Faithful celebrate life of a cauliflower

Asda's faithful - staff and customers - flocked to their cathedral of consumerism a little early yesterday. It was, they felt, wholly appropriate that they should attend the special harvest festival service laid on by their local store manager before the store opened at 10am.

The Salvation Army's brass band belted out We Plough the Fields and Scatter and the congregation sang heartily. Sadly, the acoustics of the shopping mall left a lot to be desired, as did the surroundings.

In place of stained glass hung placards emblazoned with special offers and instead of candles, there was neon lighting; refrigerators hummed in the background and a checkout bleeper went off intermittently. But that, apparently, was not the point. What mattered was that they were praying in a public place. Just like Jesus.

The theme of the sermon was "From Soil to Shelf", a homily on what a wonderful job Asda does in getting a cauliflower all the way from the fields to its shelves in Lower Earley, near Reading, for a grand sum of 30p. It was not even given by a vicar.

Andy Clarke, director of fresh produce at the supermarket's headquarters in Leeds, had travelled to the store especially for the occasion.

He treated his "life of a cauliflower" address as something of a sales pitch. "Did you know during a year you can buy 50 different varieties of cauliflower? When you buy a cauliflower you know the last hand that's touched it is the one that's picked it." During the prayers, members of the congregation brought gifts to the altar (a converted jumper display stand).

As the Reverend Simon Howard, of Trinity Church, in Lower Earley, thanked God "for farmers ploughing and digging", two women trundled to the front with a pair of green wellies and a pitchfork. Prayers "for fishermen, miners and oilmen," called for coal and a white hard hat. A briefcase, sweatshirt, checkout overall and saucepan were offered as "symbols of our thanksgiving". Prayers were said for suppliers, pickers and shelf stackers.

"Oh Lord, sustain them in their work and help them to find satisfaction in their service of others."

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