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Friday, November 24, 2006

History Channel's engrossing Pilgrim docudrama.

Wow, did I get sucked in last night by the History Channel's three-hour docudrama, "Desperate Crossing: The Untold Story of the Mayflower." (Seeing it on my in-laws' high-definition TV surely helped.) The mix of historical reenactments, narration from primary sources, and commentary by scholars was great, but it never felt "educational" — I was having a grand old time. I found the commentary by Wampanoag Indians and several Native American scholars especially illuminating. (You can order a DVD of the show.)

The only question I had about the show had to do with Separatist religious practices: Although the program showed the Pilgrims praying on several occasions, often with their hands raised heavenward, they didn't pray in Jesus' name. Fausto, PeaceBang, et al.: Do you know anything about how the Pilgrims prayed?

Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 24 November 2006 at 12:39 PM

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November 24, 2006 03:52 PM | Permalink for this comment

Not really, other than that they did so earnestly and often. (Rather too often for my contemporary taste, I imagine.)

I'm sorry I missed that show on TV. For some reason I had thought it would be shown this coming Sunday.

In recent years, either Governor Bradford or Deacon Fuller has been stopping by our sixth- and seventh-grade Sunday School class in the spring, during the UU History segment, to teach the kids the fine points of authentic New England congregational polity. (And to schnorr some of our hot cider at social hour. They're always surprised that we don't ferment it.) If one of them drops in again, I'll be sure to ask him.


November 24, 2006 05:28 PM | Permalink for this comment

You can see a Behind-the-Scenes 5-minute clip here:

Very, very important that they were Separatists, not "Pilgrims". Unlike the Puritans, they had rejected the Church of England for good, and they were alone. And they were not looking for religious freedom, because they already had it in the Netherlands.

I hope that, besides the (Region 1, I guess, ugh!) DVD, the History channel also releases a downloadable file.


November 24, 2006 08:49 PM | Permalink for this comment

Actually, in this context, "Pilgrim" and "Separatist" are synonymous. It's "Pilgrim" and "Puritan" that are sometimes used interchangeably in casual discourse, but in precise usage shouldn't be.

The Pilgrims were Separatists who had withdrawn from the CofE in favor of congregational self-government, while the Puritans hoped to cleanse and reform (i. e., "purify") it from within. However, when the Puritans began to settle in Massachusetts Bay, there were no corrupt CofE parishes to cleanse, and no corrupt CofE episcopacy to purge, which rendered the defining Puritan vocation somewhat moot.

Deacon Fuller, of Separatist Plymouth, traveled to Puritan Salem in 1629 and to Puritan Boston in 1630 to promote the merits of congregational over episcopal polity, and the rest is, as they say, history.


November 25, 2006 07:08 PM | Permalink for this comment

Yes, fausto, but although the Puritans could not "purify" any preexisting CoE in the colonies, they could set an example to the world of how a true Christian community should be. That is the myth of a "city upon a hill", that sometimes seems to persist still today... when America seems to think that everybody is watching (we aren't).

As for Separatist congregationalism, it was the natural product of their radical intolerance: since no existing church could be considered the True Church of Christ, because all were false and corrupt beyond redemption, only they, and their own appointed pastors, were entitled to preach the Word and administer sacraments. That is why I wrote above that they were "alone", obviously not among themselves, but as a community in the world.

(Remember that the Separatists awaited for their own pastors to come, and that they were very upset when the non-Separatist (mostly CoE) members of the colony called a clergyman, and even though the man did his best efforts to be accepted, he was finally banished.)

How the most unwelcoming Christian community could give birth many centuries later to the "everybody-is-welcome" church is one of those Mysteries of the universe that are not for the human mind to apprehend.


November 25, 2006 11:35 PM | Permalink for this comment

Not so many centuries later, Jaume. It began to happen only a generation or two later with the Half-Way Covenant, and within a century and a half had developed a full head of steam under proto-Unitarians and proto-Universalists like Charles Chauncy and Jonathan Mayhew. Before the end of the second century the Dort Calvinists were once again an isolated minority who had to withdraw from their own churches. No sooner had they done so than voices like Charles Grandison Finney and Henry Ward Beecher began once more to erode their Calvinist purity.

Separatist purity, then and now, is an unstable isotope that cannot exist in a steady state. Deacon Fuller may have persuaded Governor Endicott to adopt a congregational model of church governance, but it was Massachusetts that annexed Plymouth, not vice versa. The tension between the separating Pilgrims and the non-separating Puritans has been deeply ingrained in our tradition (and in that of our sister Congregationalists) ever since 1620, not as some anachronistic historical footnote, but as an issue that breaks forth anew in almost every generation. Our denomination has always been at its greatest and most influential when it has provided exemplary moral leadership to the rest of society, and at its weakest and most irrelevant when it withdraws from society, either to be a self-contained community apart or to be a self-anointed "prophetic" gadfly offering condemnation from without.

We UUs as a denomination, and we Americans as a nation as well, vainly flatter ourselves when we remember Winthrop's "City on a Hill" message to mean that we deserve by virtue of our inherent worthiness to be perceived as a beacon by the rest of the world. In that sense, the UUAWO's irrelevant clucking and scolding is of one piece with George W. Bush's arrogant and unilateral foreign policies. By the same token, however, we fulfill Winthrop's commission as he intended to issue it when we accept his original challenge to comport ourselves in a way that is worthy of being recognized by others as exemplary. In that sense, Robert Gould Shaw and Joseph Tuckerman are of one piece with the New Deal, Lend-Lease and the Marshall Plan.


November 27, 2006 12:27 AM | Permalink for this comment

You two are HOT!! LOVE it!

Philo, the praying with the arms up in the air strikes me as anachronistic. They did pray extemporaneously and shunned written prayers, though I believe any show of physicality would have been considered entirely inappropriate.

That said, I notice that the Plimoth Plantation shows the Pilgrims praying in this manner, and they're not exactly known as slouches in the research department. I'll have to research this further, and I definitely want to see the special! I'm glad you saw it, even though we missed you at Thanksgiblets!

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