When I hear the word “heritage,” I think of my family roots, and those that came before me. My brother-in-law has done extensive work tracing our family roots of both my mother’s and father’s families. What is interesting on one side of the family tree was a distant relative hanged for being a horse thief (I think that branch was cut from the tree.) On the other side, a distant relative who signed the Magna Carta, and a very slight possibility a relative that arrived on the Mayflower. Having this information allows me to think of all the twists and turns that trace my heritage. It does not change who I am, but it is nice to have some idea of my roots, and fascinating to see where my relatives lived, where they moved, and how they came to be here in the United States of America.
Thinking there may be the slightest chance of a relative arriving on the Mayflower makes the heritage of Congregationalism even more interesting to me. Even without a relative arriving on the Mayflower, our Congregational heritage is fascinating when you think of the struggles and hardships they endured to establish a colony in a new world, to be able to have freedom to worship as they saw God guiding them, and not having a government telling them how to worship. Following the progress of our congregational roots, we find prominent names of Congregationalists playing significant roles in our nation’s story-- people willing to take a stand for human rights and freedom for all God’s people, and supporting the struggles to bring about changes in these United States. There were Congregationalists speaking out and marching for social justice from the early years of our nation. Some were missionaries taking God’s word to all parts of this country. To learn more about our Congregational history, the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches offer a free on-line History and Polity course; I highly recommend it. You may be surprised what you will learn about Congregationalists and our nation’s history. (Yes, I keep plugging this course because I think it is important that we, as Congregationalist, know our heritage; and this course does a fantastic job of providing the information.)
Part of our Congregational heritage is alive and well, forty some mile west of Jackson at Olivet Michigan. Olivet College, founded by Rev. John J. Shipherd, a Congregational minister, is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year. The founding leaders of this college believed anyone, regardless of gender, race, or financial need, should have an education available to them. The founders of Olivet College wrote, “We wish simply to do good to our students, by placing in their hands the means of intellectual, moral and spiritual improvement, and to teach them the divine art and science of doing good to others.” Could there be a better guiding principle than this?
As Congregationalists, we should recognize the many contributions congregational men and women have given for human rights, missionaries, and other efforts, not only here in the United States but around the world. We help by supporting these efforts financially, as well as, volunteering to work in local, national, and international missions.
Each of us should be proud of our family heritage, our national heritage, and out Congregational heritage. There may be branches in the family tree we would like to forget (or cut off), but it is interesting to see where we came from and how we got to where we are today. Whether there are skeleton in the closet or horse thieves, it is part of who we are.
As always, I ask our Lord for guidance, strength, comfort, and patience.
Rev. Jerry W. Turner