It was the Pilgrims, according to both American lore and tradition, who first set aside a day to acknowledge the hand of God in their survival after leaving their native lands to find a place where they could worship their God according to their own conscience, not according to the dictates of their government.
And find a place where they could worship their God according to their own conscience they found — America. And today, Thanksgiving 2012, I continue to be grateful for the courage those Pilgrims had to leave their homes in Europe, board a tiny wooden vessel and set sail for an unknown land — all because they were directed by the Spirit of their living God.
The spirit of God burned in their breasts and they could not deny that spirit that led them to Plymouth Rock and to America’s first day of thanksgiving.
Unknown to the Pilgrims that same spirit that had led them to America would years later work on another body of men, men today known as America’s founding fathers whose writings make it clear that without that same spirit of God they could not have crafted America’s Constitution, a document that is at times likened unto the laws of freedom first revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai.
Yes, it took courage for these 55 men to do what they did but it took even greater courage for three men to stand against the main body of founders and say they would not sign that initial Constitution presented to them on Sept. 17, 1787.
Why? Because it did not specifically name or protect the freedoms they had fought for during the Revolutionary War.
Those three men, led by George Mason, actually dared to stand and say no (something few politicians have the courage to do in our day) in the face of terrific political pressure, but refuse they did and today, thankfully, we Americans have the First Amendment of America’s amended Constitution that declares “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; …” 16 words that allow all Americans to worship their God in heaven or any other god of their choice — and for that I am truly grateful.
I’m grateful to Mason because without the First Amendment the church I chose to affiliate with 52 years ago, a uniquely American Church could not have been organized.
Even under the protection of the First Amendment it was persecuted, driven from state to state, eventually even driven from the United States by the mobs who murdered, while in jail, their leader.
It was that same spirit, the spirit of the living God that inspired the Pilgrims, the Founding Fathers and George Mason that touched my heart and caused me to make a choice that literally saved my life.
Nothing in my life has ever touched me so profoundly or strongly as did my desire to join this church but it required that I give up smoking four packs of cigarettes a day.
That was not easy but with faith I prayed for His help and in two hours He removed all the desire of smoking from me — and because of that I still live, and am able to still enjoy the blessings of my family on this Thanksgiving Day 2012 — and for this I am truly grateful.
At the time I joined my new church I did not know that I had had a great aunt join this church in 1844 and then literally be driven from their Canadian home, persecuted and driven to the Rocky Mountains where their fellow members had gone.
It was Mother who told me about Aunt Margaret and how they were the first family members to join my church.
But they did, and I did. And it changed the course of their lives just as it changed the course of my life — for the better, and for this I am truly grateful.
The blessings of following in the footsteps of Jefferson’s “Creator” and “Supreme Judge of the world” are beyond measure — even with all the normal challenges that life itself brings.
After one reaches my age family is all that one has left — my eternal family.
And for this family I am truly grateful.
Donald Conkey is a retired agricul- tural economist in Woodstock.