As we draw closer to the end of a year that has been full of challenges and heartbreak, I am grateful for the ways we have shown up for each other and for our communities. This year has made clear that our faith is not bound by the walls of a building. We connected with each other virtually in imaginative new ways and reached out to millions of people through UU the Vote during the historic election season.
This spirit of creativity, impact and perseverance in times of great challenge and change is critical now as we look ahead. Many hearts ache as we anticipate Thanksgiving and the winter holidays in the midst of a global pandemic. We know that many plans and treasured traditions for gathering with family and friends must be cancelled or put on hold.
This year, let us be mindful that many hearts in the Indigenous communities of New England and across Turtle Island ache on Thanksgiving Day every year. In Plymouth, Massachusetts, Indigenous people observe the holiday as a “Day of Mourning.” This year will mark the 50th anniversary of this Day of Mourning tradition, and the 400th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims in Plymouth.
In 2016, Unitarian Universalists voted to pay special attention to learning our history and rethinking Thanksgiving this year. Historically, UU ministers were instrumental in creating this U.S. holiday and the “Pilgrims and the Indians” pageant tradition that roots the holiday in an historically inaccurate and harmful colonial narrative. Many UU congregations in New England can trace their lineage directly back to early settler congregations that had a role in the genocide of Native communities. As a religious tradition, we cannot decide who we will be without reckoning with the truth of who some of our ancestors were.
I’m proud of the way we have lived into the 2016 resolution and I’m excited to announce that UUs will continue this journey by convening virtually to mark this time of year with the Harvest the Power Justice Convergence & Teach-In, November 19-26. This series of virtual events will include a diverse array of programming and many opportunities for learning and spiritual grounding to guide us as we to live into the the Action of Immediate Witness passed this year at General Assembly to Address 400 Years of White Supremacist Colonialism.
In truth, thanksgiving celebrations have a long and rich history that predates the landing of the Pilgrims and the founding of the United States. There are many, many ways that we can connect in gratitude and celebrate the abundance of the Fall harvest as a community without celebrating an ahistorical colonial origin story.
This year, let us be grateful in a genuine manner. Let our gratitude flow from our deep, ongoing commitment to justice and equity. Let our gratitude grow from the opportunities we have to be together authentically—whether virtually or in person. Please join me as we reimagine this day and gather in community to honor Indigenous ancestors, experiences and traditions. May it be a time to reflect and find meaning in how our shared values connect us.
Yours in faith and solidarity,
Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray
About the Author
The Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray began her six-year term as president of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) in June 2017. As president of the Association, she is responsible for administering staff and programs that serve its more than 1,000 member congregations. She also acts as…