content prepared by Rev. Kathryn M. Schreiber
This service is one of a series designed to align us with the Living God during these pandemic-impacted times as social justice reforms arise.
- You may wish to arrange to worship distantly with others at the same time.
- Read through this service beforehand to assemble items needed.
- A “Christ Candle” can be any candle or object which represents Christ’s presence.
- Choose songs (our suggestions or your favorites). Assemble what you’ll need to sing.
- Ensure an uninterrupted place to worship.
- Decorate your space to welcome God’s presence.
- Use an online tool such as https://native-land.ca/ to learn whose land you are upon.
Time for Children of All Ages
Out of the Bag: “Indigenous Neighbors” Our Neighbors’ Sacred Site
Please adapt to make this worship service your own. Your intention is what is important.
Call to Worship
In this very place we call upon…
the ancestors of this place: (speak the name/s of the local indigenous people*)
the ancestors of our blood: (speak family names or places of origin)
the ancestors of our faith: (speak the names of Christians from whom you inherited your faith)
May we gather in hope, love, and good intention. May God bless our gathering with wisdom, reckoning, and healing. Amen
Light the Christ Candle
Song for Welcoming the Presence of God
“I Sing the Mighty Power of God” Lyrics: Isaac Watts; Tune: ELLACOMBE
We Unburden and Gather Hope
Naming Our Reality
Take a few moments to reflect on the past week. How are you doing? What would you like to tell God right now? Tell God about the easy moments, the times of challenge, and the situations that confound. If words don’t flow, speak to God with a smile or tears, heartache or swelling of gratitude. God is with you as you are.
Acts of Unburdening and Affirming
It can be helpful to physically acknowledge the burdens and weights we carry. Place pebbles or small items at the base of the Christ Candle as you offering God released concerns. If you do not have words, do not be concerned. The soul knows what to give to God and God knows what to receive. Whatever you give, however you give it, Christ will receive your prayerful offerings.
We shift from speaking to God to sitting with God silently. A helpful way to enter sacred silence is to offer this simple prayer based on Psalm 46:10:
Be still and know that I am God. (pause)
Be still and know that I am. (pause)
Be still and know. (pause)
Be still. (pause)
Try to sit quietly in a state of calm devotion. Thoughts and feelings will occur; this is natural. Return focus on Jesus Christ or an image of God that resonates. Pay attention to your breath. Rest in the ultimate reality of God’s Lovingkindness. When you’re ready to release this practice, take a deep breath, let it out, thank God, and say, “Amen.”
God has seen it all. God knows the human condition. God knows that sometimes we edit history to make the past serve the future we desire. There is no past injustice, there is no covered up mistake, there is no former act that we confess which God cannot clear of malice and evil. God can repair anything. God can restore the soul of any person or nation.
Our merciful God continually welcomes us, in love, and calls us, in love, to keep on striving to be accountable for our actions and the impact of the misdeeds of our ancestors. God wants us to attend to the unattended matters of the past if they continue to break the ties that should bind us one to another.
Let us face into the future trusting in God’s Grace, naming the sins of the past, open to new ways of loving each other, we who have settled on this land with those who are native to this land. Amen.
Scripture Reading: Deuteronomy 26:1-11 (NRSV)
(Moral instruction given to the freed Hebrews before they entered the Promised Land)
When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for God’s name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him,
‘Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.”
When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God:
“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and God brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that You, O Lord, have given me.”
You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.
May God add a blessing to the reading and reflecting upon God’s Holy Word. Amen.
Sermon “First Thanksgiving Revisited”
(Delivered in 2017, this message is being re-published in 2020 to acknowledge the 400th Anniversary of The Mayflower landing on the shores of the Wampanoag nation on 11/11/1620. NCNC UCC members are encouraged to read the additional document: “Resolution: Making Amends” which passed at our 2020 Annual Gathering in October this year. The sermon below was written and delivered on non-ceded Karkin-Ohlone Territory and this post was created on non-ceded Lisjan-Ohlone Territory. A unique, related video sermon will post on YouTube channel “Kathryn Schreiber” on 11/13/2020.)
