Who were, after all, those Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts in 1620 and to whom we trace the original Thanksgiving Day?

Introducing. . .

The Pilgrim Gallery

        In pouring down rain I* visited the city of Leiden in the Netherlands in September of 2001. Here in the early 1600s the original pilgrim church had settled after a brief sojourn in Amsterdam where they had first immigrated to escape the persecution encountered in Scrooby, England. In the Netherlands, not only would their "Calvinistic" religious views be welcomed, but their "congregational" way of church government would be tolerated. The leadership of the Frenchman John Calvin in Geneva, Switzerland, had impacted the entire continent. The Dutch Reformed Church represented Holland's national embrace of the 16th century Protestant teaching which came to be known as "Calvinism."

        Under my little umbrella, I made my way to the Saint Pieter's Kerk (Kerk is Dutch for "church"). There I discovered the John Robinson Memorial which paid tribute, not only to the pastor of the pilgrim church, but to the pilgrim community itself relating its beliefs and history .   John Robinson had strong separatist views. Believing that a church was a single congregation covenanted together under the headship of Jesus Christ, he urged that, in order to preserve the church's purity, it was imperative for Christians to separate from the official nationally-sponsored Anglican Church-hence the persecution that followed.

        While in Amsterdam, Robinson had rubbed shoulders with another "Congregationalist" by the name of William Ames (also a refugee from English persecution) having recently come from Cambridge where he was grooming Puritan pastors at Christ's College. Ames was a non-separating Congregationalist with views a bit more moderate than Robinson's and he would come to influence the pilgrim pastor in a very positive way. Historians attribute the pilgrim community's later amiable dealings with their Puritan brethren of Massachusetts Bay in part to the influence of William Ames upon their beloved pastor John Robinson. Ames also played a part in the historic Synod of Dordt in 1618. Here the Dutch Reformed Church would renounce Jacob Arminius 's five-point rejection of divine sovereignty in salvation.  Ames's classic theological work entitled Marrow of Theology would later become standard reading for students at Harvard and Yale in the early years.

        The pilgrim theme was allegorized by  John Bunyan, a 17th-century English tinker who was arrested and imprisoned for preaching without a license. While in the Bedford jail he wrote what has become an all-time Christian classic entitled Pilgrim's Progress.  Today this book is outselling Harry Potter's books.  It was my  special privilege to visit some of the Bunyan historic sites during the disastrous events of September 11, 2001. Against such a modern backdrop of American tragedy, the true nature of a pilgrim stands out in bold relief, for "here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come" (Hebrews 13:13).  Bunyan's famous hymn, replete with pilgrim imagery, is strikingly relevant  in this hour of American history:

                                    He Who Would Valiant Be

                                                            He who would valiant be
                                                   ` 'Gainst all disaster,
                                               Let him in constancy
                                                  Follow the Master.
                                               There's no discouragement
                                                  Shall make him once relent
                                               His first avowed intent
                                                  To be a pilgrim.

                                               Who so beset him round
                                                  With dismal stories,
                                               Do but themselves confound;
                                                  His strength the more is.
                                               No foes shall stay his might,
                                                  Though he with giants fight;
                                               He will make good his right
                                                  To be a pilgrim.

                                               Since, Lord, thou dost defend
                                                  Us with thy Spirit,
                                               We know we at the end
                                                  Shall life inherit.
                                               Then fancies flee away!
                                                  I'll fear not what men say;
                                               I'll labor night and day
                                                  To be a pilgrim. Amen.

        Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, they drew up the Mayflower Compact by which they would govern themselves in the Plymouth Plantation.  This historic document served as a prototype of American government.  Not surprisingly, some of the great hymns of our nation reflect our pilgrim heritage.

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self control,
Thy liberty in law.

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears.
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea. Amen.

*Introductory narrative and photography by David C. Brand.