Wednesday, June 24, 2020

We remember the year 1579 when the first Protestant church service in the New World. The reading is from Francis Drake, “Disturb Us O Lord.”

It is the 24th of June 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at I’m Dan van Voorhis.

The year was 1579. The reformation century was beginning to wind down. Questions loomed large regarding the place of Christianity and the state, new confessions were being drafted, new communities of faith were growing, and the new world was held out as a place of promise and intrigue.

It was in 1579 that the Kralice Bible began its print run. The Kralice Bible did to the Czech language what King James did for the English Language, and what the Luther Bible did for the German language. The Czechs had their first bible in the 9th century. That translation, done by Cyril and Methodius, was monumental for the faith and language of the medieval Czechs. But this version, begun in 1579, was a meticulous six-volume translation made from the original languages and replete with maps and notes.

The Bible was a project of the Unity of the Brethren, perhaps the oldest protestant church. It was founded in the mid 15th century by followers of Jan Hus. Reading the Bible in the vernacular, along with receiving both bread and wine in communion, were his two chief religious reforms.

In the 16th century, the Czechs and Eastern Europe have not been given general attention that Western Europe has been given. But by the 17th century, it would once again be the Czech and Bohemian protestants who would help ignite the Thirty Years War.

1579 was an important year for the Netherlands. You might hear them referred to as the Low Countries. This is a reference to the land in relation to the sea level. It is also helpful in that it recognizes that this region had always been broken up with the various city-states only having a loose affiliation with each other. However, by the Early Modern period, the Empire and France both looked to lay claim on the region. The English had an interest in not allowing a major power to set up shop across the North Sea from themselves.

In 1555, Emperor Charles V gave this territory to his son, Phillip II the King of Spain. Being Catholic, he began inquisition-type raids into his new, quite Protestant lands that led to local unrest. Eventually, a war would break out between the two sides, the Dutch freedom fighters, who were often protestants, and the Dutch Catholic loyalists. The war would last for 80 years amongst the two groups. It was in this year, 1579, that two important treaties were signed. The Union of Arras, or Atrecht, was the official document unifying many southern provinces with the Spanish and the Empire. Within a month, the Union of Utrecht was signed. This was a document that unified many of the northern provinces against Philip and the Empire. The Northern provinces would eventually prevail, largely with the help of their famed Sea Beggars. These were the sailors and soldiers who helped create a formidable makeshift Navy.

One of the men who advised these Sea Beggars and helped the cause of Dutch independence was Sir Francis Drake who had fought off the Armada years earlier. The famed explorer was on his trip to circumnavigate the globe in 1579, and it was on this, the 24th of June, that Drake and his men docked off the coast of California and with an Anglican clergyman, held the first Protestant church service in the New World.

Drake had attempted to go up the coast but when at higher latitudes it became increasingly colder, they turned back around and took refuge in a bay, today called Drake’s Bay near San Francisco. Drake and his company believed the natives thought they, Drake and his men, were gods as they flagellated and prostrated themselves. The clergyman, Reverend Francis Fletcher, invited his men and the natives to join in a service of reading from the Book of Common Prayer, singing Psalms, and reading from the Gospels. While the natives could not understand, they were said to have been in rapt attention. They reacted especially to the singing of the men. It is recorded in early accounts that they also vocalized guttural, positive responses to the men. Being the 16th century, Drake naturally thought he could claim the land for the crown. He named this place “New Albion,” Albion being another name for England. He had now been to both coasts of North America and had stated that he would take this land, from coast to coast, for England. The favorite gentleman explorer of Queen Elizabeth, Francis Drake along with the Reverend Francis Fletcher, held the first protestant religious service in the New World, near San Francisco, on this the 24th of June in 1579.

The reading for today comes from Drake himself, or at least it purports to be. The best guess is that this is a poem taken from things he wrote but updated with modern language. This is “Disturb Us O Lord.”

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery,

That was “Disturb Us Lord,” attributed to Sir Francis Drake.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 24th of June 2020 brought to you by 1517 at The show is produced by Christopher “Hold On, We’re Going Home” Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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