Studying history, particularly studying history as a community, will allow that community to foster deep relationships, and help identify steps to move forward, together.
That is exactly what the community at the newly formed Good Shepherd Episcopal Church is doing.
Good Shepherd was recently merged at the 235th Annual Convention of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. Before they were the parishes of Church of Our Saviour, Plainville and Saint John’s, Bristol. Together they study as a community of Anglicans to look at their shared history, struggles and all, to see how they can move forward in a divided world.
The Rev. Link Huller, priest-in-charge, is leading a 5-week “History & Heritage” of the American Episcopal Church program at Good Shepherd on Wednesdays at 10:00 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., October 23 – November 20.
“We had over 20 people at our first session focused on the origins of the Church of England and who came to the colonies and why,” Link said.
Part of the program included looking at members of the Church of England (ancestors of the soon to be Episcopal Church, which wouldn’t be established until Samuel Seabury’s consecration in 1784) during the American Revolution.
“During the American Revolution, the Church of England was often associated (both in fact and in the popular mind) with the Loyalists – those loyal to the King and to England,” Link said. “Known Loyalists (also known as Tories) were often targeted for persecution, personal assault, and destruction of property by the Patriots, especially those Patriots who were active in the Sons of Liberty.”
The Sons of Liberty would conduct raids of the farms and towns of individuals Tories, many of which were conducted in Connecticut near the town of East Plymouth.
At this time there was an active parish, Old St. Matthew’s (which is no longer a parish and has been turned into a home), and members of that parish were victims of these raids. During the raids, the Tories of the parish and surrounding area would flee into the woods and take refuge, hiding in the rocks.
One of the most common rock formations where Tories would hide would later become known as “Tories/Tory’s Den.”
I joined Link and Margit Bobman, parishioner of Good Shepherd, on a visit to Tories Den. At the end of the 5-week program, the group will hike one mile to the cave for a visit and a celebration of the Eucharist.
It is a moderate hike up to the cave, and with the presence of the old farm walls and loneliness of the woods, it feels like a time-travel experience. You get a sense of where our ancestors fled, escaping abuse and persecution – potentially being tarred and feathered or burned. You hike up the same hills they hiked, you touch the same boulders they touched, you feel the same air they felt.
The local Tories would have known the area quite well, and actually, the woods we were hiking through in is a new-growth forest. Therefore, most of the trees and foliage we were seeing would’ve been gone and the land used for farming. But the land, hills, and boulders were there.
The Patriots often rode on horseback, and would not typically traverse through the bouldering areas of these hills, making the cave a rather secure hiding spot.
“The Tories would hide here for maybe a night or two,” Link said. The Patriots would usually just pursue the men of the communities, leaving the women and children be during these raids. Therefore, most of the Tories who hid in the caves were men, although not exclusively.
We reached the cave and I climbed in. The space was not large nor comfortable by any means. It was cramped, dark, and most importantly, hidden. There was a small divot where a fire could be made to keep warm, and ledges where candles or food could sit.
But beyond that, it was a cave where Anglicans hid together.
I asked Link why he was conducting this 5-week program and why he was highlighting the Tories.
“The purpose is to show that we’ve (Episcopalians/Anglicans) have been through political disagreement,” he said. “We must recognize that we have been here before – we have survived a division of political parties before.”
We have been in the middle of a political divide before. We have been actively pursued, we have hidden, and we have turned to each other for support and protection. As Christians, it is essential that our focus is not on the thing or cause our political identity supports, but on Jesus.
In focusing on Jesus, we must do so in community, with people who agree and disagree with us politically. The followers of Jesus were different in their own ways, and yet they had one essential thing in common – following Jesus, together.
Last Saturday, November 2, Link led a group up to the cave to share in Holy Communion and engage in a reflection on what it means to be Anglicans/Episcopalians – what it means to be Christians in the time of divided politics.
“All means all includes all,” Link said. “If we can come together and love one another and share in communion, we can move forward.”
There’s more to the history: Moses Dunbar was the only man in Connecticut history executed for treason, during the American Revolution. He is buried at Old St. Matthew’s cemetery with a makeshift headstone. Read about him here.