Indians and Pilgrims
Just two months ago**, Indigenous People of this land – Karkin-Ohlone and Winnemem Wintu, and other native people – gathered with Christian descendants of various international settlers to share a meal in our Pilgrim Hall.
Was that the first time such a gathering of “Indians and Pilgrims” occurred here? Maybe. I suspect that it was the very first time that a local native leader from the Karkin-Ohlone people engaged in native protocol and gift exchange with leaders of this Congregational church. We might have wondered how our event compared to the “The First Thanksgiving” – so much a part of our national memory – and joyful feast in 1621 shared by “Pilgrims and Indians.”
But did you know, actually, it was President Abraham Lincoln who ushered in the first national observance of Thanksgiving? On October 20th in 1864, he stated, in part:
“I … do hereby appoint and set apart the last Thursday in November as a day which I desire to be observed by all my fellow-citizens, wherever they may then be, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe. And I do further recommend to my fellow-citizens aforesaid that on that occasion they do reverently humble themselves in the dust and offer up penitent and fervent prayers and supplications to the ‘Great Disposer of Events’ for a return of the inestimable blessings of peace, union, and harmony throughout the land which it has pleased [God] to assign as a dwelling place for ourselves and for our posterity throughout all generations.”
President Lincoln made this proclamation as our bloody Civil War was coming to an end. He was calling for an end to civil violence aggravated by racial and economic factors by reframing an event which occurred 243 years before.
So, what about that original First Thanksgiving? The one that so many of our ideas about our nation, and our faith as Congregationalists, is built upon. What about that first national Thanksgiving?
There are different accounts, some common details. Our perspectives and agendas shape the history we record. What follows is a possible storyline based upon events as recorded by various indigenous and settler communities. May God guide you in discerning what is true.
Our story begins on this continent and the East Coast of what we call today “New England.” 10,000 years ago the last great North American glacier carved the great bays along the ocean, including a landmass shaped like a slipper with a very curly toe. Throughout that place of rich biodiversity, the ancient deities placed natural resources and people – including the ancestors of Wampanoag, the indigenous people who still live there.
400 years ago, on an island across the Atlantic Ocean, indigenous people who had intermarried with invaders from the north and south dwelt in a land called “England.” 87 years before, the then King of that Nation, Henry the 8th, had proclaimed himself Sole Head of a new Christian church — The Church of England. He’d withdrawn all English Christian churches from the universal, or catholic, Church of Rome. His example would inspire other Christian separations.
By the 1660’s British Christian groups, seeking a purer form of worship and practice, begin meeting secretly. This is illegal and dangerous behavior. Some of these Christian “Separatists” move to Holland where they are welcomed. Some remain in England hiding their faith. None find their arrangements satisfactory. And then a new possibility arises – to move to a new place and start from scratch. But how to pay for such an expensive relocation?
Separatists from Holland and England choose to become indentured laborers contracted to the Virginia Company. In exchange for overseas passage and basic amenities, they sell their labor for the next seven years – gathering fish, fur, and lumber – to the English company.
With contacts signed, two ships are hired — in Holland The Speedwell; in London The Mayflower. Both depart Southampton, England, though The Speedwell soon proves unfit for ocean crossing. Both ships return to England. Then, on September 6, 1620, The Mayflower, alone, sets sail across the Atlantic leaving Plymouth, England destined for the work colony of Virginia, an English enterprise charted by the Virginia Company.
Traveling on the 90-foot, three-masted Mayflower, are 125 people — 23 crew members, 44 Separatists, and 58 Strangers (non-religious emigrants). Of the 44 Separatists or religious passengers: 14 are children, 11 are women, and 19 are men. Among the Strangers is Myles Standish hired to command the Separatists’ militia. There are also hens, goats, and two dogs on board.
The crossing is rough. The ship is overcrowded. There is absolutely no silence or solitude. And there are cultural tensions… The crew dislikes the Separatists’ daily Psalm-singing and prayers, and the Separatists, well, they are equally unappreciative of the sailor’s colorful language and behavior! And, there are actual storms at sea, one which breaks the central beam, which is repaired and amazingly holds up.
