*** DEBUG END ***

Blessing ploughs is no mere exercise in quaint nostalgia, Malcolm Guite finds

19 January 2018

Blessing ploughs is no mere exercise in quaint nostalgia, Malcolm Guite finds

LAST Sunday, I was called on, in my capacity as poet, to assist at the blessing of a plough on an old hill-farm in Essex. I had driven through winding and increasingly narrow and shadowed lanes, past quickset hedgerows, and up the steep farm track, admiring the rambling old farmhouse, which seemed pieced together from every period in the past 400 years, and yet still at home with itself.

But this was no quaint exercise in picturesque nostalgia, blessing the rusted wings and single blade of some hand-guided horse-drawn plough that hadn’t seen service in years (though there was just such a plough in the barn). The plough we were blessing meant business: it was a great long apparatus of paired bright sharp circular blades, capable of churning through the earth as efficiently as the old “screw steamers” churned the ocean, and yoked behind an enormous modern tractor.

Yes, there had been a sense of tradition and continuity in the service; I had read Seamus Heaney’s poem “Follower”, with its lovely opening:

My father worked with a horse-plough,
His shoulders globed like a full sail strung
Between the shafts and the furrow.

The farmer had a display, in one of his barns, of relics and artefacts from the continuous human flourishing on his acres since Roman times. But, for now, we all stood in the muddy farmyard in our wellies, ready to bless today’s hi-tech farm machinery, the present labour, the contemporary human flourishing.

And, just before she came to bless the plough, the priest asked everyone gathered there to bring forward, and hold beside it, the implements of their own work. Gardeners came with trowels; a man who had been coppicing the woods and laying hedges that morning came forward with a bright-bladed axe and the other fascinating tools of his trade; children held out model tractors; and, taken by surprise, I held out my pen.

“Let us each offer to God in our hearts our own work,” she said.

“God speed the plough!” and “God speed the plough!” was our response.

Afterwards, I read them my sonnet “Daily Bread”, which remembers

. . . the ones who plough and sow,
Who pick and plant and package whilst we sleep,
With slow back-breaking labour, row by row,
And send away to others all they reap,
We know that these unseen who meet our needs
Are all themselves the fingers of your hand. . .
What if we glimpsed you daily in their toil
And found and thanked and served you through them all?

I don’t know what the theologians and the philosophers would say had happened there, how they would discern the difference that a blessing makes, but I do know that, somehow, that farmer would turn the soil of God’s good ground with a renewed sense of blessing, and the gardeners return to their gardens with a new awareness, for I felt it, too.


WHEN I had come home, washed the mud from my boots, and was sitting at my desk, that plough-blessed pen poised in hand, I had some sense of a difference made — some sense that, with this pen, like Heaney before me, I might dig a little deeper.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear below your letter unless requested otherwise.

Forthcoming Events


Church Times/RSCM: 

Intercultural Church for a Multicultural World

28 May 2024

A Church Times/Church House Publishing webinar

Tickets are FREE


Church Times/Modern Church:

A Political Faith?

Monday 3 June 2024

This panel will explore where Christians have come to in terms of political power and ask, where should we go next?

Online tickets available


Church Times/Modern Church:

Participating in Democracy

Monday 10 June 2024

This panel will explore the power of voting, and power beyond voting.

Online tickets available


Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Church Times/Canterbury Press:

Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

Early bird tickets available



The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)