Church’s Thanksgiving Spirit Endures

M.R. Georgevich PhotoThanksgiving for the 1639 Puritan founders of New Haven’s first church, Center Church on the Green, wasn’t about turkeys. It was all about prayer, humility, and expressing gratitude, no frills attached.

From its founding, Center Church has served as a meeting house for the community and its civic as well as religious needs, said Acting Minister Kevin Ewing, who has taken over as pastor for almost a year now.

Although history reverberates below and above at the church —  on special occasions Ewing drinks from a ceremonial cup that belonged to founding minister John Davenport   —  what moves him is the sense of thanksgiving that is at the heart of his faith. Every day of the year, not just on the last Thursday of November.

“No matter how much we struggle, no matter how miserable our lives may seem, there’s always something in there for which we can find grace, and gratitude,” he said.

Church Historian Michelle Georgevich recently looked through church paper ephemera going back to 1905 and noted that Thanksgiving was the occasion less for a church-specific event and more for the organization of ecumenical gatherings of churches and synagogues in New Haven.

In recent years, the centerpiece of Thanksgiving at Center Church has been the provision of hot Thanksgiving dinners to those who need them.

That is taking place this year at the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen (DESK), which operates out of the church’s parish house on Temple Street above Elm. (Originally established by the church, DESK has become its own independent not-forprofit.)

Asked what Biblical verses or thoughts about Thanksgiving he’ll utter for the blessings over the turkeys and 300 pounds of potatoes and stuffing and 30 gallons of gravy at the DESK meal, Ewing quipped, “I’m a Pentecostal. We wait on the spirit to move.”

Demeka Anderson’s spirit was moved by that special quality Center Church has, the aura of its deep and unique history.

Paul Bass PhotoFor years before joining, she had lived downtown and always noticed the modest spire of New Haven’s very first church outside her window.

A history buff, she read up on the founding and the role the church has played in the city’s civic history; that includes its being the place where Yale College graduations were held until 1895.

Then Anderson joined the church. Anderson has been a deacon for two years ,and last month her new baby was baptized, pretty close to the spot where John Davenport baptized those first New Haven-born infants.

Center Church is full of history and its material objects, including the crypt — a preserved cemetery complete with intact tombstones dating from 1687 all beneath today’s building.

Its plaques and pews and tour guides also tell how New Haven’s rigid Puritan theocracy established by well-to-do Englishmen in New Haven in 1639. That theocracy gradually gave way: In 1818, after surviving a second British attempt to retake the colonies, Center Church — and new state laws —  permitted another denomination, those pesky Episcopalians of Trinity Church, to build their own house of worship on the Green itself.

Why? In part because those Puritan Congregationalists and the upstart Episcopalians were becoming, well, less Englishmen and more Americans, and increasingly partners in the expanding economic life of the now secure republic.

That local story of the separation of church and state is not only America’s story, but one that is also increasingly relevant today.

Ewing, Georgevich, Anderson, church clerk Nancy Mellone, and deacon Demeka Anderson spoke at length about what Thanksgiving — and thanksgiving —have meant at their congregation in a special holiday edition of WNHH’s “This Day In New Haven History,” as we traveled back to New Haven’s founding with Jason Bischoff-Wurstle of the New Haven Museum and recorded the discussion in the sanctuary of Center Church itself, at the heart of the Green, and of our community’s and country’s history.

Pull up a chair, and click on or download the above audio to listen to the full discussion for a holiday treat. And happy Thanksgiving!

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posted by: CenterChurchNH on November 24, 2016  11:02am

Thank you so much for joining us for this broadcast! One correction: Center Church voted in 2007 to offer DESK a permanent home in our Parish House (and to completely renovate this area in 2014), but the founding story of Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen is a very ecumenical and interfaith story of “thanksgiving” as well (Center was just one partner among many). Here’s a bit from their website:

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 24, 2016  11:16am

Thanksgiving for the 1639 Puritan founders of New Haven’s first church, Center Church on the Green, wasn’t about turkeys. It was all about prayer, humility, and expressing gratitude, no frills attached.

It also was about this.

by Susan Bates

But as word spread in England about the paradise to be found in the new world, religious zealots called Puritans began arriving by the boat load. Finding no fences around the land, they considered it to be in the public domain. Joined by other British settlers, they seized land, capturing strong young Natives for slaves and killing the rest. In 1637 near present day Groton, Connecticut, over 700 men, women and children of the Pequot Tribe had gathered for their annual Green Corn Festival which is our Thanksgiving celebration. In the predawn hours the sleeping Indians were surrounded by English and Dutch mercenaries who ordered them to come outside.  Those who came out were shot or clubbed to death while the terrified women and children who huddled inside the longhouse were burned alive. The next day the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared “A Day Of Thanksgiving” because 700 unarmed men, women and children had been murdered.

posted by: Patricia Kane on November 24, 2016  11:41am

Thank you for this story of sharing and the beautiful photos.

posted by: 1644 on November 24, 2016  1:01pm

3/5’s For a good account of early New England and native relations, read “Mayflower” by N. Philbrick.  Neither the Indians nor the English were monolithic, united groups.  The first English were welcomed by local Indians eager to enlist them as allies against their own, rival Indian tribes.  The Pequot tribes own site accurately describes the Pequot war, which led to the deaths or enslavement of most Pequots, as as much a intra-Indian war as a war between the English and Indians.  Alliances between tribes and the English shifted throughout the conflict.  Moreover, while different English colonies did not war against one another as the Indian tribes did, there were vastly different levels of enthusiasm and participation between the colonies.  Plymouth was extremely reluctant, in vast contrast to Massachusetts. Note, also, the Plymouth settlers were not Puritans, but Separatists.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 24, 2016  5:32pm

posted by: 1644 on November 24, 2016 12:01pm

3/5’s For a good account of early New England and native relations, read “Mayflower” by N. Philbrick.  Neither the Indians nor the English were monolithic, united groups.  The first English were welcomed by local Indians eager to enlist them as allies against their own, rival Indian tribes.