And the food… limited daily rations consist of hard salted meat or fish, hard baked biscuits, dried peas, beans, and fruits, maybe a little cheese or butter. And the only beverage, beside rain water, that is safe to drink is beer — which even the children drink. And there are lice… and folks are bored, homesick, fearful, and/or ill. A newborn boy is born and dies on the high seas.
After 66 days onboard ship the Mayflower makes landfall on Nov 11, 1620. But they do not arrive at the established settlement in Virginia. Rather, they’ve landed in a place unknown to them, the home of the Wampanoag people. This is not the first time people in boats from other lands have come to the Wampanoag’s shoreline. The native people keep watch over these new arrivals.
The English sailors are recorded as saying the place was full of wild beasts and wild people. They call the indigenous people “Indians” thinking them of the same ethnic group as people from India. Many wish to return to England because they have not been delivered to the Virginia Company’s work colony. However, some of the Separatists believe this mistake might be God’s Providence.
Soon after landing, Englishmen leave the ship to replenish dwindling supplies of wood and water. Noticing how rich the area is in natural resources, many are convinced this might be a good place to settle. The community remains on the ship in the harbor.
They are English citizens without a government. They draft The Mayflower Compact for civil rule. John Carver is established as Governor of this new colony. The Separatists and Strangers, together, pledge common cause. These are the people we call “The Pilgrims” – a term they never used about themselves.
Soon afterwards they commence work. Women wash clothes (worn for months); The colorful laundry is laid out to dry in the cool fall air – it wasn’t all black and white as we’re often led to believe. Men make repairs and build a landing for the ship’s small boat.
A second exploration team is sent to scout the land. The English discover a Wampanoag storage hut – finding large baskets of dried corn covered by mounds of earth. The English steal forty bushels of this corn which they plan to eat and seed in the Spring. They promise each other they will repay what they are taking from what they anticipate harvesting in their first crop.
That first winter is harsh. Mostly, the English remain onboard ship, though the search for a good settlement location continues. During one of the exploration excursions a scouting party hears a strange cry at night. The English believe the noise to be made by wolves. Hearing it again the next morning they overreact and begin firing their guns. The Wampanoag reply with arrows and then leave. No one is wounded. This was probably the first physical contact between the peoples.
On Friday, December 9th, nearly a month after landing, a safe harbor is selected for their settlement. The settlers name this place: “Plymouth” after the town in England from which they set sail.
With winter full on, construction goes slowly. Fire destroys the roof of the common house they built. The settlers are forced to stay on The Mayflower on the cold sea. Supplies dwindle, illness is widespread. The main cause of death is pneumonia caused by poor shelter and wading in the cold bay, the only way to cross from ship to shore.
By April, half of the original passengers are dead. Fifty settlers remain. The survivors are very anxious, as you can well imagine. And they know the Indigenous People are nearby. The settlers have seen local residents walking through the settlement. One time some tools are taken. Usually, the native people retreat whenever the settlers approach.
The first official meeting may have been when Samoset, a Sagamore (Chief) of the Abenaki people, just to the north of the Wampanoag, visits the settlers in the middle of March 1621. Samoset probably spoke a European language as his people traded with the French. It is said by some that gifts were exchanged and the taken tools are returned at this meeting.
Samoset, an ambassador, announces that the Wampanoag’s national leader —Yellow Feather Oasmeequin (Chief Massasoit) — will be coming to make a treaty with them. Several days later, Oasmeequin arrives with a translator. Known to us as “Squanto” this native man learned English after being kidnapped by a European captain who planned to sell him into slavery. Learning his fate, the native translator escaped and returned his Pawtuxet people only to find all of them dead from European diseases. He is the sole survivor of his people, but he’s also bilingual, a great asset to other native peoples.
Oasmeequin, through this translator, crafts a treaty with the English band of settlers. Since they are British citizens under the jurisdiction of the King of England, Governor Carver suggests an agreement between nations. The 1621 Treaty between the Wampanoag tribe and the nation of England pledges a covenant of mutual protection.
Some say that Squanto remained at Plymouth Colony teaching the English how to survive until he died two years after first contact, probably from illness brought by the English.
