It’s nearly thirty-seven years since I lived in England as a resident. I can’t believe that most of my life has been spent on this side of the Atlantic. I suppose I’m not easily assimilated. George Bush would find me infuriating, in more than one way.

Each year, at this time, I wonder why we make such a deal about Puritans/Pilgrims. Readers of my blogs will have probably realized that I’m not very fond of such people, either in the collective or the singular. Believe me, I speak from experience.

If those refugees from the English Church who reached Massachusetts, while aiming for Virginia, were really the first Europeans to give thanks for harvest in North America, I might be drawn to the whole story. However the “colonists” in Virginia had been around for thirteen years when the elect arrived much further north. We shall celebrate the Jamestown landing in May and June next year, when the Queen will be here for the first and a bevvy of Episcopal bishops, clergy and, most important, laity will “gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing.” Odd that the hymn is an anti-Anglican diatribe.

The fact that most of the original people who landed in Jamestown died of starvation or disease has nothing much to do with anything. One problem remains. The Church of England then had no “Thanksgiving”or Harvest Festival in the Calendar. The nearest to one was Lammas Day on August I: the feast of the first fruits of the harvest.

It may well be that our ancestors in Jamestown did keep a Thanksgiving. I haven’t done the research. Modern Harvest Festival celebrations, movable feasts, have their origin in the rest of the Anglican Communion in the mind of an eccentric priest. How typically Anglican.

Richard Stephen Hawker was vicar of Morwenstow, a lovely parish tucked into the folding hills of the Devon/Cornish border, on the Atlantic Ocean. The parish was under the patronage of Hawker’s family, and thus, after university and ordination, he was presented to the living. Most of his parishioners were “wreckers”. They lured ships onto the rocks with phony harbor lights and then dealt with the crew and sold the cargo.

Morwenstow’s new parson soon put a stop to that trade. He toured his parish wearing a top hat from which the brim had been removed, a knitted pullover with a design on it, a frock coat and wading boots. He adorned the church with his “take”on what a Celtic Catholic parish would have looked like. He was a minor poet, best known for his stirring poem about the seven bishops who James II put in the tower because they refused to issue a pastoral letter; the king’s Declaration of Indulgence. (Read John Spurr: The Restoration Church in England, Yale to discover when our discipline started to fall apart. Bloody Stuarts!).

It was Hawker who invented Harvest Festival and rural decanal synods. If you are a member of a deanery, think of the shade of Hawker next time you meet.

Before he died, Hawker became a Roman Catholic. His cousin, Sabine Baring Gould (Onward Christian Soldiers) wrote the first biography of Hawker.

I don’t think I’ll invite any puritans to our Thanksgiving dinner this year. I’ll just say hello to Parson Hawker.

One Response

  1. “Odd that the hymn is an anti-Anglican diatribe.”

    Originally more of an anti-Catholic one…though I wouldn’t be surprised if the translation wasn’t used as an anti-Anglican one a few years later.

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