. The festival, now in its 117th year, is still a way for the community to offer thanks for bountiful crops and share its bounty with others.
"It started back in England," explained Linda Williams, president of Episcopal Church Women at St. Stephen's. "They always wanted to thank God for the harvest he'd given them, so that's kind of what we do too. ... It's to thank God for all he's given us."
Margie Gibbs backs out a wheelbarrow full of hydrangeas that the women of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church used on Thursday to decorate the church for the upcoming Harvest Home Festival. (Photo by Stephen Huba)
Many of East Liverpool's early potters came from England and brought the traditions of the Anglican Church with them, Williams said. So when St. Stephen's, East Liverpool's oldest church, was established, it was only natural that it should celebrate the Harvest Home festival of its
forebears, she said.
The festival's origins are "lost in antiquity, but some form of a final harvest festival has existed in England since the 13th century," said St. Stephen's treasurer, lector and choir member Jackman S. Vodrey
Parish records from 1895 show that the St. Stephen's vestry, a type of parish council, provided a sum of money "to be used for the purpose of providing a Harvest Dinner to be held in the parish hall."
Even though Harvest Home is not common in the Episcopal Church, St. Stephen's, with its strong English heritage, has had a great affinity for the festival over the years, Vodrey said.
This year's festival takes place over two days-as part of the 10 a.m. Sunday liturgy and from 5-7 p.m. Monday.
For the Harvest Home service, the church is decorated with the colorful symbols of the year's harvest: corn stalks and ears of corn, pumpkins, gourds, squash, wheat, bread loaves, hydrangeas and dahlias, and fall-colored leaves. Parishioners are doing most of the decorating today and Saturday.
"During the service, we present a big plate of the firstfruits at the altar," Williams said, "and then on Monday, we use those fruits and incorporate them into our dinner."
Women from the parish gathered hydrangeas from Thompson Park on Thursday as part of the decorating effort. The mums are picked up on Saturday. "We're just trying to keep everything as fresh as we can," Williams said.
Monday's dinner is all cooked from scratch in the church kitchen and includes: roast beef, mashed potatoes with gravy, green beans, cole slaw, rolls and butter, beverages and dessert. The church has served as many as 300 in the past, Williams said.
Tickets for the meal are $9 for ages 11 and over, $4.50 for children ages 5-10, and free for children 4 and under. Carry-out orders are available by calling 330-385-3828.
Tours of the church are available one hour prior to the meal.
Harvest Home is celebrated on the Sunday closest to Sept. 29, the feast day of St. Michael and All Angels.