Local tribes tell of the on-going help their people gave to the European newcomers. A few years ago Ramona Peters, the Mashpee Wampanoag’s Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, gave this account:
“[The colonists] were always vulnerable to the new land, new creatures, even the trees— there were no such trees in England at that time. People forget they had just landed here and this coastline looked very different from what it looks like now. And their culture—new foods, they were afraid to eat a lot of things. So they were very vulnerable and we did protect them, not just support them, we protected them. You can see throughout their journals that they were always nervous and, unfortunately, when they were nervous, they were very aggressive.”
The First Harvest
With the assistance of the native peoples the settlers successfully plant and harvest food crops. They survive because of indigenous help and protection. Come fall, a First Harvest celebration is planned. Mindful of the liberated Hebrew slaves of the Old Testament who thanked God with a First Fruits ritual after arriving in the land God promised them, the settlers decide to hold a Harvest Festival.
The new Governor, William Bradford (Governor Carver had died), records that they held a three-day festival attended by natives and settlers to thank the native people for their help, to return the seed corn they stolen the year before, and to thank God for the harvest and for their survival. Bradford, himself, records that the feast actually began a day or so before their “guests” arrived.
The settlers feasted on barley and peas grown from English seed, abundant amounts of indigenous beans, corn, and squash, pumpkin pudding, skillet cornbread, and various berries. They also enjoyed seafood and local fowl. (Though no turkeys were consumed.) They played competitive games, drank beer, and got a little rowdy, according to the neighbors.
Wampanoag people say there was no invitation to attend a Thanksgiving Festival. Instead, they went to the settlers when they began “shooting guns and canons as a celebration, which alerted us because we didn’t know who they were shooting at.” About 90 Wampanoag people were camped nearby. They were in the area to hunt and gather food including deer, ducks, geese, and fish. When the English weapons were going off Oasmeequin and his translator went to see what was going on.
While they did not sit down together at one great Thanksgiving Feast, they did exchange food. And the Separatists did thank God. It should be noted, that throughout the year, the Wampanoag hold Thanksgiving rituals and prayers to honor the different gifts of the Creator, including in the fall when hunting is plentiful.
These early histories recounted by indigenous people and those who settled on their lands do not always line up. Our Christian foremothers and fathers, as we do, too, often formed memories shaped by their beliefs, or possibly, edited to recreate a more elegant legacy.
The English settlers at Plymouth Colony truly had taken on a bold experiment trusting in God to provide. I cannot imagine the courage and faith it would have taken to make such a journey to an unknown land. But the English would not have survived without goodwill and patience of native peoples.
We who are inheritors of the pilgrim settlers’ courage have been fortified by the stories we’ve been told. Unfortunately, parts of the story where whitewashed to cover up our ancestors’ mistakes and a real legacy of fear, misunderstanding, and violence which continues. I believe greater blessings will come from telling a truer story of that First Thanksgiving.
Back in early September, after most of the Run4Salmon spiritual walkers had left to continue their sacred journey with the Salmon, I was walking through the property with one of the young Ohlone leaders. I thanked her for the great job they had done organizing the stay with us, including how well they had cleaned up. She, like others guests I’d talked with, expressed their gratitude, too for our hospitality. It was a tender moment.
And then she touched my arm and pointed to the sign over the door as we were exiting the large dining hall downstairs. The sign reads: Pilgrim Hall. She looked me straight in the eyes and said, “But, you’ve got to do something about that.”
We adore being The Pilgrim People – it’s part of our Congregational DNA to celebrate our spiritual heritage as adventurous people of faith who have done bold new things with God. We are proud of our Mayflower Room where we will gather after the service for fellowship and refreshment. But to native peoples whose lives and fortunes were forever changed when Europeans arrived on their lands our spiritual ancestors are not their heroes. Just the opposite. They are a reminder of the beginning of a long era of broken promises, stolen land, and genocide.
Rev John Robinson, a Separatist pastor, spoke to the English before they sailed off on The Mayflower. The travelers believed they were headed to an English work colony with hopes that they would eventually earn their liberty. To encourage them on this new endeavor, Robinson said: “I am verily persuaded the Lord hath more truth yet to break forth out of His Holy Word.”
