Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV
Before me, on my desk sits a little Pilgrim lady, dressed in a plain white wimple and a brown dress. I bought her at a craft fair years ago; she’s been part of our celebration ever since. Her job is to remind us of the Story.
Four hundred years ago, almost to the day, a party of English religious separatists, called Pilgrims, got their first view of the new land where they’d come to find freedom. William Bradford, in understatement, described them as “not a little joyful.”
But they faced a long, cold New England winter with little food, shelter or time to prepare. Over half of them would be dead before spring. The saga of their survival, their courage, their faith, the feast they held in their second autumn, is what we call “the first Thanksgiving.” Perhaps, with so much of our extras cancelled this year, we can spend some time on that saga and the lessons to be learned.
I even have a special family connection to the Pilgrims which helps their story be part of mine.
My father’s grandmother is descended from Thomas Blossom–a member, perhaps even a deacon, of the original Pilgrim congregation.
The Pilgrims hired two ships for their journey: the famous Mayflower and a second, smaller ship: the Speedwell. Unfortunately, the Speedwell did not live up to her name, developing leaks which required extensive and time-consuming repairs. After two attempts to set sail—the second one taking them as far as 200 miles from shore—they gave up, deciding to crowd as many passengers as possible on the Mayflower and leave the Speedwell behind. Eighteen people, including Thomas Blossom and his family, were forced to return to Holland.
I can only imagine their crushing disappointment, as well as their fear. The King of England’s agents, seeking out Pilgrims for punishment and execution, had already been spotted in Holland. Dissent was not welcomed in the seventeenth century.
Blossom and his family endured it all and made the crossing with a subsequent fleet in 1629. His daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband became one of the founding Quaker families of New Jersey.
Much has changed in our 400 years of history but I sense some familiarity, too. If our future feels uncertain, so did theirs. If we are haunted by deadly illness, so were they. If difficult circumstances test our faith, so did they theirs. People of God, they endured what they didn’t understand. And gave thanks, anyway.
As must we.
FATHER GOD: Help us endure…and give thanks as the Pilgrims did. Amen.
First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” November 15, 2020.