Faith of the Pilgrims
From my years young in days of youth,
God did make known to me his truth,
And call’d me from my native place
For to enjoy the means of grace.
In wilderness he did me guide,
And in strange lands for me provide.
In fears and wants, through weal and woe,
A pilgrim, past I to and fro.
-William Bradford, Plimoth Pilgrim
Happy Thanksgiving! I’m sure that many of you are already preparing for the four ‘Fs” of Thanksgiving: Family, Friends, Food, and Football! As Christians, however, we understand that Thanksgiving Day is more than that. It’s a day set aside each year to offer thanks to God for our abundant blessings through prayer and service to those who are in need.
The Thanksgiving celebration in the United States would not be complete without a nod to the Pilgrims who settled in this country in the 1600’s. According to the website for Plimoth Plantation – a permanent exhibit that was built on thorough research about the Wampanoag People and the Colonial English community of Pilgrims in the 1600s:
The Pilgrims arrived on these shores in 1620 in hopes of making a better life for themselves and their children while being able to worship freely and in peace. Undoubtedly the most famous colonists in world history, their faith and fortitude are legendary. Their perseverance laid the cornerstone of a new Nation. The Pilgrims’ courage, gratitude to God, and love for one another still inspire people today.
The Pilgrims left England and ventured to a new country in 1608 in order to escape religious persecution. The story of the Pilgrims is celebrated each year in elementary school Thanksgiving pageants across the United States and their faith, courage, and tenacity are a proud part of the history of Thanksgiving Day in our country.
Sadly, religious persecution is not something only in the history books. Throughout history people have been persecuted and victimized for their religious beliefs. This past year we have seen Jews murdered in synagogues, Muslims gunned down in mosques, and Christians killed at prayer. Resolution D050 from the 79th General Convention speaks to our solidarity with all those who are persecuted because of their faith.
D050: Solidarity with Victims of Religious Persecution
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church reaffirm its commitment to the freedom of all people in all places to profess and practice their religious beliefs as a universal human right; and be it further
Resolved, That the General Convention express its concern that adherents of religious minorities in many nations and cultures are persecuted by religious majorities and by governments hostile to religion through gratuitous criticism, legal strictures, social exclusion, economic discrimination, sanctuary desecration, and physical violence; and be it further
Resolved, That the General Convention encourage dioceses, congregations and mission organizations to include outreach to persecuted religious minorities in their international mission work; and be it further
Resolved, That the General Convention encourage dioceses, congregations and mission organizations to establish in their international mission work relationships of solidarity with Christians experiencing persecution by reason of their faith in Jesus Christ; and be it further
Resolved, That the General Convention request congregations to include in the Prayers of the People intercessions for persecuted Christians and other persecuted religious minorities on the second Sunday of each of the following seasons of the Church Year: Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost; and be it further
Resolved, That the General Convention encourage congregations and dioceses to support reputable organizations that help those who are victims of religious persecution; and be it further
Resolved, That the General Convention request the Episcopal Church’s Office of Governmental Relations to advocate on behalf of legislation and international appeals to protect religious freedom; and be it further
Resolved, That the General Convention Office communicate this resolution to the United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom and to the bipartisan United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
The explanation for this resolution is as follows:
The 21st century has seen an unexpected and disconcerting rise in threats to religious freedom around the world. North Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, China, North Korea, Europe and the United States are places of particular controversy, but religious freedom is threatened in many other locales as well.
Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Bahais and Yazidis are among the groups who have been victims of religiously motivated or anti-religious violence, and some of these groups, including Christians, have perpetrated religiously motivated violence. Other factors such as ethnic bias, economic competition and political expediency are often also involved, but religious motivation is often equally or more prominent.
It is incumbent on all Episcopalians involved in global mission to enact solidarity with Christians experiencing persecution in various parts of the Anglican Communion. Equally, Episcopal mission work must cultivate sensitivity to threats to religious freedom and reach out with compassion, relief and advocacy for all persecuted religious groups, whether they are victimized by religious majorities or by governments hostile to all religion.
This resolution has been endorsed by the Board of Directors of the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN).
The Episcopal Church is not alone in calling for tolerance and peaceful coexistence of religious diversity. All major world religions espouse tolerance and peaceful coexistence in a spirit of shared humanity. On August 22nd of this year the United Nations observed the first ever International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion and Belief. In addition, António Guterres, Secretary General for the United Nations, announced two new initiatives regarding hate speech and a plan of action to safeguard religious sites.
December 8, the Second Sunday of Advent, will present us with a perfect opportunity to act on Resolution D050 in our own congregations. The resolution asks that on that day (and the second Sunday of each of the other seasons of the church year) we include intercessions for persecuted Christians and other persecuted religious minorities in the Prayers of the People. Although some might require a little modification, many of the forms of the Prayers of the People and the Collects and Prayers in the Book of Common Prayer, would work well for this intercession.
For those looking for additional resources for intercessions, Feasting on the Word Worship Companion and Planning for Rites and Rituals are both excellent resources. Both include specific Prayers of the People for every Sunday based on the Revised Common Lectionary, and many contain specific intercessions for persecuted Christians and other religious minorities. You might also consider asking members of your congregation to write a unique intercession for use in your service. People may feel more of a connection to those for whom they are praying if they are using intercessions they wrote themselves.
To quote António Guterres:
“The best way to overcome the threat of violence based on religion and belief is by uniting our voices for good, countering messages of hate with messages of peace, embracing diversity and protecting human rights. The world must step up to stamp out anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred, the persecution of Christians and other religious groups, and all forms of racism, xenophobia, discrimination and incitement to violence. As members of the human family, we must nurture mutual understanding. We all have a responsibility to look out for each other, to respect differences and to promote peaceful coexistence.”
Let us pray –
Almighty and gracious Father, we give you thanks for the
fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those
who harvest them. Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of
your great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and
the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of your Name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with
you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(Collect for Thanksgiving Day – BCP p. 246)
~ The Rev. Diana Walworth, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council