All groups have there trades and Sell outs.Case and point look at the Jews in the German army call Mischlinge.

Read Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers The Untold Story of Nazi Racial Laws and Men of Jewish Descent in the German Military

by Bryan Mark Rigg

Rigg reveals that a startlingly large number of German military men were classified by the Nazis as Jews or “partial-Jews” (Mischlinge), in the wake of racial laws first enacted in the mid-1930s. Rigg demonstrates that the actual number was much higher than previously thought—perhaps as many as 150,000 men, including decorated veterans and high-ranking officers, even generals and admirals.As Rigg fully documents for the first time, a great many of these men did not even consider themselves Jewish and had embraced the military as a way of life and as devoted patriots eager to serve a revived German nation. In turn, they had been embraced by the Wehrmacht

In fact check these pictures out.

POLITICSThanksgiving Is an Origin Myth That Whitewashes Native American Genocide

Tom Cahill

In 1937, the war on the Pequot villages of Southeastern Connecticut began, and settlers savagely slaughtered Pequot men, women, and children by the hundreds. Bradford’s own notes described the savagery of his men in graphic detail:

Bottom line this day is genocide.

posted by: eliantonio on November 24, 2016  7:00pm

Why does the independent publish on every holiday except Jewish holidays?
I’m fully supportive of all religions. But this smacks of bias, which in turn makes me question the integrity of this organization to be fully independent.
[Paul: Thank you for the comment. Out of curiosity: What bias do you see in my observing Jewish laws that prohibit me from using electricity or doing work on certain religious holidays? Did you see an excessively pro-Jewish bias in our publishing an article about a church on Thanksgiving?
[Have you ever noticed that most businesses are open on Jewish holidays but not Christmas and Easter? Does that concern you? Or is that the non-biased “normal” way of doing business?]

posted by: robn on November 25, 2016  10:17am


Harvest festivals long preceded US thanksgiving and as 1644 noted, the Americas were ridden with internecine warfare before European colonists got here. So don’t be such a Debbie Downer.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 25, 2016  11:23am

posted by: robn on November 25, 2016 9:17am


Harvest festivals long preceded US thanksgiving and as 1644 noted, the Americas were ridden with internecine warfare before European colonists got here. So don’t be such a Debbie Downer.

But the Harvest festivals when it came to the native americas was genocide.

Thanksgiving”: “The untold genocide of the Native Americans”

posted by: eliantonio on November 25, 2016  12:22pm

Most secular news sources report news 365 days a year.
My concern is that organizations like the Christian broadcasting Network and other news sources that make exceptions for one particular religious event or holiday, in my opinion, cannot be 100% open minded.  The credo for religion in true reporting should be respect all give preference to none.
That goes for Muslim, Christian, Jewish or any other religion.
If the independent was fully secular then it would either publish every day, or woukd also alter publication during Ramadan, on good Friday, Easter, summer solstice.
That’s my beef.
And by the way. My wife is jewish, I myself am a devout atheist.

[Paul: We don’t report news 365 days a year. In fact, we usually take off the weekends. Because we have only a handful of reporters per edition. We can’t cover shifts 16 or 24 hours a day seven days a week the way “most secular news sources” can. Small organizations need to make due. We have had people affiliated with various religious backgrounds in our organization. No one is ever asked to work on a religious holiday. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the different rules different religions have for different holidays—for instance, Muslims do work on Ramadan; Jews do work on Hanukkah, but not on, say, Rosh Hashanah or Passover or Sukkot. We have never told people we will work and publish stories 365 days a year. Nor does any comparable newsroom I know of anywhere in the country, from CT News Junkie and CT Mirror here in Connecticut to every not-for-profit news site similar to ours, including ones with significantly larger budgets, like the Voice of San Diego. You can’t sustainability run a newsrooms with a handful of reporters and try to work around the clock every day. And I question your assumption that someone is “100 percent open-minded” by dint of being “secular” and that someone else is by definition less “open-minded” by observing a religious. I would characterize your assumptions about religious practice and newsrooms less than “100 percent open-minded.’]

posted by: 1644 on November 25, 2016  12:28pm

3/5’s Bradford was Governor of the Plymouth Colony, neighbor to, but separate from Massachusetts Bay Colony.  The Battle of Mystic Fort took place May 26, 1637.  Plymouth did not join the war effort until June of 1637, so any assertion that “Bradford’s men” participated in the Mystic killing is false. The Pequots were surrounded by men from Connecticut under John Mason and Narragansett, Mohegan and other Indian nations, who were seeking to overthrow their Pequot overlords.  These nations were in no way traitors, but in fact continuing national struggles that predated the arrival of the English.  Massachusetts Bay was the original English colony warring against the Pequots, later joined by Connecticut after the Pequots attacked Connecticut people though even though Connecticut was not at war with the Pequots.  As for this story, it is about New Haven, which, again, did not exist when the Mystic fort was attacked. Davenport and Eaton did not arrive in Boston until June of 1637.  Settlement of New Haven commenced April 14, 1938.  As for the Pequot war being genocidal, yes, it was.  In facts, their very name outlawed, and survivors parceled out among the English and other Mohegan and Narragansett.