ARCHBISHOP PHILIP FREIER

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Drake’s historic church service

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Drake’s historic church service

22 Jun 2017 

The first Anglican church service in the New World – now the United States – took place 438 years ago yesterday, decades before the pilgrims arrived on the Mayflower.

The legendary and controversial English explorer Sir Francis Drake had voyaged far with his company aboard the ship the Golden Hinde. Battered by its arduous journeys and Spanish interactions up the coast of South America, the vessel was in need of urgent repair when it found harbour on the coast of what would become California, around San Francisco Bay, according to a report on the Christian Today website.

Drake called the newfound land Nova Albion, Latin for ‘New Britain’. One or two days after the landing, Drake and his men held a church service. The presence of Drake’s chaplain and clergyman, the Rev Francis Fletcher, made it the first Protestant and first Anglican service. Fletcher read from the Book of Common Prayer.

When Drake’s men gathered, several Native Indians came to watch them. Fearing that the natives were blaspheming by welcoming Drake’s company as gods, he and his men prayed for them. They prayed that God might open the natives’ eyes “to the knowledge of him and of Jesus Christ, the salvation of the Gentiles”.

Today the 75-foot tall ‘Prayer Book Cross’, commemorating Drake’s landing, can now be found in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, and Drake’s landing site is marked as Drake’s Bay.

It was a brief and quirky stay for Drake, probably not lasting more than six weeks. Regular Anglican worship wouldn’t take place till 1607, on the other side of the continent in Jamestown, Virginia. Nonetheless, given the spiritual heritage that would come – and has endured – from England’s shores to America’s, Drake’s naming of a ‘New Britain’ was not far wrong.

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