“The bee is little such as fly; but her fruit is the chief of sweet things.”
The Church and the honeybee have been linked since the time of Christ. Some manuscripts of the Gospel of St. Luke (as seen in the King James Version) indicate that one of Jesus’ post-resurrection meals with his disciples was made up of broiled fish and honeycomb. As early as the second century, the newly baptized would be given milk and honey as they emerged from the water. Wax was necessary for the Church’s candles and so beekeeping was held in high esteem. Kings gave hives to monasteries and laws in certain realms required beekeepers to give a portion of their wax to priests for the use of the church. The advent of Protestantism was hard on the beekeeping trade, as the demand for altar candles decreased. Yet it was a Congregationalist minister, Rev. L.L. Langstroth, the father of American beekeeping, who popularized the so-called “bee-space” and developed the modern movable frame hive. To this day, monasteries remain centers for beekeeping and the Church’s great Easter Hymn, the Exultet, includes a petition to the Father to accept the Paschal candle as the church’s offering, “the work of bees and of your servants’ hands…”, a light, “fed by melting wax, drawn out by mother bees…”.
The Church of the Advent is carrying on the Church’s beekeeping tradition with its own hives located just north of Rochester. This past spring hive bodies were assembled and painted. Frames were purchased and put together. Then the wait began. Finally in late June we welcomed the arrival of two colonies of bees. The apiary (the place where the hives are located) is located in a clearing in the forest near a swamp. This provides the bees with plenty of grazing land and water. The forest will provide a windbreak from the bitter winter cold. The mixture of forest and field makes for a more complex honey, flavoured by the pollen of many different flowers and trees, as opposed to a honey dominated by one plant such as clover or goldenrod.
The first year of any beekeeping operation is a building year- the bees must build their comb- and so the amount of honey to harvest will be slim this first year. The bees will keep most of the honey for their winter stores. One of our hives thrived this year and is more than ready for the winter. The other hive, unfortunately, did not make it, which is common. We are not sure why the numbers there were not strong.
We hope in the future to provide honey for the church and to sell our surplus honey and honey products at the Rochester Farmers’ Market. We want the work of the bees and our hands to be offerings that bring glory to God. Through the sale of honey at the market the Church of the Advent will have a place in the community to share the story of the wondrous works of god. Keeping bees has also given the church an opportunity to use a traditional blessing of the hives. On July 11th, the feast day of St. Benedict, one of the patron saints of beekeeping, we gathered together with friends to bless our hives and consecrate our apiary and its work to the service of God. It was a beautiful opportunity to spend a summer evening together in worship and fellowship and in celebration of God’s wisdom and creation.
“Go to the honeybee, and learn how she is a worker;
and how solemnly she does her work,
Whose labors kings and common people use for health;
she is desirable to all and glorious;
Although she is weak in bodily strength,
she leads the way in honoring wisdom.”
–Proverbs 6.10-12 (LXX)