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Kittredge: Gathering Together

By the time the passengers of the Mayflower finally got off the ship for good in March of 1621, they had been on the boat for seven months. They had boarded in early August ready to launch, but she was an old ship and kept springing leaks so it was a full month before they even set sail. In the meantime they were crammed together consuming their precious stores for the journey. After a treacherous crossing of the Atlantic, they landed on Cape Cod in early November. But the boat was their only shelter that long, first winter while they cut trees and began the hard task of building houses in a New England winter.

The room where the 102 passengers lived was roughly 50 by 25 feet. Next time you’re in a movie theatre, a town hall, a church sanctuary, pace it off. It’s a very small space for that number of people. And it’s not as though they were all friends; though half of them had together fled England for Holland because of their religious convictions, the others were a rag tag group of carpenters, criminals, people slipping the law and some slipping the noose. For the most part they were at the end of their ropes; they were escaping religious persecution, violence, poverty and seeking a fresh start in a new land.

That first winter was harsh and only half of them survived the cold, famine and disease. I can imagine that when they finally disembarked for good, they fell on the ground and hugged the sandy soil of Plymouth.

As we are gathered today for Thanksgiving, it’s worth noting that we are all immigrants to this land. We call it ours but it’s not really, for it was here before we were, before even the Native Americans. When we wrestle over ownership and argue over entitlement, we narrow our perspective and forget our own histories and the gift of this glorious country. There are immigrants among us who have also fled their motherlands, fled persecution and violence, poverty and injustice. Our own lives are in some sense a study in assimilation and individuation for at one time or another most of us have felt like resident aliens in our own families.

The immigrant experience is not about other people, it’s about us. It tells a story of equal parts desperation and hope, of despair and courage, of moving on and seeking safety, of knowing in the end the great gift of being welcomed. Thanksgiving isn’t one day; it’s a way of life when in gratitude - in thanks - we give welcome and sanctuary to the pilgrims at our door.

Susan Cooke Kittredge is Associate Pastor of the Charlotte Congregational Church.
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