As we celebrate a Thanksgiving unlike any in most of our lifetimes, we can take a break from 2020 and go back in time to 1974. That year, Rochester’s First Congregational Church had a special pre-Thanksgiving service. The service, a pageant portraying the first Thanksgiving between the Pilgrims and their Wampanoag neighbors, was planned by the church’s minister, Rev. Edward White. Sadly, Rev. White passed away on November 17 before the service. However, the church continued with the program.
Many members of the congregation, both young and old, dressed either as Pilgrims or Wampanoags. Children from the Church School presented canned and dry goods to be given out to needy families. The man at the altar who spoke on that day and eulogized Rev. White was Chief Setting Sun. In full tribal costume, he talked about Rev. White, a modest man, but one who could relate to people and their problems. His death had Chief Setting Sun giving himself a new mission to correct the image that many had of all Native Americans. The rest of the pastor’s worship service was carried out by the Board of Deacons for about 350 congregants.
As we all know, 46 years have changed many of our views of the first Thanksgiving but reading about this romanticized version of the actual history. Even with the sadness of White’s death, we get a brief respite from all the worries and disappointments of our 2020 holiday.
By Connie Eshbach