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What To Do with the 400th Anniversary of the Mayflower Landing

by Debbie Gline Allen

Many thanks to Debbie Gline Allen for this endorsement of “Plymouth’s Pilgrims,” which we’re re-posting. She’s the author of the “youth version” of the study guide – also available on our website.

When Margaret (Peggy) Bendroth, the Executive Director of the Congregational Library and Archives, approached me last winter about writing youth materials to honor the 400th anniversary of the landing of the Mayflower on this continent, I was not exactly sure how I felt about the project. While I love learning interesting facts about our history, and I come from an ancestry that dates back to the next boat after the Mayflower, our United Church of Christ values of justice and concern for all of God’s children caused me to pause before accepting her request.

What do we do with the parts of our history that include colonialism and slavery? How should we feel about what happened, and continues to happen, with the peoples who first inhabited this land? Is it even possible to offer reparations or find ways to turn back what was considered progress, but diminished the rights of non-white people?

Listening to Peggy talk about history — the fact that we can’t change history, but we can learn from it — caused me to realize that we have an opportunity and an obligation here after 400 years. And our shared love of history inspired me to offer our teenagers a way to wrestle with our congregational history and allow it to inform the way they live their lives today. We challenge them to look at the past in order to make good judgements for the present, and the future.

I am pleased to let you know that these resources are now available to download for free. Click here  to locate Plymouth’s Pilgrims: Their Church, Their World, and Ours. There is a link to the Adult Discussion Guide, and another link to the Youth Discussion Guide. While it is critical that the leaders who offer these materials to teens read the Adult Discussion Guide, I have some colleagues who believe that adults should engage in the activities recommended for the youth!

As you make your plans for the year 2020, consider adding this study to your calendar. It is perfect for Confirmation programs, and would only be enhanced by an intergenerational learning experience for both adults and teens together.

There are four sessions:

They Were One Body In Christ
They Were People of the Book
They Were Colonists; They Were Colonizers
They Were Congregationalists

Each session opens with an engaging history of the session focus, beautifully written by Linda Smith Rhoads, the Editor Emerita of The New England Quarterly: A Historical Review of New England Life and Letters. Key players, both European and Wampanoag, are introduced alongside essential understandings about the influences of the day that made them who they were. This is followed by four discussion questions that engage both scripture and reflections on how these events compare to who we are today and the choices we make as people of faith. In the youth materials, the history is presented as readers’ theater, storytelling, or a choral reading. This is then followed by four or five learning activities — from word clouds to prayers and from discussion questions to creating memes.

Incorporating these resources into your congregation’s learning environments will be a great way to celebrate and learn from the courage and insights of our ancestors — both European and Native American. I invite you to be transformed!

Debbie Gline Allen is the part-time Christian Education & Youth Ministry Consultant for the Massachusetts Conference United Church of Christ.