If Rev John Robinson were here today, if he could look back these nearly 400 years, I think he’d say something more like this: “God has more truth to break forth, not only from sacred scripture, but from the stories we tell about each other and ourselves, and about the new ways we can learn to live with and for each other.”
May a bright and glorious light shine down upon all us, guiding us, the descendants of the indigenous peoples and the descendants of the settler peoples, for the wellbeing of all, with great Thanksgiving to the Creator. AMEN. Soli Deo Gloria. (Glory to God Alone)
“Ohlone Song / Spirit of the Land” https://youtu.be/CpADTZDauLU Anthony Sul & W. Candelaria (RedStar) Sing Ohlone Song @ Sounds of Resistance Concert Recorded by Unedited Media
Prayers of Petition
Be still and listen to the prayers beneath the thoughts and feelings of this moment. What rests in your soul that is calling for God’s attention? Wait for flashes of joy and gratitude, genuine concern and sorrow, uprisings of hope and inspiration. This is how our souls pray. You may also wish to offer intercessory prayers – prayers for others — especially those who have asked for your prayers.
The Lord’s Prayer
Imagine a place where you feel close to God, maybe a sanctuary where you’ve worshipped. Welcome the memory of your Beloved Community filling your soul with companionship as we pray together the prayer Jesus taught us to pray:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
We Give Thanks
Take time today to consider what God has “put in your basket.” Recalling the scripture reading, what fruit have you harvested from a tree you did not plant? What about the land you are on? Who stewarded this place since the beginning of human presence? Gather up all you have inherited and offer this as a real praise to the Living God. (also see donation footnote)
We Continue in Hope
Song of Hope
“I Need You To Survive” Written by Hezekiah Walker with The Love Fellowship Choir
It may be that the First Fruits we harvest this year are our growing awareness of common humanity amid complex and still wounding cross-cultural encounters.
May the God who called our spiritual ancestors to bold adventures call us into the future eager to craft better relationships, working together to address old wounds for the sake of all our grandchildren and their grandchildren’s grandchildren. Amen.
(the service is concluded)
*Use a tool, such as https://native-land.ca/, to learn whose land you are upon.
**Sermon originally delivered 11/2017 at First Congregational Church of Martinez, UCC in the SF Bay Area of California.
Online Chalice Hymnal: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/CH1995
Online New Century Hymnal: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/NCH1995
HOL: Hymns of Life, bilingual hymnal. ©1986, China Alliance Press.
YouTube Music Videos: search by title AND one of the authors for best results
Worship Resources: All content prepared and written by Rev. Kathryn M. Schreiber unless attributed to another source.
(NRSV) New Revised Standard Version ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
(Chalice) The Chalice Hymnal and (New Century) The New Century Hymnal, among other worship publications, have suspended copyright restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.
Wampanoag Version of “First Thanksgiving”:
California Indigenous reflections on settlement:
Native Americans on “Thanksgiving” video
A Lincoln, Presidential Proclamation of Thanksgiving
Contemporary Essays about the first Thanksgiving (and our myths about it)
John Robinson and Pilgrims
English version mostly from Robert San Souci’s historically researched version in N.C. Wyeth’s Pilgrims ©1991.
Online Publishing Date: November 12, 2020.
Permission: Permission is not granted to share or distribute this resource beyond your community without additional permission from the author.
Donation for Use of Content: Due to the current coronavirus pandemic this content is offered free. However, you may express your gratitude financially by supporting a local indigenous non-profit. In Northern California, please consider: https://sogoreate-landtrust.org/shuumi-land-tax/. If you’d like to support the congregation I serve as pastor – Berkeley Chinese Community Church – we’d be most grateful for your support. Please send checks to: BCCC UCC, 2117 Acton Street, Berkeley, CA 94702, Attn: Diane Huie, Treasurer. Thank you!
Living Liturgies: www.inthebiglove.com; Facebook: “Living Liturgies”; YouTube: “Kathryn Schreiber”