On Thanksgiving morning, I relaxed the pace a bit and headed to Sherwood Forest for a half-day to get some exercise and fresh air. The biggest tourist draw to Sherwood Forest is the Great Oak, a 1200-year old tree which--legend has it--was one of the hideout points for Robin Hood himself. There are about 900 other old oak trees in the forest as well, though this is clearly the most spectacular of them. Structural support poles have been added in the last half-century to help prevent a major limb collapse that might endanger the tree. A fence has also been added to keep people from the base of the tree and overly-compacting the soil.
Thanksgiving afternoon and evening, we attended a number of community events in Retford, Nottinghamshire, as a part of the Illuminate 400 celebrations--five years of annual activities held by the various "Pilgrim sites" in England, in the lead-up to the 400th anniversary celebration planned for 2020. At the parish church of St. Swithuns, Retford, we attended a Thanksgiving commemoration of the Mayflower Pilgrims, put on by Bassetlaw Christian Heritage. There were youth presentations on William Brewster and the Women of the Mayflower; a reading of Hebrews 11:8-16 (the passage from which the term 'Pilgrims' derives); a reading of a few Bradford passages including his famous 'one small candle' passage; a couple hymns; and a Thanksgiving address given by the Right Reverend Paul Williams, Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham.
The service was absolutely lovely, and it was so great to see the community in Retford and the surrounding areas finally starting to embrace their history and connection to the foundation of the United States. The youth were engaged. The Bishop's address was thoughtful and very respectful of the history. The readings from Hebrews, and from Bradford's manuscript, were executed very nicely.
At the same time, there was an enormous amount of historical irony that I cannot help but point out. Here I was, a Mayflower descendant on Thanksgiving evening, sitting inside historic St. Swithun's, Retford, in the Church of England: the very same Church of England that the Pilgrims fled from due to intense persecution. I was listening to a commemoration given by the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham--the very church hierarchy and bishops the Pilgrims so despised. The church iconography, the scripted prayers, the human-authored hymns, ... all the things the Pilgrims opposed, were present in full force. If Bradford, Brewster, Robinson, or Clifton could have seen that commemoration, what would they possibly have thought? The Church that persecuted them, and forced them to flee, was now genuinely honoring them with respect for their historical accomplishments, ... but honoring them using the very Church devices they had objected to in the first place!